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Saying no to good opportunities

When we don't know what we want, it is very easy to evaluate new opportunities that come our way. We can tell with a certain probability as to whether the new opportunity will be better than the current path we are on or not. We can compare the expected pay-offs (risk) and factor in the switching cost and decide whether to take up the new opportunity or say no to it.

When we do know what we want is when it starts to get tricky.

As in this scenario, we will not only have to do a similar evaluation of expected pay-offs and switching costs, but also factor in our own conviction about what we want. The question being, is what we want today what we will continue to want tomorrow, next month and next year?

The longer the horizon, the harder it is to have a strong conviction about what we want.

This makes the evaluation incredibly hard. And as a consequence, we often give up on our conviction and default back to evaluating in the first way by reducing our evaluation to a mere comparison of whether the new opportunity is immediately better than what we have today, acting like the proverbial 'bird in hand is better than two in the bush'.

Which is why modern (and ancient) literature is full of characters portrayed as heroes for forgoing good opportunities to stay true to their convictions, even resulting in popular books like 'The power of No'.

While I respect people who stay true to their convictions, there is no scientific evidence that such behaviour is better. All the stories and examples quoted to support it reek of survivorship bias.

Nevertheless, such stories are inspirational and act as good anchors and role models for basing our own decisions to stick with our convictions.

At the end of the day, whether we stick to our convictions or not is only a mental coping mechanism to keep ourselves happy about the decisions we make. And there is no inherent virtue about such behaviour.

Yet, a bulk of the society perceives it so. So, it doesn't hurt to stick to our convictions and say no to good opportunities that come our way that aren't aligned with our convictions. 

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