The Danger of Success (Or How to Pick the Right Opportunity)
If you’re smart, hardworking and persistent, you’ve got what it takes to be successful at any career you choose.
But as you climb the ladder, you’re likely to face a problem they don’t talk about in business schools: too many attractive opportunities.
For 90+% of the population, this is a problem that will never arise. But you… you are in the top 10%.
And the farther you travel down the road of success, the more opportunities will come your way.
I’ve heard this complaint from good people I’ve mentored for years. Just recently, GR, an up-and-coming copywriter, put it this way:
As one becomes successful, it seems more and more opportunities present themselves. It’s tempting to want to go after every single one of them.
So how do you spot the opportunities that are right for you?
Or, how do you decide which ones to say “no” to and which ones to place your bets on?
Here’s a quick answer, the answer I gave to him…
I don’t think there is a failsafe strategy for selecting and rejecting career opportunities.
If you are a thinking person, you will recognize in every opportunity a complex assortment of costs, risks, and benefits. The most obvious of these will be financial. But there are emotional, intellectual, political, and social costs, risks, and benefits too.
If you did a matrix that included all of these variables, it would quickly become very difficult to read. And that’s one reason smart people like GR have trouble deciding which opportunities to take and which to reject.
Here’s the thing. Opportunities are inherently complicated. You can’t un-complicate them.
But you can un-complicate the decision-making process by identifying your priorities. Here is one way to do that:
Size Matters… A Lot
The first and perhaps most important consideration is the size of the opportunity. By
If the financial benefit is modest (e.g., a chance to make a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars) in your free time, it’s usually best to decline.
Why? Because you’d be better off using that time to find bigger opportunities, opportunities to add tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to your net worth.
If the financial benefit is big but short-term (e.g., a one-time chance to make an extra 10 or 20 thousand dollars), it’s also best to decline.
Your free time is valuable. You want to invest it in situations that have a long life so that the benefit can compound, just like money in an investment account.
As Does Duration
That eliminates all but one sort of opportunity: the chance to make a lot of money indefinitely or at least over many years. These are almost always relationship opportunities – opportunities to build mutually advantageous relationships that could continue to grow for the rest of your career.
So ask yourself: Is this a transactional deal or a relationship deal? Transactional deals can be very attractive because they can result in nice, big payouts in a short span of time.
But you have to keep in mind that transactional activities do not compound, and compounding – as Einstein is reported to have said – is the E=MC2 of building wealth.
Just because the opportunity is big and long-term doesn’t mean you should take it. You must also analyze the costs and risks before you make a decision.
By costs I mean any financial investment you might be asked to make and the cost in terms of your time. The financial investment is relatively easy to assess. Just ask yourself if you would be comfortable losing any part of your investment. If you would be unhappy with such a result, say no.
If you’re okay with any financial investment, you have to determine whether your time is worth the potential benefit. And there is a little trick some people use to figure out exactly how valuable their time is.
Figure out how much you make right now on a per-hour basis. (Your annual compensation, including bonuses, fees, royalties, and dividends) Then divide that by the number of hours that you work. Let’s say that number is $100. Take the number of hours you’ve determined the opportunity will cost you and divide it into the financial benefit you expect to get from it (again on a yearly basis). If it is less than $200 (effectively doubling your current hourly value), say no.
Making decisions about whether to take or reject opportunities is not as simple as tossing a coin. But it doesn’t have to be crazy difficult. You don’t have to calculate every single variable. The main considerations are very few:
- How large is the benefit?
- How long will it last?
- What are the costs – both financial but also in terms of time?
- What are the risks – and am I comfortable taking them?
Only you can make the final decision about whether or not to pursue any opportunity that comes your way. But by evaluating each opportunity in this way, you’ll make more decisions more quickly and with greater confidence.
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