The cost of opportunity

I’ve been OD’ing on Merlin Mann again, thanks to a whole series of Back to Work┬ápodcasts 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.