The High Cost of Opportunity

We have near limitless opportunities available to us these days.  The internet has given us the opportunity to communicate with people we would otherwise never have access to, opportunities to learn anything we set our minds to, and opportunities to have a voice and be heard.

But being spoiled for choice isn’t always a good thing.  Analysis paralysis and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) are common.  People either do nothing due to indecision, or try to do it all and fail due to lack of commitment.  The hard truth is that we are limited in both time and attention and can only do so much.  While I am confident in my capacity for work I also understand the limits of my time and energy, which forces me to think on and choose those activities and projects that give the highest ROTI (Return on Time Invested).

A Recent Example

A new opportunity came across my desk last week; or rather, through my inbox.  An industry organization of which I am a member put out a call for a new Editor to take over the bi-monthly magazine.  It is a three-year commitment and is a volunteer position.

What an opportunity!

Think about how much could be learned about the publishing industry in three years, which is a perfect amount of time for a long-term project incidentally.  For a writer, it offers a chance to collaborate with others and the opportunity to steer that publication towards a larger vision.  A successful tenure would also look great on a resume and create the potential to transition into that role at another publication in the future; a position that normally requires a bachelor’s degree in communication or journalism, followed by a long slog upwards starting from the copy room.

Now consider the cost.

A commitment like this is a big deal.  You must deliver on schedule, requiring work each day.  This commitment of time, our one true resource, means less time available for other activities.  And the length of the commitment means that, by saying Yes, you are effectively saying No to any number of opportunities in the future.  Those opportunities may be better than this one or worse; there is no way of knowing.  Saying yes now closes the door to many of those opportunities, but would open the door for others in the future.

Every Yes Equals 1,000 No’s

Opportunities are like doors; each one you accept opens new doors to pass through.  But it closes others that were once open as well.  So how do you choose which to grab and commit to?

I mentioned Return on Time Invested (ROTI) earlier.  What value will we receive for our efforts when this task is complete?  Will suffering through night school to achieve an MBA help us gain the position we strive for?  Will it move us closer to our long-term goals?

The first step is to sit down and ask yourself these questions before jumping in with both feet.  Then, if possible, test the waters with a shorter-term project to see if it is going to be a good fit for you.  I did just that last year when I tried out some further education online.  Before the class was finished I had realized that it was not the path for me and happily dropped out of college.  That decision closed whatever doors that would have become available had I finished, but reopened doors that would present themselves in the future.  Doors such as a potential editorial position at a magazine that would have not been possible if still in the midst of that previous opportunity.

Choose Wisely, Then Commit

Saying yes is easy.  Committing is the hard part.  We tend to focus on the end result that the opportunity will bring, while forgetting about the daily grind that will be required to get from here to there.  But if you never commit to anything how will you learn what you are capable of?

Think twice before passing through the door.  Consider whether that commitment will move you closer to your goals, and that it lines up with your values.  Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze.

And remember that sometimes you don’t get to choose the opportunity.  Sometimes the opportunity chooses you.  All you can do in these cases is decide whether to throw your hat in the ring.  Just be prepared to commit to the opportunity should fate select you.

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