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What do you do when presented with an uncertain path?

Do you stick to what’s comfortable, to what’s safe?

If there’s something on the line (and there always is), this would seem the prudent choice.

After all, with uncertainty comes risk, and risk means danger – the reasonable choice would be to stick to what you know.

But what if sticking to the seemingly safest option – the certain path – isn’t so safe?

Sometimes (most times), committing to comfortable, staying on the tried and true path, and purposefully avoiding risks is the most dangerous thing we can do…

Burying Talent

You’ve probably heard the parable of the talents, but I think it’s worth revisiting.

It all starts with an estate owner and 3 trusted servants….

One day, the owner of a large estate sets out abroad, leaving his property and gold in the care of three servants.

The owner divides up his gold (aka talents) – 5 talents to the first servant, 2 talents to the second, and 1 talent to the third – each in proportion to his ability.  When the man leaves, the first two servants put their talents to work, trading, bartering and gaining more talents.  The third servant, uncertain and frightened of losing the talent he was given, hides his in the ground.

Months later, the man returns home.  When he goes to settle his accounts, he finds the first two servants doubled their talents, from 5 to 10 and from 2 to 4.

The man is pleased and gives these servants a share of his wealth: “Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness.”

But when the man goes to settle the account of the third servant, he is met with defensive excuses: “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground.”

The third servant brings the estate owner one talent – the original talent he had been given when the estate owner left for his travels.

The owner of the estate gets honey-badger pissed.  He calls the servant wicked and lazy and tells him how he could have at least made interest on the money by putting it into a bank.  He doesn’t stop there – he takes the third servant’s single talent and gives it to the servant with ten talents.  In a final finishing move, he throws the worthless servant outside into the darkness, banishing him from his estate.

And that’s the paraphrased parable in a nutshell (Matthew [25:14]-30 for the actual text).

Pretty serious, right?

Beyond Talent

The clear take-away from this parable is that we should use our talents.

That’s a no brainer.

We’re each given talents in life (in the aptitude/gift way) – our job is to put them to work.  Most would agree.

Yet it’s surprising to me how most people seem to grasp this, at least conceptually, but completely miss the other more subtle (and possibly, more important) lesson:

The talent the third servant gave to the master upon his return is not the same talent he buried months earlier.

This isn’t due to something mystical or magical – the talent didn’t transform or shape shift or disappear – it simply became what it must become, buried in the ground all those months…

This is a lesson successful investors learn early in their careers that the rest of us could take a cue from in our own lives.

Options

One of the most powerful ways to buy or sell investments is through the use of option contracts.

When we use options, whether in the stock market or in real estate (or in some other marketplace entirely), what we’re doing is purchasing the right to buy (or sell) something at a specific price on or before a certain date.

The beauty of option contracts is that they allow us to buy or sell, but they don’t obligate us to.

Want to know how people make a killing in the stock market or in real estate?  They learn to use options.

Options are powerful because they give us leverage and flexibility.

But like with every financial instrument on this planet, even options have a weakness: Time.

You see, every stock option has a time limit.  Once it hits that time limit, it expires.

If I don’t execute the trade or sell the contract itself before the agreed upon date, I could lose everything.

Simply put: as time goes by, an option contract loses value.

This is referred to as Time Decay.

And Time Decay affects everything in this world – including those talents buried in the ground.

Putting Talents to Work

Putting our talents to work is scary.

It means we can lose even the little bit we start with.  It means we can crash and burn.  It means we can fail.

The natural inclination to mitigate this risk is to protect our talents.  To shield them from uncertainty.  To bury them.

And while burying your talents outwardly protects them from theft or loss, there’s a catch; the talents are worth much less now than they were when we started.

This is time decay and it affects natural aptitude (our gifts/talents/aptitude) as much as money.

When we don’t use our talents, they waste away.

It’s as simple as that.

Are you a gifted singer?  Refrain from singing for 40 years and you might still be talented, but that talent is worth much less.  Why?  Because you have less time now to develop it into something worthwhile.  Not to mention those 40 years you spent NOT singing could have been spent creating high-impact albums, the kind of stuff that inspires us to be bolder, braver, and live better.

Because you waited, the world is short 40 years of life changing music. 

That’s a shame.

Are you a gifted writer?  Get a real job, work for 30 years, and then, when you’ve saved enough money for retirement, then start writing.  Are you still a gifted writer?  Sure, you might be, but your talent is worth much less, because you don’t have as much time to write all the great books you could have written had you started 30 years ago.

This world is short possibly dozens of books now because you waited to write.

Are you gifted at anything (even in the smallest, most marginal way right now)?  Sports, marketing, military strategy, project management, design, leadership?  Wait until retirement before you dig into your hobby and, sure, you might still have talent…well, you get the point…

Execute Your Option

We are each given talents.

You and I know this.

What we don’t recognize is that each one of these talents is an option contract – it has a time limit.  It suffers from time decay.

Every day you wait to start, your talent loses value.

And months and years from now, that talent, if you bury it in the ground – if you wait to use it – will become a shriveled, bedraggled, weaker version of its once former glory – a mere shadow of its former self (its true self).

But if you put it to use, if you have the courage to take the uncertain path, to step into the unknown with boldness and purpose…

Well you already know what is possible, don’t you?

Don’t wait for tomorrow.

Execute your talent option today (instigate before it’s too late).

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