The Cost

I want to take you through a thought experiment.

Let’s say I offered you one million dollars to shovel elephant feces for eight hours. In the hot sun. With no breaks. Would you do it? I certainly would – only eight hours, for a million bucks? That’s a great deal. Maybe you wouldn’t, but I’ll assume you would, if you’re able. If you’re physically unable to do this task, you can substitute any equally-unpleasant task that you’re physically capable of performing; doesn’t matter for the purpose of this hypothetical.

Okay, so you’d do Unpleasant Task X for eight hours for a million bucks, cool. How about for a week? 7 days straight, eight-hour days, no breaks. But you get a million bucks. Still with me?

How about a month? 31 straight days, eight hours a day– no, you know what, let’s make it 12 hours a day. 12 hours a day for 31 days, no breaks. But you get a million dollars. Maybe fewer people would do this. It still sounds like a great deal to me, but everybody isn’t me.

How about a year? A full year, 365 days straight. 12 hour days. No days off, no breaks. And to make it even harder – you don’t get the money until the year is done, AND if you miss even a minute you lose. If you’re 2 minutes late on the last day, you get zero. Would you still do it?

What if I made it ten million? Fifty million?

The point of this experiment is to realize that different people have different thresholds for what costs they’re willing to pay for what benefits. Some people wouldn’t even do the scenario as initially presented, and others would do even the last scenario. There might be a number that would make you do the year-long version that’s much higher than $50 million, or it might even be lower than a million.

Everything in life has a cost. Sometimes we pay too much attention to the cost and not enough attention to the benefit, and we end up not doing things that would actually be really great for us in the long run because we’re too focused on the short-term unpleasantness of that cost. Other times we focus too much on the benefit and not enough on the cost, and end up sacrificing too much to get something we think we wanted. It’s good to spend some time balancing the scales. Take some inventory of the things you’re working towards right now – are you paying too high a cost? And what things have you chosen not to strive for because the cost is scary – would the benefit outweigh it?

Take that step back and look at the whole picture. You’ll be better off for it.

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