Friday, December 24, 2010

The Value of all the Foregone Alternatives Summed Together

2010 has been a big year. Wendy and I celebrated 20 years of marriage, I turned 40, and I entered fully into my second career. (The first career was in civil engineering, the second is in higher education.) As can be read in previous posts, I have been working through this major life transition for the last year or two and am quite surprised at where the Lord has placed me. Through this career shift, I have pondered many of the other things that I want to do or desire to accomplish in this life. Matt and I call this our pipe-dream list.

For example, today I saw an announcement of a new masters degree at another college that I would love to pursue. Yet, as I look around at my wife and kids and think through my various responsibilities—like loving my wife as Christ loved the church and gave up his life for her, and providing food and education for these children—it is clear I won’t be packing my bags for Moscow (Idaho) anytime soon. Life-long learning is a good thing. I can’t wait to keep learning unfettered once we get to the next great life.

Alan Jacobs, who I increasingly admire and enjoy reading, quoted Robert Nozick in his essay, “Opportunity Costs,” from his book Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant.
As Robert Nozick once wrote, “Although [young people] would agree, if they thought about it, that they will realize only some of the (feasible) possibilities before them, none of these various possibilities is yet excluded in their minds. The young live in each of the futures open to them….Economists speak of the opportunity cost of something as the value of the best alternative forgone for it. For adults, strangely, the opportunity cost of our lives appears to us to be the value of all the foregone alternatives summed together, not merely the best other one. When all the possibilities were yet still before us, it felt as if we would do them all” (Alan Jacobs, Wayfaring, p. 67).
The key sentence, and the one which has caused the most reflection is, “For adults, strangely, the opportunity cost of our lives appears to us to be the value of all the foregone alternatives summed together, not merely the best other one.” Several points regarding the opportunity cost of my life have surfaced out of the pool of thinking over that sentence.

First, the opportunity cost is only getting higher with each passing day. Recently, Pastor Sam blogged
At this stage of my life, I must admit I am never going to be on the high school debate team, play on the college basketball team, pay off that mortgage in my forties, run that marathon in my fifties, and so on. For example, the evaporating number of days remaining in my life implies that I will have less and less time to read many of the great books.
Second, now that I have crossed the 40-yard line, I need to be ruthless about what things I spend my time doing. If with the passing of every day, the opportunity cost of my life keeps increasing, then the importance of using my remaining time wisely increases. If I ever want to accomplish any of the items on my pipe-dream list, I need to be ruthless in cutting out the things that are not on the list.

Third, I need to make the most of my career. There is no longer time to reboot—like we have done in the last six years—unless the next opportunity stands on the shoulders of this one. The time is past to start over (again). I do realize that the Lord will lead as he is pleased, but you know what I mean.

Fourth, Pastor Sam is right, I cannot grieve over the things that have passed; instead, I must be thankful that a sovereign God who ordains my steps loves me. If I am in Christ, God is 100% for me, and he has designed my life to display the glory of his son in me. I should be thankful, not regretful.

Fifth, as my inevitable death draws nearer, the importance of doing everything—whether it is eating or drinking—to the glory of God increases exponentially. I will face the Judge of the Universe in the relatively near future. I do not want to have wasted my life.

All of this, then, causes me to sincerely wonder what it means to not waste my life. This is not as simple as it seems. If you are familiar with the circles I run in, then please don’t write off this question. It is worth thinking about. More to follow.

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