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Recently, I finished reading Tony Hsieh’s *Delivering Happiness*. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone interested in entrepreneurship, the weird world of the tech industry, or in building a better culture at work.
However, the story that really struck me was a personal one:
Tony sold his first company “Link Exchange” to Microsoft in 1998; his share of the deal was in the region of $40m. One of the conditions was that he would stay with Microsoft for extra twelve months in order to be eligible for the full sum. If he left before that, he stood to lose 20% of it (about $8m in this case).
And by “staying” it meant that he wouldn’t have had to do much more than show up to the office and just give the impression he was being productive. Not a terrible arrangement, right? Well, not according to Tony: one day he went to the office just to send out an email, announcing he was leaving.
Admittedly, this kind of story sells books well because it combines the pain of the uncertainty we all feel about the future with the hindsight that it all worked out for the better (no one loves reading books about personal failures, probably that’s why there aren’t that many published on the subject). What makes this story special to me is the language Tony Hsieh uses, for example:
> “A few days later, I went to the office, sent my good-bye e-mail to the company, and walked out the door. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, but I knew what I wasn’t going to do. **I wasn’t going to sit around letting my life and the world pass me by**. People thought I was crazy for giving up all that money. And yes, making that decision was scary, but in a good way.”
What I find fascinating in this is that he wasn’t driven as much by the thought of making/losing money, but much more by the concept of time as being the only absolute currency. And by *absolute* I mean that it is dear to absolutely everyone.
Looking at it from a different perspective, one year of Tony’s life is worth more than $8m. And if you look at his current net worth (and I’m sure he wouldn’t want you to look at it this way, but just go with the thought experiment for the sake of it), he probably made a pretty good bet. (Most recently, Tony Hsieh and his partners sold Zappos.com to Amazon for close to 1 **BILLION** dollars – whatever his share of that was, it was probably much more than the $8m he forfeited.)
### The value of time is set in your priorities
One of the reasons Tony knew so well what to do in that situation (and also why we often **don’t know** what to do in similar situations) is that he knew well his values and priorities. If money was a priority, making the decision to walk away from the $8m without having a (more lucrative) backup plan would have been much harder. But again, here’s what he’s got to say on the topic:
> “I made a list of the happiest periods in my life, and **I realized that none of them involved money**. I realized that building stuff and being creative and inventive made me happy.”
He knew he wasn’t going to “build stuff” in the next 12 months and he knew that would make him miserable. And since he valued happiness over money, the choice seemed easy enough.
### How to apply Tony’s philosophy in your life
We don’t know how much we have left and that’s one of the greatest mysteries of life. But we don’t even need to know how much time we have left to learn to value our time. All we have to do is follow these two steps:
- Find out what we want to prioritize
- Maximize the outcome of our priority for a unit of time
Remember, time is absolute, but our priorities aren’t. What we value varies from one person to the next. Make sure, that whatever you choose to prioritize, comes from your own volition, not from habit, tradition, your parents or (worst of all) what other people will think.
I know this is the hard part. But once you get over it, you get to reap the benefits from overcoming this challenge — you get to focus on maximizing your time for whatever make you happy. And if that is making money — so be it.