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.