Opportunity Costs and saying ‘no thanks’

Opportunity Cost: the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.

What an interesting last 5 years it has been for me. You’ve been able to follow along my adventure here in the blog, as I discovered new possibilities and chased what must have seen at times as wildly divergent goals. It’s like I woke up after decades of dozing to realize that I had a lot more to offer the world than I thought, and still had time to do something about it.

So I started jumping at every chance that came by. I wanted to make a difference wherever anyone would let me. That’s an important distinction to make: I still felt, deep down, that I wasn’t really that useful (thanks, shoddy self-esteem) so I had to desperately leap at every opportunity.

I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that I haven’t found most of these volunteer efforts rewarding and educational, though. I have met fantastic people and experienced some real revelatory moments during the 5 year ‘say yes to everything’ binge. I’ve been part of some great teams, and I’ve finally become comfortable in the knowledge that my contribution to the team makes a difference.

But there have been a few less than stellar moments of frustration and fatigue. I’ve found myself in a few meetings torn between a guilty sense of not doing enough, and a profound desire to not take on any more work. It isn’t a fun internal conflict to manage. I felt pulled in a million directions without and sense of making progress. I was tired and unenthusiastic about my commitments.

The problem recently extended into my creative life. I had a handful of projects I could work on, and I started picking away at all of them, seemingly at random. One of the projects was a one-act play that I intended to stage in our Fringe festival next year. I wrote it up and did a read through with a friend of mine. later that night, as I started to compile the full list of all the work necessary to bring the script to the stage, I finally asked myself an important question: is producing this play going to move me closer to my goals? More importantly, what are my goals?

And lo! A bright light shone in my mind,  and clarity came storming in. As soon as I chose a goal (actually, a couple of them) I could now measure each opportunity against the cost to my progression. I stopped saying yes just because I could do it. I sat down and reviewed all of my standing commitments and asked “does this move me towards my goals? Is it a good fit for my life and am I a good fit for the organization?”. It was surprisingly hard to be so ruthlessly objective. I hate quitting anything, and I doubly hate letting anyone down. But I made a cut list, and I narrowed down my efforts. In the upcoming weeks, I’ll start looking at a couple of new opportunities, and they will have to meet the same criteria. I’m a talented guy but time is short and I have to make the most of it.

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