I recently got a crazy idea. Suppose I tell you, “I will give you a ten-million-dollar job for a month. But I will have to kill you in two months.” Of course, you will have to know that I am serious. Let’s say I am an eccentric billionaire. Will you take the ten million dollars?
I am certain that most people will not take this job offer. In fact, there is a movie with Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando (IMDb tells me that it is The Brave) where Depp’s character actually takes up such an offer. Twenty-five thousand, I believe, was the price that he agreed upon for the rest of his life. For some of us, the price may be higher, but it is possible that there is a price that we will agree upon.
To me, my price is infinite — I wouldn’t trade the rest of my life for any amount of money. What does it help me to have all the money in the world if I don’t have the time to spend it? But, this stance of mine is neither consistent with what I do, nor fully devoid of hypocrisy. Hardly anything in real life is. If we say we won’t trade time for money, then how come we happily sell our time to our employers? Is it just that we don’t appreciate what we are doing? Or that our time is limited?
I guess the trade off between time and money is not straight forward. It is not a linear scale. If we have no money, then our time is worth nothing. We are willing to sell it for almost nothing. The reason is clear — it takes money to keep body and soul together. Without a bare minimum of money, there indeed is no time left to sell. As we make a bit of money, a bit more than the bare minimum, we begin to value time more. But as we make more money, we realize that we can make even more by selling more time, because the time is worth more now! This implicit vicious circle may be what is driving this crazy rat race that we see all around us.
Selling time is an interesting concept. We clearly do sell our time to those who pay us. Employees sell time to their employers. Entrepreneurs sell their time to the customers, and in deploying their businesses. But there is a fundamental difference between these two modes of selling. While employees sell their time once, businessmen sell their time multiple times. So do authors and actors. They spend a certain amount of time doing whatever they do, but the products they create (book, business, movies, Windows XP, songs etc.) are sold over and over again. That is why they can make their millions and billions while those who work for somebody else find it is very difficult to get really rich.