With apathy or with intention?

Photo above by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

I was hoping to get to 100 blogs by the end of this year, but you may have noticed (or not, I won’t take it personally) that I’ve gone quiet. I side-lined this space during Winter and Spring because Covid-19 gave me the opportunity to focus on something new. Instead of crafting something to share with you each week, I was learning to push myself in another way. I signed up for a marathon, so I stopped writing and started running.

I still thought about this blog as I was training. I missed getting my thoughts out of my head and into a semi-coherent piece I could share.

People who read the blog would occasionally ask what happened. Wasn’t I writing anymore? What was going on? Had I given up? From the outside, it certainly seemed like it. I was chatting about this with JCB, trying to explain how my writing hadn’t fallen away, but I’d consciously stopped and filled the space with running instead. I wasn’t interested in announcing what I’d done or quantifying my training publicly, but I certainly wasn’t producing anything here either.

What was the name for what I had done? JCB used a fantastic term that got to the heart of what I meant. I’m not sure if this is in common usage around the world, but it was the first I’d heard of it: intentional opportunity cost and apathetic opportunity cost.

Opportunity cost is the cost of choosing one thing over another. Will I go to the supermarket or make something at home? Will I stay on the sand or go for a swim? Will I have the vegetarian or the lamb? Will I message back straight away or cool off until I can think straight? Will I get up early or sleep in?

Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

We cannot do both. That’s why there is an opportunity cost – that’s the cost of what we did not choose.

We can make this choice with intention, considering our options and assessing what the best way forward is. It gives us a dose of realism when we’re looking at what’s next, because often, a choice isn’t just about the path forward. Intentional opportunity cost acknowledges what is lost when a choice is made. When there’s weight behind the choice, we may even grieve what we were not able to choose.

Sometimes, though, before we make a conscious choice, circumstances or comfort can make it for us. We haven’t dared look at the other options and what ignoring them may cost us. Willpower gets drained, habits peter out. We take the path of least resistance. Often, it can feel like these aren’t choices at all – that’s where the apathy comes in. It’s easier to choose certain things over others because they’re easier or less effort or less scary or less likely to fail. Sometimes that’s exactly what we need to do. Not everything can be an intentional choice; we’d be highly ineffectual and hindered by the slightest decision we had to make if it were so. Small decisions would take on weight and consequence they do not deserve. There’s a place for both types of decision-making here.

When I started training, something had to give, and I chose this writing. That reinforced my decision and helped me prioritise the running and cross-training. I had less excuses not to go out. I was juggling a lot, but the scales never tipped because I weighed up the opportunity cost and saw the marathon to be worth what it cost in writing time.

My lack of writing looked apathetic from the outside, but for the author, it was intentional. I knew my capacity, and I knew what it would take for me to succeed with my new goal. It was worth giving up the hundred posts to cross that finish line.

The difference is simply a choice that happened or a choice that you made. It doesn’t have to be public. Like I said, they both have their place. So what will it be?