What is Your Opportunity Cost?
Sensible people live their lives balancing their focus on what is important to them.
In the opposite end of the ring are people like me who have no concept of balance. I will work in high stress jobs that require lots of overtime and still try to maintain isolationist hobbies that also require a lot of time and effort. The rest of my life gets squished into the edges with no slack time at all.
Living such a lifestyle can have great temporary gains in the areas you focus on, but they are quickly counterbalanced by the other areas in your life that you aren’t paying attention to. Any slack time is immediately taken over by the need for sleep, need for exercise, or often unrecognized need for genuine human contact. What many people don’t consciously think about when they are squishing their lives to focus on one thing is the opportunity cost for the areas they are ignoring.
If a city decides to build a hospital on vacant land it owns, the opportunity cost is the cost of some other thing which might have been done with the land and construction funds instead. In building the hospital, the city has forgone the opportunity to build a sporting center on that land, or a parking lot, or the ability to sell the land to reduce the city’s debt, since those uses tend to be mutually exclusive. Even the possibility of inaction is a lost opportunity (in this example, to preserve the scenery as-is for neighboring areas, perhaps including areas that it itself owns).
Even though you may feel like you are gaining in whatever short term goals you are focusing on, you may be missing out on much more important opportunities because you don’t have the attention to notice them or the free time to spend on them.
- Letting family members feel loved and nurtured can greatly reduce the stress in the rest of your life.
- Deepening friendships can provide you with a support network for when you really need it.
- Focusing on hobbies that are creative/social outlets rather than “time wasters” can enrich your life without taking needless attention away from other endeavors.
- Regular exercise can improve energy levels, increase your health, and give you a reservoir for dealing with conflict.
- Getting enough sleep leads to better health, proper eating, and less crankiness.
- Quitting jobs that require all of your time and leave you feeling drained.
- Slack time is essential for being able to recognize and act on opportunities that come your way.
In the Luck Factor, Professor Richard Wiseman details a study where he asked participants to count the number of photographs in a sample newspaper. Subjects who had described themselves as “lucky” were much more likely to notice a message on page two, disguised as a half-page advertisement with large block letters: STOP COUNTING–THERE ARE 43 PHOTOGRAPHS IN THIS NEWSPAPER.
Obviously some measure of luck is based on chance, but this experiment and many others have led Wiseman to conclude that a significant portion of one’s good fortune is not random, but rather due to one’s state of mind and behaviors. He concludes that luck is an artifact of psychology, where a person is lucky not because of cosmic accidents, but because one achieves a particular mindset which precipitates and amplifies “lucky” events. While this observation may seem obvious, there are many interesting particulars in his findings.
Over the past month I’ve had the following opportunities related to blogging that I haven’t been able to fully capitalize on:
- Writing for a local tech rag
- Guest-blogging on Lorelle On WordPress
- Working on projects related to Sandbox WordPress theme
- Interviewed for a book about blogging
- Working with web2.0 startups
- Free swag and beta invites
Those are just the missed opportunities related to my hobby of blogging. They do not including the opportunities I may be missing in the rest of my life from spending so much time on blogging. Having your finger in so many pies leaves no room to try more of the other delicious pies out there. It seems so counterproductive to cultivate having slack time in your schedule, but it is what is needed to be able to recognize and respond quickly when opportunity comes knocking.
7 Habits for Highly Effective People deals with this subject in the chapter “Put First Things First”.