Monday, August 11, 2014

Opportunity Costs - Balancing Yes and No

Over the past few days I've been thinking about opportunity costs. Here is a highfalutin' definition that I don't quite understand, but sounds official and deep and all, just in case you're interested in the real deal. My own home grown take:

An opportunity opens itself up to you. What will it cost you to say yes to it? What will it cost you to say no? What will it cost you to make a yes/no decision and then change your mind?

One weekend this spring my day job and my writing life collided in the form of two conferences that fell on the same dates. My options were attend one or the other. I couldn't do both.

"Torta casera argentina con crema chantill√≠ y duraznos" by Carlosdisogra - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - 

I couldn't have my cake and eat it too, dang it. 

I chose the writing weekend, which worked for me, but the costs included: I had to pay my own way (literal cost), I missed out on time with my work colleagues, I missed out on some professional training (ephemeral, but no less real costs).

In fact, I felt so bereft that I arranged for some of those day-job colleagues to come to town for a weekend getaway - a mini-conference of our own. In saying yes to this gathering, I had to say no to the August session of Lady Jane's Salon Silver Spring, where the Rockville 8's own Mackenzie Lucas was reading from her upcoming release, Courting Cinderella.

It's times like this when I wish I had a clone so I could be in two places at once.  

Now, in the scheme of things, one might say neither of these examples was a high stakes decision. But in each case, I had to do weigh the costs of saying yes or no.

This fall, I will begin a term on a non-profit board that meets on Tuesday nights once a month. Saying yes to this means I miss the opportunity to attend my Tuesday Nights Write group on the night(s) in question. I will lose butt in chair, fingers on keyboard time, but I will trade the time for a chance to expand my knowledge about something important to me and give back to the community.

Saying yes to a night of TV can help relax you after a stressful day, or spark story ideas, or create a situation where you'll overeat, or keep you from writing. Saying yes to a publishing contract can net you a monetary advance and increased distribution/visibility, but it might tie up your rights for longer than you're comfortable with. Saying no to a volunteer position might mean more time to spend on your writing or your family, or it could keep you from expanding your network of contacts and/or being Jill On The Spot when other opportunities arise.

This week I'm plunging into a Fast Draft session. For the next two weeks, I'll devote my "free" time to working exclusively on my book and post my progress on a social media accountability group. Saying yes to this, means I'll have to say no to: TV, pleasure reading, pool time, video games, hanging with friends who aren't writing (and cleaning the house, which is possibly not that big a loss....).

Do you ever wonder about your opportunity costs? Has there ever been a time when it hurt to say yes to one thing because it meant the other opportunity/ies were lost forever? When saying no was the stupidest decision you ever made?

Just how do you balance yes and no?


  1. All great examples of counting the cost, Keely. It's imperative. And, needless to say, in this day and age there's always something key at stake.

    I feel the crunch often with my family--and more so these days since I have a son leaving for college in eight days. I'm always juggling the cost of a writing career against the precious days, weeks, months, and years I have with my teenage boys. Some days it's a no-win situation. I often feel like I've made the bad decision; in reality, I haven't. It just "feels" that way momentarily. Counting the cost often means weighing the long-term benefits vs. the short-term sacrifice.

    Great post, and thanks for pimping my title which is out this week (August 13th). I have a book birthday the day after my birthday. What could be better? ;0)

  2. Great post, Keely. I have no balance. I commit, produce, juggle, always short change something, and do it all over again. I think authors need quiet, hours, support and to opt out of real life, and this is an impossible wish list, so we make do. Yes, tradeoffs everywhere. I just keep putting my shoulder in and play catch up, and those that really love me understand I love writing and have to do it. Those that don't, I don't need. XXX

  3. PS

  4. Keely, this issue is very real to me.

    I'm with Candy. I almost always feel like I've made the wrong choice and paid the price, but in hindsight, I can see it usually was the right choice after all.

    And I'm with Emelle. Balance? What's that? Seems I dive into those swirling messes of choices and costs looking for it. Sometime, I find balance. Sometimes.

    Really, I suppose all we can do is choose to keep making choices. After all, not choosing is a kind of choice and it has costs, too.

    Great post, Keely. (And while I'm at it, Mackenzie's new release certainly has a great cover!)

  5. I wondered last night if balance was really the right word, here. Balance seems to imply a certain turgidity - as though to remain in balance, one must remain still and treat all priorities as equal. I don't think they are. I think it's perfectly normal to juggle - just that, in doing so, it's wise to remember what your core values are so you don't start juggling flotsam. Maybe dynamic balance or nimble balance would take away some of the anxiety? Driving "straight" down a road requires constant course corrections when you're in a car. What should life be any different?

  6. It's so true that we're constantly making choices, and each choice usually means sacrificing something. Life is just a juggling act, and sometimes the balls hit the floor. :-)

    Great post, Keely!