Note to Self: Take the Option

So much of life seems to be about anticipating and taking the option. Putting yourself in a position to take the option is harder than it reads but the potential upside is too delicious to pass up. Antifragility, something that gains from randomness, is a non-obvious idea. We are so often taught to only consider the downsides of risk that we neglect things that gain from disorder.

As students we’re taught to raise our hands and sharing ideas is cheating; that’s fragile. As adolescents we’re taught to memorize for a letter grade, lest we be the one to fail the test; that’s fragile. When choosing a University we take on a mountain of debt for a piece of paper; that’s very fragile. As an employee we’re subjected to a life of boredom for a probably-never-coming golden watch retirement; that’s ridiculously fragile.

What we’re not taught is how to spot the option and put ourselves in a position to take it. In fact the established order shakes in its leather-bound boots when it hears the word ‘option.’ If and when we do this, we realize that some of the best things in life are systems that actually improve with local stress.

Being an Employee vs. Locking in Your Rent: A Gladwellian take on being robust and taking the option:

As an employee you have unlimited downside and a limited, known upside. This is fragility. The unlimited downside is that you lose your job, the rest of the market finds you unappealing and your income has now gone to 0 until you can become an employee again. The limited, known upside is whatever the salary and lifestyle is of the woman or man at the top. If it’s a 60 hour work week and 95K annually, that is the limited, known upside. There are few options that come with being an employee. The antithesis of the fragile employee is the robust entrepreneur. The downside, this time, is limited and known: the product fails and you are back to square one. The upside is unlimited and there are options over-filling your pockets.

Take the example of the robust tenant. If you can negotiate a locked in monthly rent with your landlord in a solid housing market you are robust. Why? Because of the option. If the housing market goes up you are protected by your comfortable, locked in monthly rent: limited downside. If the housing market improves and suddenly a comparable unit opens up and is cheaper, you give one months notice and vacate: the option. Even if your locked in monthly rent is slightly higher than is ideal you are introducing local, temporary stress to compliment a robust future.

Where in your daily life can you gain from disorder and become even stronger than you were before?