Opportunity Cost & Quality of Life: What we Give up for What we Get

If you’ve ever had an economics class, you probably have a good understanding of what opportunity cost is. For those of you who don’t, I’ll go ahead and lay it out:


What does that mean? For the context that we’re using it in – it means that resources can only be allocated to one thing. So that by selecting one thing, you forgo an opportunity somewhere else. If Suzie goes to the beach during the week, her opportunity cost is the money she would have made working.

In economics, this is usually related to money and investing. But in life, there’s an opportunity cost for your time. Things that you miss when you invest your time in other places. For me right now, I’m writing a personal blog when I should likely be writing a client blog. My opportunity cost is time I’ll later spend writing that blog where I’ll sacrifice quality time with Kyle in the evening. Well, not really – he’ll be working at the warehouse. So say Netflix and Facebook time. I’m okay with that.

When I was little I didn’t grow up with a ton, since my mom was a single mom. Thankfully my mom is an uber tightwad and was able to somehow give us an incredible amount raising three children on a nurse’s salary. From a material need perspective, we didn’t want for much. We got gifts on our birthdays and good parties and there really wasn’t much else we needed. For my mom that came at the expense of spending time with us. I’m sure she had a lot of guilt over that. Because she was a nurse she worked 12 hour shifts and 7am-7pm – and sacrificed quite of bit of her time with us on those days she was working. She would pick up extra shifts beyond her normal three to make extra money. Her opportunity cost for this was time with her children.

When we’re young, we’re obviously not all raised the same, but whatever message that our parents and teachers engrain in us is pretty much our focus. For those that shaped me, success was important. You did well in school so you could be successful. Success meant wealth. “You have to do well in school so that you can have more.” I dunno if it’s the American dream that designated that we had to do that, or my family’s lack of money or what it was – but that’s what I learned.

But somewhere along the way, maybe when I started having kids, I stopped wanting to work so much. I like money. I like stuff. Who doesn’t? But at what expense?

Opportunity Missed and Taken Green Road Sign

Kyle was saying to me the other day that true Millennials weigh in their heads if things are worth it. Is the stress of this venture, this job, this opportunity, worth the quality of life that it will now or inevitably cost me? Millennials don’t choose what’s easy, they choose what’s most rewarding.

This is why we’re seeing more and more Millennials buy buses and roll out and just travel. Life is short. They know this. Millennials aren’t lazy, they just see through that American dream and know what’s most important to them. 

So for me, owning my business was a type of freedom. It was freedom from ridiculous bosses and silly structures that did more harm than good. It was finally doing something I loved with clients that were passionate about their services and products.

But, lately, I get a little stuck when it comes to my business. A prospect in a meeting asked, “Why don’t you guys market yourselves?”

It’s a valid question. Blogs everywhere state that if your agency isn’t doing their own marketing actively, how can they possibly know how to do yours well? Being a super small agency, I’m right on the cusp of making a decision of whether or not to grow the business.

But I’ll never forget that first time I had to let go of an employee because of money. I cried. It’s unprofessional, but I cried. I had taken the opportunity to be with my new baby and the cost of that was not delivering as well for my clients, being less engaged with my employee and not actively marketing my business. So when we lost a few clients (which happens), there was no revenue to replace them with. 

It truly was my fault that I had to let her go. My opportunity cost in those few months was my favorite, most incredible employee.

I’m so scared to ever end up there again. But as we get busier and busier, I find that I’m taking the opportunity cost in the reverse. I’m sending my husband out with the kids so I can do some things on the weekends. I’m answering e-mails and taking client calls during T ball practice.

HiRes copy 5Mom guilt sucks, right? It really does. When you want to be the best mother you possibly can, but you’re being pulled at from all sides. The kids haven’t been feeling their best the last few weeks and it broke my heart every day when they cried as we put them in the car or as I left for a meeting after working from home.

The opportunity cost of a working mother is significant. It’s emotional. It’s so, so guilty.

So, here I am. On this cusp of business growth, making a decision on whether or not to move this business forward or just keep it the same. My opportunity cost of working is already so great.

As mother’s we are so hard on ourselves. But as you move forward and live and start to frame your decision-making, consider this: What is the MOST important thing to you? Of everything?

It doesn’t matter what that is. Figure that out and go for it. Make every decision in support of that goal.

Opportunity cost exists no matter what route you take. But perhaps the most important thing is to not linger on what the lost opportunity was, by choosing the one thing that you won’t regret choosing, because for you – it’s the greatest opportunity.

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