What Life Gets To Keep In Return: On Making Big Decisions

IN: Business 101, Life

Decisions are hard, mostly because they require us to rely on past experiences, emotions and our little pool of knowledge in order to successfully predict which option will yield the best results.

And we all know that using our emotions in the name of attempting to be rational is so not a good idea–especially when his name is Marco.

Most of the time when making decisions, we weigh our options against one another, and play out the possibilities in our minds:

If I let him kiss me on the dance floor after we’ve just bachata-ed all night long, will I seem like the intoxicated, classless chick that I normally scrunch my nose at?


If I don’t let him kiss me on the dance floor after we’ve just bachata-ed all night long, will I forever and ever (and ever) wish I would have been more intoxicated so I didn’t have to question it in the first place and could be running off to Spain right now to visit his parents, who would greet us at the door with a bottle of wine in hand and open arms, who I would adore and finally understand where Marco gets his devilishly witty sense of humor, and they would adore me and lend us their summer villa to live in indefinitely, and I would accept–graciously, of course, and with hesitation so I didn’t seem like a money-grubbing American bimbo–and then once there, Marco would give me a shoulder rub and whisper sweet nothings in my ear before sweeping me off the couch and….you get the point. (But just for good measure, allow me to also mention that there would most definitely be lots of chocolate involved, and Marco would also be cooking every night. Rib-eye, sauteed asparagus and garlic roasted potatoes, anyone? Hold the sour cream, thanks.)

The Usual Decision-Making Process

It comes down to decisions.  In reality, your life is nothing more than the outcome of a series of decisions. And with that kind of pressure, you better believe that making sound decisions should probably be high up there in the list of priorities.

In considering this, you might be thinking, “Obviously I try and make the best decisions that I can.”  And that’s certainly not being questioned.  For a whole host of reasons, it’s in our best interest to try and improve the quality of our lives through the decisions that we make.  And we do that naturally, I think.  But what about the way that we tend to make our decisions?  Is our decision-making process sound?  If the platform is shaky, it’s probably pretty tough to use it to produce a solid outcome.

Most of the time, in making decisions we perform comparisons.  We weigh.  We deliberate.  We mull.  We stew.  This or that?  Here or there?  Him or….him? We draw up fancy pros and cons lists, and tout the benefits and disadvantages of each, analyzing them side by side.

And that’s good and all.  But I think we’re missing a very vital column.

Pros, Cons and Opportunity Cost

I’m going to label the column the “What You Have To Give Up In Order To Get Something You Want Column,” more commonly known as opportunity cost.  You might remember this from economics.  When applied to life, however, the concept is far more relevant.  In other words, it’s kind of like what life gets to keep in return–what you must forfeit when going down one avenue over another.  That’s not to say that the alternative is the opportunity cost; while it is one opportunity cost, and usually the factor that we focus on when comparing, I’m arguing that it shouldn’t be the primary factor.  Instead, using big picture opportunity cost to assess our options might be a stronger method that will allow us to put things into perspective and make decisions that are most appropriate and in line with our goals.

To clarify, let me yank Marco away from the kitchen to continue using as an example.

Earlier, I presented two choices: To kiss, or not to kiss.  And I stated possible outcomes of both, and then compared the imagined outcomes, which is what we tend to do when we make decisions.  Which outcome is more desirable?

However, if I were to use opportunity cost to guide this decision, I wouldn’t be imagining the potential outcomes, but I’d imagine the potential lack of outcomes that could be associated with each. The opportunity cost.

Let’s say I do kiss him, & I do end up with overtly generous, wine-guzzling Spanish in-laws and all the prime rib I could ever want.  This, by far, seems more appealing than not kissing him and possibly regretting it for forever.  So by all means, I kiss the boy already.  I’ve imagined possible outcomes, compared them, and made a decision based on the comparison I’ve imagined.  (Whether it’s a valid comparison or not is a whole other ball game, but isn’t actually relative since every potential projection we make in our minds is going to be highly subjective.)

Here’s why, even though this seems like the more desirable outcome, it actually isn’t:  The opportunity cost is too high with respect to my values.

In order for Marco & I to run off into the sunset together, blaring Enrique Iglesias and never looking back as we sip fruity cocktails on the balcony of our villa, I’ve got to give up many, many other things.  For example, Italian men are out of the question.  You might as well add Brazilians, Turks, Greeks, Israelis and Patrick Dempsey while we’re at it.  My country-hopping tendencies are squashed—or at least stifled.  I can no longer get away with entirely disregarding the whole darks versus lights sacred rule of laundry, and furthermore, will probably get suckered into doing way more ironing than I would prefer.  I won’t be able to spend as much time engaged in my online projects, including writing, as I need to for myself, and my impulsivity will be muzzled, because now my actions greatly affect another person.  I will lose partial ownership of my time, because the nature of relationships demands that I give a hearty portion of it, and I will essentially be required to get consent when I want to do many things.  I will be under constant pressure to please, and will be endlessly seeking Marco’s approval.  Because in relationships, that’s what we do.

For some people, the benefits of being in the relationship outweigh this—or so I assume, which is why they’re in it.  But relative to my own personal values, the benefits do not outweigh the cost.  And that’s what this is all about—assessing your values and making decisions that reflect those values.  Your life—or the one you aspire to live, anyway—depends on it.

Playful Example, But Big Idea

Obviously this was a bit of a playful example, but the philosophy can be applied to any aspect of our lives.  When making choices, what are the big picture items that you’re essentially going to have to give up in order to pursue an option?  Is it worth it?

Assessing opportunity cost is a forward-thinking process.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen others who are devastatingly unhappy and uninspired in their relationships, for example, but then cite their reason for still being in it as, “Well, we’ve been together this long and I don’t want that to all be a waste of time.” That’s flawed logic. Independent of what happens in the future, you can’t get that time back. It’s already gone.  So when making this decision, it’s misleading to base a decision on that.  Rather, think about the time that you’re going to have to forfeit in the future if you stay in the relationship.  Is it worth dedicating to that particular cause?  What things are you giving up in order to be in that relationship?  Is the opportunity cost worth it?

Working 60 hour weeks provides more income.  Is the income worth the time that you could have been playing with your children, catching up with friends, pursuing hobbies or learning new things?  Is it?   It depends on your values.

Time is the primary thing that you’ve got to forfeit in order to pursue something, but it’s not just the value of your time that matters here; it’s what other things you could be doing with that time.  It’s a more dimensional approach to decision making, versus a flat one or the other, which can be deceiving.   It’s never just one or the other—there’s a plethora of other costs involved in everything you do.  And it’s by taking those costs into consideration that we can begin to make decisions that will better support the lifestyles we desire.

All that said, for the record I’d still kiss Marco, because all melodramatic, imaginary projections aside, the one thing that’s real would be the kiss.  And the opportunity cost of kissing him is more likely to simply be not being able to kiss anyone else the rest of the night.  And judging by the way Marco dances, I’m going to guess that the benefit will definitely outweigh the cost.

With that, I say ándale, señor.