cost cutting

I have to share this comment, made by a reader of yesterday’s piece by Lisa Endlich Heffernan in The Atlantic, “What Do You Do? A Stay-At-Home Mom’s Most Dreaded Question.” The reader, named IowaBeauty, nails it, “it” being the driver of all angst in parents everywhere. Actually, angst in anyone, anywhere.

Expectations. They must be adjusted.

“While I understand every thought in this great survey of the psychic and career perils of being a stay at home parent (yes, there are a few men doing this too), one thing that always bothers me is that everyone who does this seems compelled to compare themselves 5 or 10 or 15 years later with the most successful of their peers, as if it were somehow guaranteed that they would continue to be on the top of the heap through the mid-career sorting of a professional career.

It just isn’t so. By the time we’re 50, most professionals are actually in a dead end, repetitive role, hoping like hell the next envelope won’t be a pink slip, whether at work, or at home. The world doesn’t need or want or make room for an army of [S]heryl Sandbergs, and once you’re past the first 3 or so promotions, in most careers, the weeding for further advancement in terms of responsibility and being on the cutting edge is ruthless. So, yes, the stay at home track raises the probability you’ll plateau from 80+% to nearly 100%, and yeah the money is really completely gone, but hard as it is to admit, most of us weren’t going to be on the bleeding edge at 50 anyway, so give yourself a break and stop comparing yourself to an ideal you probably wouldn’t have achieved anyway. (Of course, I know all of you who read this will think “but I WOULD HAVE because I was THAT GOOD.” Sorry, you probably weren’t.)”

I read this aloud to my husband this morning — it made him laugh, chortling especially at the line about the pink slip. It’s funny, because it’s true.

We each have a vision of ourselves. Our parents told us we could be anything we wanted to be. We could do anything we wanted to do. But can we, really?

Do we all, each of us, want what is attainable? And do we all, each of us, have the resources and tools around us, constantly, to make sure we get what we want? Are our timelines reasonable? Are we all that driven, that skillful, that talented, that persistent?

Are we all that lucky?

I’d have to agree with IowaBeauty: it seems a bit of a mathematical impossibility.

Every choice we make bears an opportunity cost of the option not taken. You know, “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen,” as in, the basic relationship between scarcity and choice.

A key to contentment, and to avoiding the conflict experienced by Lisa Endlich Heffernan, is to set the correct value on potential gain from other alternatives.

Opportunity costs are high. But never as high as we think.

12 thoughts on “cost cutting

  1. This is a great perspective and one I’d never thought of. I think I’m doing well as a corporate spouse but never considered that I’d be one of those who’d get stuck career-wise.

  2. It all depends on what “stuck” means. I’m learning that for me, if I feel stuck in one place, rather than trying to move forward along the planned route, a detour is sometimes in order. Might take longer to get to a destination, but the scenery might, for all I know, be nicer.

  3. Oh no, you are correct. I was referring to the notion that the comparison for what corporate spouses do and are is to the uber-successful businessperson. That that alpha position is what we would have attained but for staying home. What it also brings home to me is how pressure there is on people in the corporate job to move ahead along a clearly-defined path and if they don’t, they’re considered to be unsuccessful. It makes me appreciate all the more my wife and what she confronts.

  4. Though, to be fully candid, there’s a part of me that feels as though there’s been a competition between my wife and me, and she’s prevailed. Not a big part of me, but it’s there.

  5. I have not shared it with her, for two reasons. First, it’s not an overwhelming feeling. Second, I think it would leave her feeling very frustrated. I think we’re a really good team in terms of what we’re doing, but being so dependent financially has left me a wee bit neurotic. There’s a twinge of jealousy when she accomplishes something at her work. I feel terrible for saying these things.

    1. Hmm… This has evoked a whole new topic I want to write about. Stay tuned. And please don’t feel terrible. There is nothing terrible about expressing a fleeting twinge of a feeling.

  6. OK. Look forward to seeing what you write. It’s a really complicated thing. There is the aspect of feeling like I’m second best here, coupled with the jealousy; but then there’s this other feeling of “Thank goodness I don’t have her job because it’s so demanding and I couldn’t handle it;” but then that doubles back into my feelings that I’m second best – that I’m weak and need to be provided for. Uggghhhh.

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