Monday, August 30, 2010

concerning birthday parties

Well - we had Jonas's birthday party Saturday. It was fun and he was really cute ripping apart his own little cake.

I think that school starting today has made me a little more thoughtful. I kinda miss all that analytical thinking. I never thought I'd miss writing papers but in a way I do. It really helps to formalize your thoughts and get things straight. So here's my report - Concerning Birthday Parties:

It's just a kid's first birthday party - not really an environment where you'd thinking learning would happen. Unless maybe a first encounter with fire, cake etc. But I feel like I learned a lot. I had an ah-ha moment. I'm figuring out that I overcomplicate my life in needless ways. This party is the perfect example.

I've been thinking about it today and it reminds me of something I learned working on financial reports at Lehi Roller Mills (and helping Russell study for Accounting 101 a while back): the cost benefit ratio. In business this is used to decide whether a project is financially worthwile by comparing the cost to the profit. Say it takes a total of $10,000 to produce a line (including all the production, labor, management, raw goods, and transportations costs), and the money made on that line is $15,000. There's obviously a profit to be made there - and it's worthwhile.

At the time it didn't occur to me that it could have any other application - but I've been thinking about it in terms of my life. This ratio can really apply to anything. It gets more complicated when things don't have a simple dollar value - but every activity has some kind of cost (time, money, effort, etc) and benefit (satisfaction, fulfillment, accomplishment, etc.). If you divide the cost by the benefit, and the outcome is over 1 that means that the cost is higher than the reward - and it's probably not worth it. The idea either needs to be scrapped or reconsidered in a way to make it more worthwhile.

For example:

I have only so many hours in the day and a lot of things that I could/should do with them. Say I spend a half hour playing with Jonas and reading to him to help him to be happy. The cost is time and a little bit of effort. On a scale of 1-10 I'd rate the cost at 2. But the benefit is something that I value highly, time spent with my son, making us both happy - rated in enjoyment at an 8. cost 2/ benefit 8 =.25 . Since the outcome is less that 1 that shows that the reward definitely outweighs the effort - and it's a worthwhile activity.

So the trick is to try to get the most benefit out of the least cost. That might sound kind of selfish - but it's not. It's all about using your resources wisely for maximum reward.

Now - back to birthday parties. The cost benefit ratio also applies here.

Let's take a look at the birthday cake:

I spent a lot of time and energy trying to get a cake that looks like this example by Martha Stewart (first mistake). I spent a good part of the day baking, looking up tips, frosting, chilling, frosting, layering, piping etc. I made the house a mess, got frustrated when the cake wasn't perfect, and spent time away from Jonas (the poor kid actually cried for a lot of it because he just wanted to play with me. "sorry Jonas! I'm making this cake for YOU."). All of these adding to the cost - and adding nothing to the benefit. On a scale of 1 to 10 I would rank my effort on this at an embarrassing 8.

When it came down to it - the cake didn't look perfect (Martha Stewart perfect that is) and frankly it didn't even taste that good. I spent all this time trying to make a cake pretty when it's main purpose is to be eaten and tasty. The total benefit I'd rank at a 4.

Cost 8 / benefit 4 = 2. Not worth it. I'd been working for a reward that I didn't value (a pretty but not that yummy cake). Next time I'm going to consider the purpose and make a smarter decision... like this:

Nice rustic (homemade) beauty and the taste is going to be phenomenal. And I won't spend forever trying to smooth out frosting lines.

To really be able to decide if something's worth the effort you also have to think about its purpose. For me the purpose of a birthday party is to celebrate the person whose birthday it is - and to enjoy being with family and friends. period. Not to try to make any kind of an attempt at an impressive display of decorations, cake, favors etc. For some reason (cough, cough, cough) I got distracted when it came to Jonas's party. Not completely just a little bit. He still had fun, and we still got to spend time with family and friends. But I spent too much time on the cake, decorations, favors, lunch, etc. I was so distracted by getting everything going that I couldn't enjoy the people as much as I would like. And since I'd put so much into it I was worried about making the party fun enough to make all my efforts worth it... trying to force the benefit to increase to match my cost. Such a thought process of course only added stress to my growing list of costs. If I'd cut back on the little details then my enjoyment would have actually been greater - and the cost would have been far less.

Not to say that making things pretty, or attention to detail is not worth it. There are situations where it definitely has a positive effect of the benefit. For example, Russell and I spent some time making a cardboard refrigerator box into a little play house.


It was a lot of fun deciding where to put windows, doors, etc and it only took a little time and no money. But after we'd cut everything and it was ready to play with, I took some time and colored the whole thing with a sharpie, outlining windows, drawing grass and flowers, putting vines and bugs all over.

Yeah, technically it was a waste of time in that the kids probably would have had just as much fun with it if it wasn't "all cute". But I had so much fun doing it. The time spent drawing it wasn't just a cost, it was a reward in itself. I wish that I would have gotten video with all the kids playing with it. They had so much fun. They took ball pit balls and filled it up and threw them up and down the chimney and through the windows. The little bit of effort was totally worth it. Maybe if I'd enjoyed actually making the cake more it would have been worth it as well.

So I guess that what I've learned from all of this is that next time around - it's just going to be simple, but delicious cake and ice cream. :)

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