When I was young, a little known actor named Tom Hanks did a movie called Big. It was a feel-good nonsense movie. In a nutshell a 13 year old kid goes to a fortune telling machine and makes a wish that he was BIG. When he wakes up, viola! He is an adult. The rest of the movie shows him adjusting to being an adult, and making decisions that impact his life. The short lesson learned is that BIG caused more trouble than it was worth.
That’s something that we all do: adjust to life as a grown-up, and make decisions that impact life, not make wishes to machines. Some of our decisions are pretty big. At some point we have to decide whether or not to go to college, we have to decide what we are going to be when we grow up, and we have a ton of other BIG decisions.
But some of our decisions are pretty small, and they impact our lives too. In fact, many of the decisions we consider to be small actually have a larger impact on our lives than we imagine. Getting a tattoo, for example, seems like an insignificant decision, but what if that tattoo affects our ability to get a specific job that we want? Or what if we get a disease from a dirty needle? Not that all decisions are bad ones either. Wearing your hair in a specific style might help you get a job, or driving a different route to work one day may mean you avoid an accident and get to work on time.
I can think of thousands of little, seemingly insignificant decisions. I can think of a handful of BIG decisions. It seems to me that it makes more sense, therefore, to suggest focussing on those small decisions, and worrying about the BIG ones when they come around.
When many adults were kids, (kids, I’m giving you a pass here, but with a HUGE wink and nudge) when we got in trouble, we were always asked the same question: “Why did you do that?” This is where many of us got in trouble. We had three choices.
- Tell the truth: “I thought it would be fun, and that you wouldn’t find out about it. In the event that you did find out about it, I thought you wouldn’t punish me for it.”
- Fall back on the old stand-by: “I don’t know.” Of course, this is a lie, but a smaller one.
- Tell a BIG lie: “I was running in the house with scissors because I heard my little brother screaming that he was caught in the curtain cord, and I was trying to save his life.”
When it came down to it, telling the truth might actually get us out of trouble. The adults might be pissed off, but they believed you learned something through the process, and that was really their goal in the first place.
The second option would get you in more trouble. First, for whatever you did originally, and second because you were thoughtless. You might be sentenced to think about what you did.
With the BIG lie, you got in all sorts of trouble. First, there was whatever you did to get in trouble, and second you lied on top of the first offence, and finally for insulting the intelligence of the adults with how BIG a lie you told! My parents never felt for the little brother thing. Of course, I am the youngest, but there were enough of us that I figured I had a shot at confusing them temporarily.
Today, former Treasury Chief Hank Paulson told a whopper! He said that the US government just had to pay all the debts of AIG and Goldman Sachs, and stop them from failing because doing otherwise would have led to a complete financial breakdown and 25% unemployment. It has also been said that the American people couldn’t be told about the back-room fix because they wouldn’t have gone for it, leading to the aforementioned world of hurt we would have been in.
In the interest of full disclosure, Paulson worked for Bush, not Obama. In further full disclosure, we are still going to go through that world of hurt, but the big banks will be safe. Our unemployment rate is damned near 25% when you look at all the people who want to work but aren’t. Good job Hank!
Big doesn’t seem to work well in lying, but not all BIG things are about lies.
Let’s look at the financial mess our parents got us into:
- Banks: BIG banks are getting a lot of our money because of BIG mistakes they have made.
- Government: While jobs are being lost across the country by small business, government is getting BIGGER.
- Housing: People were telling BIG lies on mortgage applications to buy houses that were too BIG for them to live in. The mortgages were BIGGER than the value of the houses.
Okay, so let’s get back to BIG thinking, and why we should avoid it. Or rather, more importantly, how we should avoid it. Let’s start by saying some of us aren’t in dire straits yet. Let’s see what we can do to make sure we never get in them in the first place.
- Pick a dollar amount. One that is small. Make it a point to stop for at least 24 hours before spending this much money on something that isn’t absolutely essential. If you have somebody else handle your money, agree that you have to discuss spending more than this amount.
- When I am out and about, if there is something I want to buy that costs more than $50.00, I have to talk to my wife first. For those of you who are concerned about bruised egos, I don’t have to get her permission, but we have to have a discussion. Most often, that discussion is quick. Sometimes, it is longer. Either way, I’m relatively sure we’re making the right decision.
- I have family members who I gave this advice to as well. There are very few things in life that need to be settled today that can’t wait until tomorrow. If the deal isn’t there tomorrow, you’re probably better off.
- I hear all the time how savings accounts are a waste of time and money. People say that you have to invest in the market, or in real estate, or in some tax sheltered account or else you aren’t going to make any money. These BIG ideas are great and all, but I don’t know anybody who has ever gone broke from starting small in a regular savings account.
- When at work, don’t focus on the corner office, or the executive bathrooms. Focus on doing a good job. When you come up for a review, be able to pick out all the small things you have accomplished and you will do fine.
It’s been said that if you shoot for the stars, you may hit the moon. That’s true. But if you shoot for one step up the ladder, you won’t hit you butt as you fall. BIG things can and will happen on their own. When faced by a must make BIG decision, treat it like a small decision, and you’ll probably be okay. See, the other side of BIG that many people forget is that for a BIG payoff, you have to risk BIG as well.