Every Choice You Make Has an Opportunity Cost, What Are You Losing Out On?
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything” — Warren Buffet
Every day we’re confronted with hundreds of decisions.
Most are insignificant: avo toast or scrambled eggs? Not really going to change your life.
But it’s the seemingly small, or even “incredible” opportunities and choices we make daily that make up our lives.
By the end, the choices we make every day will add up to 80+ years of life (if we’re lucky). Without knowing it, every opportunity, every decision, every choice compounds to create the trajectory of our years.
Just like a small serving of ice cream every night can compound into pounds of fat over time, the seemingly insignificant choices we make every day compound into metaphorical life-belly rolls or a 6-pack — whichever you choose.
But just like the calories in ice cream, there are hidden opportunity costs in every single choice we make. Without our knowing, those hidden costs can add up, resulting in a lack-luster life and regrets.
The Hidden Costs of Our Choices
“The cost of stability is often diminished opportunities for growth” — Sheryl Sandberg
Every choice you make is at the expensive of a different choice.
On the small scale, if you’re invited to go to a big beach party, but you have a new self-help book you’re dying to read, you’re faced with a choice: beach or book?
It seems insignificant, but both choices are at the cost of the other. If you go to the beach party, you might end up expanding your network, finding your soul mate, or meeting someone who helps launch a new career.
But if you stay and read the book you might suddenly discover a new and innovative idea that solves some larger problem people are faced with. You end up writing about said idea and launching a writing career.
On the large scale this might look like a new job opportunity.
For instance, I had a good, coveted and comfortable job up until the beginning of October, 2017. My boss was awesome, we had a beer fridge, bar cart and endless Late July habanero bacon chips. It was neat.
Unfortunately, I loathed the work and each day felt like a choice of smashing my face on things — it hurt going to work.
But, I live in a ski town where the “full-time/year-round” job is like gold. If you have one, you’ve “made it” and you’re also buying the PBR every Friday night.
I had the freedom to go to work when and where I wanted and skiing/hiking/mountain biking/romping in the woods were part of my job duties.
As you can imagine, I had a VERY hard time coming to the decision of quitting.
I decided that, bar cart aside, the work that I was doing every day would add up to my whole life and I couldn’t imagine living a life that felt like loathing. What’s the point?
So when I was offered an opportunity to go live in the Costa Rican jungle for 3 months where I would make $0, but have the perfect blank slate to start my writing career, I sat my boss down and gave my notice.
I was faced with two opportunities:
- Stay in a career where I’d likely get steady raises, but ran the silent risk of eventually losing that job and not having relevant skills in the future.
- Or leave my job to go to Costa Rica and work my ass off every day to launch my writing career.
The writing career gives me a lot of avenues to pursue and make money, and ultimately I have my finger directly on the pulse of the market, so I can make swift and intelligent decisions about where to take my career.
And, most importantly, work doesn’t feel like smashing my face on things anymore — I’m doing work that feels meaningful and I’m 100% in charge of my own success and destiny.
It’s thrilling and risky, like cliff jumping.
But both choices are so loaded with pros and cons, of which I could spend plenty of time navigating, but the point is that each has it’s own set of opportunity costs.
Taking the safe route and staying with my job would have meant I was settling for mediocre in lieu of unknown potential and success.
Quitting my job and moving to Costa Rica for 3 months to launch a writing career means I’m running the risk of having to find another job when I get home, of failing, of risking the health of my marriage. The list goes on.
The point here is that every choice, big or small, is at the expense of the other option. You don’t get to make any choice without paying for it in some, more or less unknowable way.
Pie = Opportunity
“They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.” — Stephen Covey
Opportunities are hard.
They’re great, they feel good, it feels abundant and exciting being presented with new choices.
But the problem is a lot of us are living with a scarcity mindset.
We believe that there is not enough to go around:
- Enough money
- Enough jobs
- Enough career opportunities
- Enough raises
- Enough tacos*
*actual fear of mine
The feeling of lack and scarcity makes us live from a place of fear.
