Robert Heinlein was right; there really is no such thing as a free lunch. When you think about it, you really don’t get something for nothing; there is always a catch. It’s a bit like the free shipping you get if you buy more stuff to qualify for it. Perhaps you didn’t really want all that stuff, but the free shipping caught your eye…..and there you are, paying more for the “free” shipping.
The “something for nothing” principle is, I think, responsible for the staggering debt some folks have. I too was once so entranced with my credit cards and the alluring promise of ‘buy it NOW! You don’t have to pay for it until later.’ And when the ‘later’ came, it was clear just how much money I had let slip through my fingers.
The “free lunch” concept is not only about money, either. Say that you are ready to move to a new place. You don’t have enough stuff to need a professional mover, but you do need to rent a U-Haul. So you ask a few friends to help you move. This is a pretty big favor, so you really should provide lunch and drinks (limit those drinks to soda, water or juice; beer is a bad idea; trust me on this one).
It is a win for both you and your friends. You get help moving your stuff, and the friends get to enjoy a lunch. The lunch isn’t free labor-wise; your friends “paid” for the lunch by helping you move.
Then there is the ‘wonderful job offer’ which initially looks like a free lunch, but isn’t. When I was a lot younger I was working for a good company and I loved my job. My immediate boss was a charismatic young man who was not only smart and successful, but he looked after his people and stood up for them.
One day he approached me and asked if I would like to work for him exclusively. He said that he and his wife were starting their own company and that they would very much like me to be part of it. There would be a significant raise involved, too, as well as many perks; better health insurance, more days off, etc.
I was flattered by his offer. I knew his wife well; she was every bit as ambitious and career-driven as he was. They had me over to their house for dinner, and we discussed the new business and what my place in it would be.
Long story short, I left my job and joined their company. Initially, I felt I had won the jackpot. The job was perfect for me, and I was making more money. However, over time I began to see a pattern. It seemed that I was expected to agree with everything my bosses said and did. But even then it didn’t seem to be a big deal.
However, one day I was asked to “spy” on another company. At first, I thought that they were joking. They both had a great sense of humor, so I laughed when they told me what my role would be. No returning laughter. They were dead serious, and what they were proposing to do was just about as close to illegal business practice as you could get without landing in jail.
I realized then that the fancy new job, the money and the perks were just the cheese that led me into the mousetrap. I couldn’t do what they wanted, and I disagreed with their business ethics. So I was fired on the spot. My “free lunch” had a huge price tag.
This is why I always keep “tanstaafl” in mind. Truly there is no such thing as a free lunch. Somehow or other, you’re going to pay the bill for that lunch.
*”TANSTAAFL” or “There Ain’tNo Such Thing As A Free Lunch,” concept from Robert Heinlein’s book, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.”