There is an old myth that floats around in Blues music about a musician named Robert Johnson. Robert Johnson, according to sources, was a terrible musician by any account. He was an awful guitarist when the Blues were in their early days, as the craft flourished and established its voice. One day, Robert Johnson disappeared. He disappeared for quite a while and nobody knew where he had gone (this in the days where it was easy to do that).
One day sometime later, he suddenly resurfaced, guitar in hand. When he started to play, he had miraculously acquired aficionado-level skills. So the myth goes, that if you went to a crossroad at midnight and waited there, the devil would appear, take your guitar, play a few chords and hand it back to you. Suddenly, you would be able to play perfectly. The only catch: you just sold your soul.
I got to thinking about what we trade, and why we trade it to get what we want. Today I read an article about a ghostwriter for Donald Trump, who helped to write his first book, knowing that he sold out. His wife was expecting, money was worrying him and the payoff was big, even though his journalistic integrity took a lashing.
Why do we make these trades?
Desire plays a large part. We desire the things we don't have and could have. We see other people and suffer from the Fear of Missing Out. And we want them enough to make large enough trades. We see a culture that gives up so many things in order to achieve dreams, whether it's sleep, money, family, or integrity. Desire helps us gauge whether those trades are worth it. Do we want it badly enough to take a dive in some way? Sometimes those trades are worth it. You bet large and you win large. Everything has a price if we want it badly enough. Robert Johnson traded his soul (apparently) for an enchanted ability to play the guitar. That's what it was worth.
The psychology of what we think we deserve is the other part of it. We all have a frame of reference that maintains what it is to stay in our station in life. Every time we negotiate, we trade away something vital. Sometimes it's small enough that we can recoup the loss over time. We can find an alternative. Sometimes we negotiate down. We settle. We do this because we think we deserve less. Or perhaps less is just what's available. We learn to be okay with what we have. I would bet money on the fact that Donald Trump thinks he deserves more. He isn't the most qualified candidate (at this point, I would be more qualified), but he feels as though he deserves this presidency.
It is often our psychology that gives us the permission for what we seek out to achieve. In a sense, it is our confirmation of ourselves, our worth, and our ability that bears down on what we get, and the price that we are willing to pay. We confirm these things with ourselves daily. We didn't get the girl or the raise or the concert tickets, because frankly, we are in some way undeserving or lacking.
Wandering around a Saturday Farmer's Market is an exercise in naming your price. Everyone has a set of criteria. The rhubarb is particularly delicious this time of year, and the blueberries are just beginning to come to their peak. Sometimes our trade matches up. We are willing to give a little to get a little (nobody likes sub-par rhubarb pie). At other times, the discrepancies are larger and we find ourselves negotiating up or down. You stand there, holding an artisanal jar of strawberry jam, and you ask yourself, is this worth the seven dollars I'm going to pay for it? Sometimes it's just the perfect thing for that crusty french bread you picked up. And sometimes you think, the bread will be just as delicious with some Smuckers.
Some good reads on negotiation:
Hunger Makes Me by Jess Zimmerman
How We Came to Desire a Job We Could Love on The Book of Life