For instance: There’s already a bunch of freelance writers in my niche, there’s not enough of the market to go around. Or, if I don’t say yes to this opportunity, someone else will and I’ll be left without opportunities.
Living from this place makes us say yes to things, even if they’re not really right for us.
- Like saying yes when he pops *the question* even though you know in your gut he’s not the right one.
- Like taking that corner office and pay raise even though you regularly fantasize about taking a baseball bat to your cubicle.
- Like taking on a bigger workload because it’ll look good for that end of year raise, even though you’re health is declining, you haven’t been able to sleep and your social life is non-existent as it is.
We have it in our heads that every upward move is the right move, even though it goes against our goals, our gut, and our wellbeing.
It’s feeling like I’m a fool for leaving my steady, full time/year round job when there are ski bums who can’t find work as line cooks.
This grab-bag mentality, where we’re aggressively clawing at every opportunity that comes our way, is actually preventing us from succeeding.
The choice: say yes to his proposal, walk down the aisle, and buy the house.
Opportunity Cost: potentially being single and living a full and happy life, or finding the right person that you can’t wait to marry.
The Choice: the pay raise and corner office.
Opportunity Cost: Less mobility in the future, because taking a pay raise makes the extra cash more difficult to replace when you try starting at the bottom somewhere else.
The Choice: taking on more work to impress your boss and hopefully get the pay raise.
Opportunity Cost: lower quality of work overall, less time with family and friends, lower quality of life.
But what if we decided to say no to most things, instead of yes to every opportunity that comes our way?
The Opposite of Yes-Man
“Say no to everything, so you can say yes to the one thing.” — Richie Norton
The first step in creating headway in your life, becoming successful or starting that thing you’ve always wanted to starts with saying no.
But first we need to stop living in a scarcity mindset, which starts, ironically, by saying no to everything and doing/having less now.
Stephen Covey explains the abundance mindset “flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody.”
It takes faith to trust in abundance.
It takes the will to say no to opportunities now in order to manifest something better in the future.
Everything you do, every opportunity you say yes to takes time, energy, and resources, which ultimately takes away those same things from the alternative choice.
So if you face every opportunity with the mindset that this is taking away from something else (like your goals, your dream career, etc), it’ll be much easier to say no and to trust that in doing so you’ll have more opportunity to chase your dreams in the future.
I had a raise coming my way at my old job. But I knew that if I stayed and took the raise, it would be so much harder to start from the bottom in a career I loved.
So I had to say no to the immediate opportunity of more money, in order to say yes to the chance of more money, more personal security, and a more fulfilling life in the future.
That future income isn’t guaranteed. In fact, I have no idea how much money I’ll be making. But the point is that I have faith in my own ability to kick ass and make significantly more money with this career than I would have as a content coordinator.
I became a ‘no-woman,’ and the results of which are still unknown, I might still crash and burn.
But I know how sticking with my old job goes: I wake up every day hating my career, sacrificing my mental health for a paycheck, not being utilized to my full potential and living without purpose.
A life like that is way scarier than the very real chance that I’ll crash and burn and never make a cent with my writing.
But, by saying no to more opportunities, I’m zeroing in on the goals I’ve set for myself.
I’m creating set boundaries for my future success.
I’m taking complete control of my life, so I’m not at the whim of automation, or cheaper labor in foreign countries.
Every decision you make is a vote for or against your goals.
Every day adds up to the rest of your life and each choice compounds overtime.
If you’re like most people, you want to live a fulfilling, meaningful, exciting life. But if we continue living from a place of scarcity, and blindly make choices without realizing each has an opportunity cost, we’re going to struggle.
The first step to success is getting crystal clear on what you want.
Then saying no to everything that takes time, energy and resources away from that goal. So basically everything that doesn’t move you forward:
It might be painful letting things pass you by, but trust that if you keep putting in the work and let go of distracting opportunities, you’ll have a better chance at living the life of your dreams.
Say no to most things so you can say a resounding yes to your best life. Everything else is just unnecessary distraction and minutia wasting your time.
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