Opportunity Costs

“What do you do for work?”

“Oh, well, I quit my job just before Christmas….”

“Good on you!” 

I’ve had half a dozen iterations of this surprising conversation with Kiwis, and it has really puzzled me.  It was the same whether they were a friend who knew me well or a complete stranger I’d just met.  In fact, looking back, I’ve yet to encounter a single negative reaction. 

Why would anyone be offering their congratulations for doing what I cringe to admit I’ve done—voluntarily quitting gainful employment without securing another job first.  Why does what seems like reckless irresponsibility to me sound so praiseworthy to them? 

I finally started asking, and got responses like this: 

“You didn’t like the situation you were in, so you’re making a change.”


“Rather than just putting up with a job that had become a grind, you’re working toward something better.” 

It reminds me of the Freakonomics podcast from 2011, “The Upside of Quitting,” which turned on its head that old mantra that preaches “A winner never quits, and a quitter never wins.”   https://freakonomics.com/podcast/new-freakonomics-radio-podcast-the-upside-of-quitting/

Here’s the podcast synopsis:  “To help us understand quitting, we look at a couple of key economic concepts in this episode: sunk cost and opportunity cost. Sunk cost is about the past – it’s the time or money or sweat equity you’ve put into a job or relationship or a project, and which makes quitting hard. Opportunity cost is about the future. It means that for every hour or dollar you spend on one thing, you’re giving up the opportunity to spend that hour or dollar on something else – something that might make your life better. If only you weren’t so worried about the sunk cost. If only you could …. quit.”

To my mind, I have a “sunk cost” of nearly 8 years of prime career-building years in ornamentals, when I came to the sad realization that here in NZ, within the company I worked for, there was no growth potential in that field.  I can’t go back and remake the decision to spend 8 years there; that time is gone…..sunk in the ocean of time.

And each evening when I would wearily pull out the computer at 8:00 p.m. to try and search for other job options, I felt the “opportunity cost” of staying with my old job.  I simply had very little time and energy to work on making a change. 

So, while I don’t yet have new employment, let me celebrate the time reclaimed during January and February.

This was the first January where I wasn’t juggling childcare and work, and it was amazing.  The kids and I had three golden weeks after we got back from our north island holiday when we slept in, cooked waffles for breakfast, went to the skate park/pool/beach, saw friends….and generally enjoyed one another’s casual company. 

Now the kids have been back at school for almost three weeks, and I have been doing a deep dive into career networking, while also enjoying the best of summer.

I can’t for the life of me get a genuine smile when I ask for a nice photo, but when I request silliness…..
We took a family trip to kayak and camp at Murchison (that’s Naomi rocking the rope swing)
I spent five days tramping at Gillespies Pass with my friend Carrie
I’ve enjoyed several Friday bike rides through the adventure park with the ladies…apparently Friday is a popular day for moms to take off from work, there were about a dozen of us congregated at the top of Kennedy’s Bush last Friday.
And most recently we had an overnight camping trip at Godley Heads in Christchurch

Plus (and this bit isn’t as photogenic) I’ve been spending several hours each day on the job search front.

These experiences, in a nutshell, are the opportunity cost of working at my last job. 

Now, I know that doesn’t count the whole cost. Some of those things I might have squeezed in while working, like the Murchison kayak trip. I’m also currently not earning any income, which isn’t sustainable….and now that the kids are back at school, I’m not even saving the cost of holiday programs. Jeremiah is being wonderfully patient with this leisurely phase of life (thanks, hun).

Still, I’ve noticed another big advantage of reclaiming the energy I used to spend at work. I’ve got a lot more patience to deal with the kids. I don’t actually have that many more hours to spend with them now that they’re in school, but when we do have time together, I’ve felt more playful, which averts a lot of conflict. And I’ve felt more creative and compassionate at resolving conflict when it does happen. I’ve discovered that there’s an opportunity cost (in the form of mental energy) to employment that I never appreciated.

So while I hope to soon be working in a challenging new field, I will still take a moment to appreciate the silver lining of this career pause.

3 thoughts on “Opportunity Costs

  1. I’ve was thinking today that it is almost 13 years since I quit medicine. There was certainly lost income associated with quitting that career, which will translate to lost retirement security, but I have had so many experiences that I couldn’t fit in while owning the practice: the trip with Mom around the country, the trip to Syria, the trip to Israel, and then finally, more to your point, the chance to find the career that I wish I had known about all those years ago. I didn’t start that new career until a full 5 years after quitting medicine and trying other things.

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