The cost of opportunity

I’ve been OD’ing on Merlin Mann again, thanks to a whole series of Back to Work podcasts and six hours of driving again today.

No, before you mention it, this is not a post about cancer. I think I’ve mined that particular seam for the moment so I thought i’d do something else entirely. woop woop etc, eh?

So, the thing he mentions a lot in the podcasts is largely a challenge to the listeners, and something that I’ve heard repeated by a lot of people that I admire on the internet. Well… I admire them in real life too, but as I’m not a stalker and I don’t follow them home or even know where they live, especially as they all live in the US and so I wouldn’t stand a chance if I even knew where to start, I, er, just admire them from afar.

Anyway, the challenge he mentions is this: “What have you shipped?”. It’s all very well to ask what has been shipped, and by this he means what have you done – what have you created, for public consumption or otherwise?

I was thinking – doing that thing I do just before I sit down to make the clackity noise again – yes, I’m going to keep mentioning the clackity noise until it becomes so natural to me that I don’t feel the need to mention it again – about my job, and the cost of opportunity.

What you say? What’s that? I’m so glad you asked, because that’s what I’m going to write about. Eventually.

The cost of opportunity is that thing you do, the price you pay, to do what you do every day. Say you wanted to write and be a novelist and become all famous and celebrated in bookstores and on the internet and all that jazz. Before you can get there, you have to start. Starting is a good thing. Once you’ve got started, you have to keep going and get good at it before you can get published and achieve all the internet fame and have groupies chasing you down the street and begging you to sign any part of their bodies that they can expose to the dash of your pen without contracting an infection or getting arrested.

Off topic again. I’m really good at tangents, but not so good at mathematics, so I’d better get back on-topic again.

So, you want to be a writer and you get started and keep going and ship something, but all the time you’re doing that, you’re not getting paid, right? So you’ve got to do a job that keeps the lights on and pays for the heating and gives you enough free cash to eat and pay for all those distraction free writing environments you like so much, or all the coffees you drink while you’re in a coffee shop and “working on your novel” (insert suitable douchebag voice here), or that fancy new Mac you need so you can pose in the coffeeshop amongst all the other “writers”. Yes, I’ve got a thing about that, but that’s another post.

What do you do while you’re waiting for that big paid contract to come in? You get a day job, right? If you’re lucky, it’s something you enjoy and can happily do for the eight hours a day you’re not writing your blockbuster novel. If you’re unlucky, you hate it but you still need to sweat through it for those eight hours. Either way, the price you pay to keep the lights on and the heating on and pay for the coffees and the mac and the distraction free writing environment is the day job you do – and that is a cost.

I’m not being clear. The opportunity you have is to develop something, write a novel, sing a song, do whatever you want to do that isn’t work, but something else that plucks at your heartstrings and gets you up in the mornings when you don’t work, so you can get to doing it right away. That something that you want to ship. The cost of the opportunity is the day job.

But – I hear you say – that’s not a cost, that brings in money. Idiot. That’s a net gain, not a cost.

Yeah, but…. it’s a cost. If you wanted, you could spend all day, everyday, writing your novel or singing your song or developing a new Web 2.0 application that has some many cool features that VCs will beat your door down to deliver bucketloads of cash, but you will find that kind of hard from a cardboard box on the street, especially when you spend fourteen hours a day begging for spare change now, just so you can have a hot drink to keep you going enough to rifle through the bins behind your local supermarket to get something to eat. And your fancy new Mac, despite the “Air” designation, actually needs electricity to work and that’s tough to find on the street. I mean, the Local Authorities don’t exactly leave three pin powerpoints all over the pavement, do they?

Something has to be done everyday so you can have money to live, and all the time you’re earning the money to do the other thing, you’re not doing the other thing.

That’s your cost of opportunity. Wow. I really managed to draw that out, didn’t I? Do you see what I mean now? Has that made any sense?

 

Postscript note to self and the dear reader – this post doesn’t really make much sense, but it was regurgitated from my brain in about fifteen minutes and part of the contract I have with myself is to just write. So it stays. In future times I may look back and regret that decision.

