Now and then I pace my place
I can’t retrace how I got here
I cheat the light to check my face
It’s slightly harder than last year
And all at once it gets hard to take
It gets hard to fake what I won’t be
Cause one of these days I’ll be born and raised
And it’s such a waste to grow up lonely
– John Mayer, from Born and Raised
The “Science for Arts Students” program at McGill University was a series of classes completely lacking in any sort of academic rigor or credibility as a learning experience. Instead of being insulted by the low value the science department placed on the left hemispheres of our brains, we rejoiced in the opportunity to add a few empty credits on to a reading/paper saturated courseload.
The only things I remember from any of those classes are the phrases “run, don’t walk from a tsunami” and “don’t forget to pay your hotel bill (in case of a tsunami).” No I have no idea which class this was, as grateful as I am for the two basic life skills it imparted. But I digress. Back to topic.
Social Sciences at the Fashion Institute of Technology were only one or two notches above this. Our economics class was no exception: it was at best, high school level, pure memorization, dry as sawdust, and basically made me want to skin myself alive with a blunt knife. If it weren’t for my very entertaining friend Tandi, I don’t think I would’ve made it through.
However the beauty of taking a course that is so simplified, and well, easy, is that the concepts generally stick with you long after you have passed your exams, and lost any need to use the information. One of the ones that has always stuck with me is the principle of opportunity cost.
According to Wikipedia, “the opportunity cost of a choice is the value of the best alternative forgone, in a situation in which a choice needs to be made between several mutually exclusive alternatives given limited resources.” This applies to life too – every time you make a choice, you forsake something. Sometimes you can go back and undo these decisions, but over time, like in the John Mayer lyrics above, with time some of those choices become completely unavailable to you.
As a person that has a history of making big changes suddenly, without warning, forethought or planning, I’m well versed in the concept of giving up things. I have made each of these decisions for good reason, and each time I have made these changes, they have been what has been right for me at the time.
And for the longest time I felt that I could have it all – that I could have my cake and eat it. To a certain extent it was arrogance on my part that I thought I could flip my life 180 degrees and not sacrifice anything. It has become a natural part of my life.
At this point, I have literally ended all my long-term relationships in some way or another, by moving out of the country (wish I could claim it was a masterminded strategy, but nah it’s just coincidence). It has gotten to the point where it is more comic than anything else.
I am far away from the friends I feel closest to, and many of them have gone through major changes in their lives without me there to share it with them (marriage, becoming parents for the first, second or in some cases third (Dara that one’s for you) time). I cannot be in three places at once, and for me to want them to stop their lives and wait for a point that I could come back and be a part of it is selfish and unreasonable.
But then how do you minimize that opportunity cost of doing what you want when you want to? How do you beat the system? But also, is wanting it all too individualistic an approach?
Human beings are social creatures, and to a certain extent we have to balance living for ourselves with living as part of a group. We naturally want to belong, to share, to bond, albeit, each in our own way. But we are also selfish and want to put ourselves first.
Many of the choices we make, and the opportunity costs we incur, involve these other people in our lives. Some of us lean largely towards decisions that benefit those around us, while others lean towards ones that are purely self-centered. At what point do any of us look back and realize that some of these costs are non-refundable?
Arguably you don’t know which options may close when you take a certain decision or step, and sometimes less choices are a good thing – too many become overwhelming. Finding the middle ground between making decisions that are purely self-serving and those that forsake what you want for others: that is the trickiest part. To pursue what makes you happy first, but balancing out what will serve those around you.