Opportunity Costs

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There is an evergreen concept I return to time and time again, and ironically I lifted it from a college course that was mostly incomprehensible to me. When I took the midterm for Econ, the course in question, I remember actually filling out the scantron in a random pattern of mostly “Cs,” because I had heard from an RA that “C” was right more often than any other answer on multiple choice tests. Amusingly, a guy behind me kept peering over my shoulder, trying to cheat off me. Sorry, dude.

The concept is “opportunity cost” and it’s pretty simple in theory. It means the value of an opportunity you pass by because of circumstance or limited resources. In more poetic terms, it’s the worth of the road not taken.

And I think we can all relate to that.

***

I can’t speak about my job, but I can say I love it. Mostly, I love working with people. For years, the only face-to-face interactions I had were with other moms at pick up and drop off, or at a few scattered playdates here and there. As a result, I imparted those brief encounters with tremendous weight. And that had a negative effect on me. I thought of myself as an introvert, but the truth is I have both introverted and extroverted sides to myself.

I could talk all day about how domestic work doesn’t have enough value in today’s society. Obviously there are situational variances in today’s world. The value depends on circumstance – where you live, what your family thinks about SAHMs and how your significant other regards the work that is done in the home. All I know is the work of cleaning, cooking, reading, teaching: it never ends. There was never a goal completed. And that was unnerving to me. My freelance work was of a similar nature. I hungered for a few words about my job performance. But none were forthcoming. It was an endless hamster wheel.

***

That being said, because I am human, I worry. Am I a good enough mom? Although my immediate “village” supports my work, and actually elevates me for doing this work (Status! Love! Support! It’s intoxicating!) I know there are others who frown upon it. And like so many who read me, I worked darn freaking hard to have my kids. They are my world. I love them beyond measure and reason. And my work helps pay for a school that values kindness and education above all. This school is like a coccoon for the twins: it loves, shelters, feeds, nurtures them. And there is no question that they are enveloped in a protective silky casing helped them to grow and thrive since starting kindergarten. They are showing signs of being smart, inquisitive, justice-obsessed, empathetic people. I know in my heart that my decision is best for everyone – all of us in this little family. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally pick at that scab of doubt and condemnation that unfortunately seems to live, eternally growing new scar tissue, within each woman’s heart.

***

So I think of the opportunity cost – the value of what was not pursued because of limited resources. Unlike a lot of people, I think, I am not haunted by goals I never achieved. I’m not an achievement obsessed individual, at least not on a personal level. I mostly don’t worry about the non-fiction book I never wrote or the novel I halfheartedly started but then walked away from. I don’t stay up nights feeling depressed that I missed the boat on working for some great start-up with an excellent exit. For me life has always been an obstacle course to mostly just be negotiated – a great (mostly) meritocratic race to a finish no one wants to reach. Death. What a bummer.

No. What I think about, my opportunity costs, they are experiences.

***

How do you value an opportunity cost? A road not taken? I don’t know.

***

Do you?

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4 Comments

Filed under Parenting After IF, What Say You?

4 responses to “Opportunity Costs

  1. Mel

    I had a big road-not-taken recently, an opportunity I turned down because I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to deal with it, even though I knew that turning it down meant probably living out the rest of my life without getting that experience. I passed the opportunity to someone else, and now I have to keep hearing about it. When I hear about it, I have a moment of regret. And then I remember how I felt emotionally when I needed to give an answer, and I reassure myself (knowing myself well) that I would have been miserable. I would be able to check off an experience box, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. And that helps me to let it go. To not paint it with rosy hues, but to look at reality.

  2. This is an interesting idea: opportunity cost. I’ve never really thought about missed chances in that way before, but it makes sense.

    I will admit that as a privileged person I have not had to miss many opportunities in my life. I have generally been able to pursue the paths I wanted to pursue. Now that I am a mother, though, I feel that there will be a lot of opportunities missed. Already I’m having to make hard choices about what my life can support, and usually it’s the things I want to do, or are interested in, that fall by the wayside when the choice needs to be made. I hope I never feel resentment toward my family about that.

    But this makes me want to write more about that possibility because I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, about how I sacrifice so much of myself for my family, and how I’m not sure if it’s sustainable. Right now it’s just little (but significant) things like sleep and time with friends, but maybe someday it will be something much bigger and farther reaching, like wanting to pursue a dream.

  3. Omigoodness, I’m an actress so for me the opportunity cost has been significant. I’ve turned down a life of security for a life that is like riding a rollercoaster. I’ve had many opportunities for well paying, stable jobs but I could never commit because I was pursuing my dreams. I meet so many people and never have the time to develop significant relationships because I work a day here or a day there. For a person who hates being bored, it’s been a lot of fun for me, but at this point in my life, I crave security and comfort. I don’t regret being an actor in the slightest but I think I might have planned a slightly different roadmap if I had had better resources.

  4. I was just thinking about how much I miss reading your posts! I do often think about when I was younger and there were so many different things I wanted to do, so many paths I could’ve taken. And of course by necessity I had to pick one, so I often wonder about the others I could’ve picked: other careers, other colleges, other spouses…

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