Playing the card

I’m an evil sod. I really am. When most people have the dignity to deal with their illness in a calm and cultured manner, I used it to get things. The worse part? It worked.

OK, so I promised myself I wouldn’t talk about my cancer exclusively on this blog thing, but hell, it was and still is a huge part of my life and frankly it’s this or tell you about my personal productivity system, and believe me when I tell you I’ve still got that magnum opus brewing up to be regurgitated on these pages in several umpty-million parts. So stick with what you’ve got – is a phrase I’ve yet to hear mentioned by any wise old sage so I’ve decided to use it myself until someone corrects me.

Yes, I had cancer and at the early stages it was difficult to believe me, because apart from the bags under my eyes I looked fine. It wasn’t until a good few weeks into the chemo that all my hair started falling out and I really started on the crash plan lose weight because your appetite has gone diet, and then I looked really ill and suddenly the sheer power of what I had came to me. I could get sympathy! I could talk peoples’ ears off about myself and they felt obliged to listen!

Insert maniacal chuckle here. Yes kids, I took advantage of that in the most horrible way. I mean, there must have been a whole load of people who had heard me repeat my stories about a thousand times – and believe me, dear internet, I have some real doozies – but all in all they were just too polite to tell me I was boring them. I mean, can you imagine the horror of telling someone who has cancer that they are boring? It just isn’t the done thing, darling.

So I talked and talked and made people turn green with the hospital stories and tales of things going into me, and usually not staying there so they had to come out again and go back in, and things coming out of me that weren’t supposed to be there in the first place, and endless, endless tedious detail about treatment regimes and drugs and schedules and playing Xbox at home because I was bored out of my skull.

And the seemingly new ability to talk in really long sentences without taking a breath or letting you, dear reader, think about taking one either, which you can’t really if you are reading this aloud. Although why you’d want to is beyond me. Though you’re thinking about it now, aren’t you? I’m a mind manipulating genius.

Where was I? Oh yes, stories.

The thing was I couldn’t tell if people were just being polite or if they were genuinely interested. They certainly seemed to be interested. Perhaps they never had the chance to quiz someone with cancer before. I was being remarkably upbeat about it, that’s for sure, and perhaps that made it easier to ask questions and have curiosity satisfied. And that’s all before I started to use my illness to get things moving around me.

Yes, it’s true, having cancer – and therefore playing with the preconceptions that people still, unfortunately, harbour about those poor unfortunates that have it – means that you can pretty much play artistic licence with queues and experiences. Merely hinting that you have a disease that is potentially terminal does, I must admit, rather enhance the customer care experience when in retail establishments. Ahem. Did I ever do that? Well, I might have. Just once or twice. Admittedly, most of the time, I didn’t really need to ask – my bony frame, wheezing chest and hairless appearance did help things along a bit. I got discounts. And priority treatment. It was, all in, quite a fun experience really.

Mind you, the fact that I felt like shit pretty much all of the time did take the shine off the experience a bit and perhaps the memory of being treated like I was a special person shines a bit brighter than the actual events themselves. Feeling like shit does tend to do that to you, I suppose. If you can’t walk far and your nose keeps running because your God-damned nose hair fell out (yes, even nose hair goes eventually, and no nose hair means no stopping the constant flow of mucus), and you feel tired and sick and goddammit I have cancer get out of my way keeps playing in your head then while everyone does do their best to make you feel comfortable, you do develop a sense of entitlement. A sense of “I feel like crap and you don’t, so sod off out of my way” is more common than most.

Anyway, I started ranting when I didn’t intend to. My message? The one thing you can take away from all of this?

If you’re unlucky enough to have cancer, milk it for all you can get. Who knows, you might just end up feeling a little better for it from time to time. And you know what? That makes every day easier to get on with, and you bloody deserve that.

Back story

I’m making the clackity noise again. I’m rattling the keys of my minimalist keyboard and sitting in front of a nice big monitor and really really trying to recall the biggest moment of my life.

I suppose some sort of dramatic music should be playing at this point. I’ll wait while you go ahead and play some, or imagine some in your head, or whatever. I’ll keep making the clackity noise while I wait.

