Back in the day, I went to business school. It’s hard to picture it now, because most ideas capturing my interest have to do with people, spirituality, psychology and growth. It’s not that business isn’t important or necessary; it’s just not what lights my fire.
But, I digress.
When I was in business school at Pacific Lutheran University, there is one particular term I learned from economics that has always stuck with me: opportunity cost.
Maybe you’ve heard this before, maybe not. But it’s essentially referring to the loss we experience when we choose to do “A” instead of “B.” For example, if I say I want to spend my $5.00 on a Pumpkin Spice latte, it means I can’t use the same $5.00 to buy a breakfast burrito (admittedly, this is a pretty tough decision). Either there has to be more money or I have to choose what I’d rather have. Thus, the opportunity cost is what we give up when we make a choice.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot in my own life.
I’m not sure if you’re one of those people who feels a pull to do everything. I’m not sure if you feel passionate about multiple issues. I don’t know what makes you tick. Maybe you are a bottomless well of energy and time.
But I can tell you about my heartbeat and how God made me. I feel deeply about a number of issues. You can usually tell because my cheeks get all rosy red and I feel like I have about a million thoughts. I also have a desire to be excellent when I choose to do something, and it can be frustrating when I’m not. I sometimes have the sense if I can just do one more thing, it will make a huge impact.
And yet as I’ve grown, I’ve learned the actual amount I have to contribute to the world is fairly small. I am so very finite.
Please hear me when I say each of our contributions and the work God has for us is significant. But it’s still just a tiny little drop in the bucket of our world. In a planet with seemingly insurmountable need—I’m just one person.
And because of this reality, I want my contribution, my legacy—the thing I choose to do with my time and talent--to actually matter. I don’t want it flittered away on random details that don’t actually make any difference.
I don't want to use the energy I could have spent loving my family well on organizing my dishes. I don't want to use the tiny sliver of time I have for writing to read a magazine I don't even enjoy.
It's simply not worth it.
And this is where I’ve begun to think about opportunity cost again. If I admit I can’t do everything, then I must also admit that my yeses show my priorities. And when I say yes to things that are for the wrong reasons, or don’t matter, or because I want to please someone else—well, what I’m doing is admitting that important, relevant pieces of my life aren’t actually as important as I say.
On some level, I think we all know this. We know if we spend our time (or money, or resources or energy) in one place, we don’t necessarily have it to spend in another. But we excel at ignoring this truth, don’t you think?
And so what I’m chewing on— slowly and deliberately— is recognizing what I have to give, and valuing it enough to spend it where it matters most.
For me, it’s memories not stuff. It’s people not money. It’s presence not striving.
It's remembering what I have to give is small but valuable. And so I must choose to spend it well.