“Look, you two guys are just guys, okay? Mr. White, he’s the devil. You know, he is smarter than you, he is luckier than you. Whatever you think is supposed to happen, I’m telling you, the exact reverse opposite of that is gonna happen, okay?” – Breaking Bad
Yup, that’s a real, live open Blockbuster©. You thought that all the Blockbusters® moved to Paris to live with a Frenchman named “Louis” in a dingy apartment above a bread shop in a sort of shabby, Bohemian artsy life that involved a lot of angst and cigarettes, but here is one that’s still open.
Pop Wilder was at the peak age of life, 45 or 46, when the big bank in the Midwest called. They’d met him at a conference, and they liked him. A lot. They’d like him to move from being President of his small farm bank into the big leagues.
Taking the job would mean moving away from the small (population at when he got the job offer was about 750 people) mountain farming town where he lived since his birth to a larger Midwestern town (population zillions). He and Mom discussed it, and he decided he would take the job. After all, they were shoving his face full of more money (salary comparison in 2017 dollars: $310,000, and those are American dollars, not those cheap Canadian dollars) than he had ever expected. And the future was wide open – this was a BIG bank. He might even be called up to New York if he did well with the Midwest bank, where the money could be even more.
He went in to quit, and called the majority shareholder, Mr. Potter (we talked about him earlier, here (LINK)). Potter told him to stop and think about this – he’d be leaving the town he was born in, the town where he’d grown up. “Why, Pop Wilder, you know everyone. In a big city, you wouldn’t know anyone! And the risk, what if you didn’t do well? Then you’d be fired in a big city! To make it easier, why, I’ll match their offer.”
Pop Wilder stayed. One night, 17 years later, he would bitterly remark that he’d had the last raise of his life 17 years earlier. Mr. Potter had no viable replacement for Pop, and had been a shrewd and manipulative businessman – playing off of Pop’s fears. But Pop (and Pop’s name) was what he wanted, but he wanted it only at the lowest possible price.
To give you an example of what kind of a gem Mr. Potter was: Mr. Potter owned a gold mine, and fired his mining engineer every two years. He didn’t want the mining engineer to know more than he did about the mine.
Great guy, huh? I met him once. I felt like I was in the presence of something H. P. Lovecraft wrote about – some evil eldritch abomination from beyond time. Or just an evil old dude.
Fast forward a very long time . . .
I was living in Alaska with The Mrs. We loved it. We had given birth to Pugsley up there (well, to be honest, I was present, and wrote the checks, so I gave birth, too, right?). Our house was the right size. The lifestyle was amazing – guns, gasoline, and woodburning fireplaces. Plus they even had Internet.
Then an old boss called.
He was looking for me to move down to the lower 48, specifically, Texas. Honestly, we weren’t interested. Fairbanks was wonderful. And I had even said (once upon a time) that I’d never move to Houston.
I told him, “No. Thanks for asking. We like it here.”
His response: “What would it take for you to move this way?”
Me: “Okay, (NUMBER).” I arrived at number by adding my salary, my wife’s salary, her bonus, my bonus, and then threw 20% on top. I thought that my unreasonable request would at least gently shut him down so I could move on and ignore him.
Him: “Okay, we could do that number, plus a guaranteed 20% bonus, minimum. And a signing bonus. And we can move all of your stuff. But the boss says we can’t buy your house with the relocation package.”
I was stunned. He called my bluff. The Mrs. and I spent agonizing hours on this, but finally gave in and listened. He flew the whole family down to Houston and we looked the place over. Not to our liking, but the opportunity was so large . . . .
We got back to Fairbanks, and found a job offer on my email.
Me: “I can do it, but only if you buy my House.” I secretly hoped they’d stick to their guns and say no.
Him: “Okay, we’ll buy your house.”
I told my Alaska boss, who was not at all Mr. Potter, that I was quitting. The company I’d worked for in Alaska immediately raised my salary by 20%, and promised that there would be more to come. But the opportunity there was working on something much smaller than the new job.
Part of the calculations involved in coming to our decision was Pop Wilder’s life: he had become stuck in a situation when he didn’t take the chance for significant success, and always regretted it. In my case, I was going to take the opportunity – it was 100 times bigger than anything I’d ever done.
So, we moved to Houston. And it worked out okay, even though we still miss Fairbanks.
But it did start me thinking, about opposites. Staying in Fairbanks would have been easier. How often is doing the opposite thing from what’s easy the right thing?
I think the answer is: most of the time.
- Exercise vs. Couch – it’s obvious that sitting on the couch and eating Twinkies® is generally more pleasurable than exercising until your thighs are on fire and sweating buckets, but study after study (dating back 4,000 years to Egypt, where the first article appeared in Healthy Pharaoh Today) shows that, while more fun, couches kill.
- Full vs. Hungry – Imagine the feeling after a Thanksgiving feast . . . and now imagine it killing you. Yes, nobody likes feeling like they’re really hungry, but recent studies have shown that food deprivation is awesome for you, both short term and long term. I’m mean, not starving to death long term, but rather periodic fasting.
- Party vs. Work – Hard work may pay off in the future, but partying always pays off now. That’s exactly the right answer if you’re running for congress. Everyone else wants to see the work first.
- Discipline vs. Freedom – It’s hard to make a plan and stick to it, day after day, for months, especially when it looks like it’s not succeeding. But how many times did that one extra attempt push a person from failure to success? Stephen King would be a dead drycleaner except for trying one more time (LINK).
- Thrift vs. Spend – Saving money is hard, when there are so many shiny things to buy, and so very much PEZ® to eat. So very hard. But it will allow you to buy even more PEZ© when you are old, like me and your Doctor says you shouldn’t have it.
- Kindness vs. Selfishness – Okay, there have been a few moments in my life when I’ve cut loose and allowed myself to be horribly selfish. Those days are generally weekdays. Or weekends. And often occur during the Summer, but also Winter. And Fall. And Spring. At least I try. On alternate leap years I really try. See also: Courteous vs. Rude.
- Honor and Loyalty vs. Cowardice – A coward dies a thousand deaths, a brave man but one. But I also bet a live guy wrote that? Anyway, it’s tough to show honor and loyalty in a world that values neither. So much easier to give in. My problem is I have to look myself in a mirror and see the guy on the other side. So is it my cowardice of not being loyal and honorable that keeps me loyal and honorable?
- Morality vs. Licentiousness – Apparently Hollywood hasn’t heard of “morality,” at least based on the most recent headlines. Maybe someday someone will make a movie about that?
The easy road is downhill. Challenges are hard. Letting go of the comfort of the warm bed on a cold morning is hard. Growth and achievement require effort.
Do the opposite of comfortable – that’s where living a heroic life starts. Or maybe heroism starts on Skyrim® or Assassins Creed™? But heroism does start with taking a chance. Being bold.
When was the last time you took a chance?