I suppose I could reel off stories of my past, and the dramatic bits and all that jazz, but in truth I have only one that I really remember. The day I was told I had cancer.

Please note that the word is ‘had’, not ‘have’. I had cancer. I don’t have it anymore. I’m one of the lucky ones, if having a form of cancer that is eminently treatable and curable and only needs four months of chemo and some surgery can be viewed as lucky.

I’ll bore you to death with the stories of how difficult these posts are to write, but they are true. Quite why, I don’t know, but they are difficult to get down out of my head and onto the glowing pixels in a little window on my monitor. I think one of the reasons that it’s so hard is because I’m a truly awful typist, and I keep misspelling words and having to go back and correct them all the time, which frankly is a pain in the backside.

So, clackity, clackity, I was told on valentines day in 2011 that I had testicular cancer, and not only was it in my testicle but the little swine had been on holiday up my lymph node system and had decided on establishing a little pied a terre in the lymph nodes in my back. I can’t recall the exact name of the place at the moment, but a wikipedia link will tell you all that you want to know and probably too much.

I could go on in a suitably Mills and Boon soft focus way about the moment, and the emotionally charged feeling and all the adrenaline in my system that was triggered by the dumb lizard brain that thought a fight or flight reaction was a good way to try and flee the thing that was growing inside me, but that wouldn’t do the moment justice. I was scared. Really fucking scared. Sorry for the swears, kids, but I was fucking terrified and thought I was going to die. There’s just no other way to put it.

Lisa and I clung to each other like we were on the deck of the Titanic and the band was still playing while any foundation we had was slipping and sliding away underneath us.

That, for me, lasted about a minute. Then, like a TV gaining focus when it’s been banged on the side or sworn at, the dull beige colours of the ward I was in snapped back into focus, the clearly thinking part of my mind got its’ shit together, and we started asking questions.

The speed at which I was whipped off the ward and into chemo belies the stories you may hear about the failings of the NHS – within two days I was in Mount Vernon Cancer Centre and chemotherapy was underway. The only reason it took two whole days was because of some complicated surgery stuff which is too boring to go into here.

So, in summary for the tl;dr crowd: Once my pain started getting worse, I was in hospital straight away. I had lots of scans and blood tests, then told I had cancer. Two days later, I was in a dedicated treatment centre and on chemotherapy.

Cancer may seem scary when you’re told you have it, but once the healthcare system starts rolling, you just cling on for the ride.

Making me cry

I’m reading Merlin Mann’s article about the clackity noise and the content is so good that it compels me to start writing straight away. Literally. I haven’t even finished the article and i’m starting to type.

Why?

Because he’s so good at pulling at your heartstrings when he talks about his memories of when his dad let him steer the car when he was a child, that just reading it starts to make me cry. Not cry at the story, and not really start crying right here (I’m in a hotel bar and the place is empty: even that well deserved outpouring of emotions would look strange here) but deep down in my heart, where memories reside and make the rest of me work and just do things, a little part of me is in tears.

I guess the point I’m trying (poorly) to make is that I have memories too and they make me want to cry, and laugh, and sit back and shake my head and wonder what happened. My most recurring memory of recent times is the sheer, unparalleled joy I’d get from eating a bowl of bran flakes at 7.30 in the morning.

Yes, there’s a meaning to the last sentence above. Deep, deep, meaning. The bowl of bran flakes was what I asked for every morning when I was in hospital. I’d perch on the end of my bed, wheel the tray so it was over my lap, carefully adjust my IV line and the pump so they were within reach and didn’t snag on anything, then savour every last goddamned spoonful of that little bowl. Then I’d have my single piece of toast, lightly spread with some sort of butter substitute, and sit back in bed, satisfied. Those moments of breakfast bliss were treasured, looking back, because every day I had them was another day I was alive.

There. Now I’m crying. really. just a little bit.

You’ll read countless other stories about how cancer is this thing, this disease that takes people away from us and ruins peoples’ lives and causes many others to throw off the shackles of life and just get on with that one thing they’d always wanted to do before they can’t do anything at all any more, but for me, cancer has a metric ton of connotations and memories. That’s one.