The Surprising Value of Catching Up and Getting Ahead

Imagine a race between two people. They are moving at the same exact speed. The only difference is that one of them got a 10-second headstart. That person has the advantage of being ahead the entire race, even though they are doing the exact same thing, moving at the exact same speed. They are always winning while the other person is always losing. Now imagine that race is not a simple sprint or even a marathon, but a race as long as life. This illustrates the unthinkable advantage of getting ahead. It is no harder for the person with the headstart to maintain their lead than it is for the person losing the entire way to maintain the distance they trail behind. In fact, it may in some cases be easier to stay ahead.

Another way to help illustrate this point is to look at the difference between savings and debt. Imagine two people both earn the same breakeven income to cover their same costs of living. The only difference is that one person starts with a little bit of savings and the other person starts with a little bit of debt. This small initial difference in their wealth will not only remain over time — it will actually grow much larger. The first person’s savings work for them, earning them interest over time. The second person’s debt works against them, charging them interest over time. Keep in mind, they are both earning the same income to cover the same costs of living the entire time. In this case, it is significantly easier for the person with the headstart to maintain their advantage than it is for the other person to maintain the amount by which they trail behind. Even if they both do the exact same thing over the long haul, the advantage granted by the initial headstart only increases over time.

This phenomenon applies in a number of other areas as well. Instead of thinking of it as the difference in a competition between two people, one can also think of it as the difference between two possible versions of oneself.

For example, one can lose the weight they want to lose in a relatively short period of time and then maintain a lower weight for years with no more effort than they would have needed to maintain their old heavier weight over time. All else equal, that person can enjoy the benefit of being in better shape for the rest of their life all because they put in some extra work for a short time to get down to their target weight just once.

This is the value of catching up and getting ahead. An early advantage can offer a lead for life. By putting in the short-term work in various areas to catch up and then get ahead, one can stay ahead in all of these areas without any more long-term effort in each, and often with less. This allows them to move on to catching up and getting ahead in other areas. The virtuous cycle continues.

Humans seem hardwired to always be behind. In school, kids do not do all of their assignments a week before they are due. They do them all the night before they are due. Most people tend to focus on not getting too far behind rather than on catching up and getting ahead. They fail to realize that it would often take the same or less effort to maintain a lead as it does the deficit.

Catching up and getting ahead is not necessarily easy, but once it is done, it is just as easy to stay ahead as it would have been to stay where one started. Catching up and getting ahead of wherever one is at the moment takes less time than that over which the benefits of doing so may be enjoyed. Get some leads in life. It is no harder and often easier to stay ahead than it is to stay behind. Why keep losing when you could just as easily keep winning? Catch up. Get ahead.