Behind door #4

The range of options that most people consider available to them is much narrower than the truth. If they can’t find a job description or an enrollment form, they assume it’s not an option. Or if a person of authority tells them, “I’m sorry, that’s not an option,” too many people are too willing to accept that as truth. Whenever I hear the three pre-defined options, I assume those are just suggestions and want to know what’s behind door #4. There are always other options.

I was telling a friend about this and rattling off some examples of door-#4 thinking. Do you have an example of your own?

Here are the few I gave:

  1. When I go to a restaurant and see the menu, if I don’t see anything I like I remember it’s just a kitchen back there—it’s possible for them to make things not listed. If I’m in the mood for something in particular, I simply ask. Worst case they’ll just tell me no.
  2. When I was in college and there were required classes that I didn’t want to take, I figured out that I could skip the classes by testing out of them. I just asked the department how I could demonstrate mastery and typically they’d tell me if I could pass the final exam they’d give me class credit, but not a grade. It was much easier to study for a couple days to pass a final than to sit through a whole semester of soul-killing lectures and wading my way through boring assignments. Avoiding required classes was door #4 that most students assumed was not possible. I also applied this trick to enroll in classes that I wanted to take but were full. Even a full class always has open seats because someone doesn’t show each day. I’d happily attend every class and do every assignment that was interesting, skipping the ones that seemed pointless. All I had to do was pass the final to make the university happy. It didn’t matter that I was not enrolled in the class.
  3. A friend told me a story about how he got his current job. Let’s call him John Smith. The company was interested in hiring him but he had a very specific view of the job he wanted to do: he wanted to help with certain aspects of the project but not others and he wanted to work from home on his own time. When they didn’t agree he tried again and proposed they hire John Smith Consulting instead and he outsourced the pieces of the project he didn’t want to do to someone else. They were okay with that solution. Again, he just asked for door #4.
  4. Another friend told me how his wife wants to attend a masters program in another city but he loves his job and doesn’t want to leave. It’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to sacrifice their career for the other. Neither of them wanted to sacrifice their career so they came up with a solution. Monday through Thursday he did his job as normal. Friday he’d fly to home #2 in another city where his wife was living and spend 3 days of every week there. This may not be the most convenient living arrangement, but lots of people can pull this off for a couple years. Get a smaller apartment in city #1, sign up for a frequent flyer program, and get ready to explore a new city. This win-win behind door #4 is an option that many would have never considered.
  5. My wife and I have always been up front with each other about the things that we don’t like doing. Inevitably there are things that are on both of our don’t-like lists: laundry, cooking, cleaning the house, random errands, etc. Most people solve this problem by the compromise: I’ll do A if you do B. But between a housekeeper, personal assistant, TaskRabbit, Amazon Prime, etc, neither of us do things that neither of us want to do. The typical objection of hiring a personal assistant or housekeeper is that it costs too much, but it’s all about being clear on your priorities. Getting a smaller apartment, cheaper car (or using Zipcar), eating out a little less often—all of these were preferred options for us. If you can squeeze a few hundred a month out of a budget you create options for yourself. You can find talented people for $10–15 per hour on Craigslist, maybe remotely in another city, if needed. And 5-10 hours per week of someone’s time goes a long way. Wouldn’t you love 5–10 hours more time each week to do things you truly enjoy doing? Thats the option behind door #4.

Look for door #4 when you don’t like the options available to you.