Are you about to buy a puppy? Or when to say No

Some project are projects, and some projects are puppies.

Let’s suppose I want to sign up to study a subject at University. I know roughly what I am getting into: the government legislates a subject to be 150 hours work over 15 weeks, and universities do a reasonable job of complying. Yes, there are spikes (some weeks requiring more than the average 10 hours); yes, there will be disorganisation; and yes, I don’t yet know the date of the final exam, but all these changes happen within a range.

And then there are puppies.

Once we have bought a puppy we cannot anymore think about whether the cost or inconvenience is worth it. We will feed it, train it, vaccinate it, walk it, clean it, clean up after it. We’ll find it a home during holidays, and to reciprocate, be a ‘home for other puppies’. When it gets sick we will stay up at night, and when the vet bill is due we will pay. Our insurance won’t bring peace and we’ll wonder whether a trip to Disneyland might have been cheaper. And in our darkest moments we’ll start comparing our kids’ promises to politicians’.

And so to, some projects. We enter with clear intentions to commit to a specific scope, to know our boundaries, and to stand firm to additional encroachments. But we find ourselves shouting at the surf; the cost of not complying is too high – we’ll lose friendships; or our kids will, or a career, or a business, or someone will die, or some other calamity. In the end, we will catch the wave and do what is needed to be done.

For the most, this is a good thing. It is a good thing that people who own puppies look after them. It is good that some doctors and nurses work on Christmas Day. It is good that Prime Ministers visit disaster zones. It is a good thing to care for your dying mother (as one Uber driver I met had been before he started driving). It is good that the show goes on.

Of course, even if a project is a puppy, there are occasions when it’s appropriate and possible to say no. But when a project that we don’t yet own stares up at us with those eyes, the time to say no is now.