Is It Worth It?


Is it worth it? A four-word question that holds a lot of power. A truthful answer to this question is all we need to gain clarity, and make the best decision possible, when dealing with any situation.

This is the question I’ve been grappling with for the past few weeks. I’ve been asking myself this question about writing and investing. From one question, many smaller and more specific questions emerged.

  • Are the investing returns worth all the transactions, costs, and research?
  • Is this blog worth writing for and maintaining?
  • Is this article worth writing?
  • Is this article worth reading?
  • Is this research service worth it?

The question is valid for anything, from major life-changing decisions all the way down to the mundane.

  • Is it worth it to get married?
  • Is it worth it to switch careers?
  • Is it worth it to learn a new skill or language?
  • Is it worth it to buy a home?
  • Is this movie worth watching?
  • Is this five-dollar cup of coffee worth it?

We can also ask the same question when dealing with emotions, mostly as a reactive response.

  • Is this worth stressing out about?
  • Is this worth fearing, or worrying about?
  • Is it worth getting angry about this right now?

Is it worth it? One question with two its:

  • One it attempts to answer: What’s in it for me?
  • The other it is about: What do I need to give up, or do?

Everything we deal with is a form of exchange—the price (cost) we pay, and the value (benefit) we get.

If we’re not fully aware of the two components, we’ll end up making choices we might regret (or question) later, if we believe we paid more than what we got in return.

You can say in my case I’m questioning previous decisions and wondering where to go from here. I wrote this article. So in my estimation of costs and benefits, it was worth writing. Will it be worth it always? I have no idea. The truth is: our answers will change over time, depending on our growth and circumstances.

The changeability of life, and by extension, our answer to the question can complicate things further.

Consider this basic example. Is this five-dollar cup of coffee worth it?

A five-dollar cup of coffee at a swanky cafe might be worth it to you, if you’re meeting your friends and looking forward to spending a couple of hours enjoying their company.

The same choice may not be worth it, if you’re picking up a cup to go, and you have another close by coffee shop that offers quality coffee for half the price.

In both situations you exchange money for coffee and convenience. In the first scenario, you exchange the extra money and time for connection.

So how do we know if we’re making the most truthful, and the best decision?

We won’t know for sure until after the fact. If we’re satisfied, we won’t question the decision. But if we struggle with the exchange, or can’t appreciate the value of what we receive, then it’s time to ask the question again and see how the answer compares to our previous attempt.

Whether we’re asking the question for the first time, or the tenth time, we’re looking to define/redefine the two variables: value and cost.

On value

How do we determine the value we’re getting?

The values we receive can be one, or more, of the following:

Monetary value: Will this choice make me money? What return can I expect from this investment? How much money will I earn from this job? Or how much money will I save if I spend less on coffee?

Emotional value: How we feel about something can be the only thing we really care about. Maybe it will be peace of mind, or a release from negativity, or a sense of achievement or contribution.

Physical value: The decision might improve our health, fitness level, or reduce stress on the body.

Mental value: Learning, brain stimulation, and clarity are all values worth considering.

Social value: Connecting with family, friends, or community can be of great benefit.

Value is about what’s important, and in what form we’re getting it.

On cost

The price we pay is the cost of the decision. The price involves the following:

Money: We pay for a course, vacation, movie, pair of shoes and so on. This cost is very simple to determine. We can quickly make a decision if we can afford it outright or borrow money (mostly with credit cards) to cover such cost.

Time: This is harder to quantify, but is more important than money in certain situations. Buying a pair of shoes may not take much time. But taking a course will require a considerable time commitment. If we can’t afford it, we might be better off not committing right now.

Energy: Physical and mental effort need to be part of the the cost as well. To learn, we need mental focus and discipline. To exercise, we’ll exert physical effort. Energy is also required for any emotional experience.

All of these resources are available to us. How we allocate them depends on the value we’re getting.

Cost represents what we’re giving up and whether we can afford it.

As I mentioned earlier, struggle can be a sign that our choices may not be the most beneficial for us, and as such are worth reexamining.

Our conclusions and choices may change as we gain more experience and clarity, or at least know what’s not working.

We can also develop the skill to ask the question in new situations. If we intentionally stop and think for a moment before we jump into something—especially highly reactive responses—we may come to a completely different conclusion.

We can choose more consciously by un-automating actions and decisions. So I invite you, in any life situation you’re dealing with, to ask:

Is it worth it? What am I giving up? What am I getting in return?