By William Brown
My dad used to tell me, “You can have anything you want in this life, but you can’t have everything.” That, to me, illustrates the value of choice. We have to decide what we really want in life and make a choice. What you say no to is just as important as what you say yes to, maybe even more so.
What if we reframe the way we look at the concept of making a choice. When you say yes to one thing, you are also saying no to all of the other things. Let’s be specific. Think about buying a car. If you buy a Hyundai, you have also decidedly not bought a Toyota or Ford.
Economists would explain the buying-a-car example as opportunity cost, which is the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. In other words, opportunity cost is the cost of saying yes.
When you spend time doing something, you are also choosing to not spend time doing other things. Learning to evaluate your opportunity cost is meaningful because doing something that’s not important doesn’t make it more important.
Steve Jobs said, “I’m as proud of many of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.” Apple could’ve made a thousand different gadgets, but they meticulously focused on only a few.
Steven Covey, the author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” said, “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage pleasantly, smilingly, and non-apologetically to say no to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger yes burning inside.”
Sometimes the no can provide more guidance than the yes. When you say yes to waking up early and working out, you’re also saying no to sleeping in. If you are focused on your health, what you don’t eat is just as important as what you do eat.
What if we reframe the way we look at the concept of choices? Instead of thinking about only what you’re saying yes to, consider the opportunity cost. What are you saying no to? Be clear about the alternatives you’re declining. Noticing what you need to say no to will help clarify your path to your goals.
William W. Brown is founder and board chair of Legacy Early College. He can be reached at email@example.com.