Gregg, with mother, Milbre, and daughter Florrie at a company open house.
Opportunity cost is a term I learned in my EMBA program. Wikipedia defines it this way:
Opportunity cost is the cost of any activity measured in terms of the value of the best alternative that is not chosen (that is foregone). It is the sacrifice related to the second best choice available to someone, or group, who has picked among several mutually exclusive choices. The notion of opportunity cost plays a crucial part in ensuring that scarce resources are used efficiently. Thus, opportunity costs are not restricted to monetary or financial costs: the real cost of output forgone, lost time, pleasure or any other benefit that provides utility should also be considered opportunity costs. The concept of opportunity cost was first developed in 1914 by Friedrich von Wieser in his book "Theorie der gesellschaftlichen Wirtschaft".
In my years as a leadership consultant and coach, I have talked many people through choices by thinking about the opportunity costs. When we sold our business in 1999, and I walked away to pursue a second career doing consulting, coaching and speaking. In financial terms, I walked away from significant salary, health care benefits, pension contributions, etc. for the vagaries of a consulting career.
When I heard God calling me to move my focus into coaching, consulting, and leadership development in the Kingdom world, I was at a significant fork in the road. I had an offer to become a partner in a strong consulting practice, and an offer to teach. Choosing instead to give away my time to churches, pastors and friends would be financially risky. The opportunity cost was great. But, I wanted to risk stepping off the success track and saying ‘enough’, in order to seek more significance in my second half.
Stepping off that success track allowed me to start learning what it means to live an abundant life. Scott Seeke, a young pastor friend who is planting The River Church near Atlanta has been preaching a series on the abundant life. After several people asked him to help them see what that looks like, he boiled it down to this, “Having more of what matters more, and less of what matters less.” I love it, because it provokes you to think deeply on what matters more.
Most of my peers have continued to pursue the success track. Answering the question of how much is enough gets quite tricky. Corporate life in America requires nearly undivided attention if you hope to achieve the rarefied air of the corner office. In my 25 years in the family business, I have known few executives who achieved success running a large business while maintaining balance in their lives.
I worked hard to keep some boundaries in place working with a father and brother who both tended to be workaholics. I fought against the current to create the bandwidth to take leadership roles in church and coach my kids’ soccer teams. Yet, as our business grew to 200 people, then 300, I found the opportunities and challenges would occupy most of my waking hours.
Being an early adopter, I had a laptop, so I could do my work at home, on a plane, in a hotel room. Doesn’t sound like so much fun anymore. What was the opportunity cost of being so deeply engaged in my career and my business?
Until I entered my decompression phase, upon selling and exiting the business, I had a very difficult time turning off my brain even away from work so that I might actually hear the still, small voice of the Spirit whispering to me. The opportunity cost for me was the abundant life. Without the ability to clearly hear God drawing me down the path of my calling, I could not experience the wonderful grace-filled opportunities to serve others out of my gifts.
As long as I had my identity tied up in being a successful businessman, I was propping up an identity that kept me some distance from God. Humility is not highly rewarded in the entrepreneurial marketplace. As long as I was propping up this illusion of success, I could not experience the significance of living a life with God. Obedience and submission are not pleasant thoughts to the independent minded entrepreneur. Most people start their own businesses because they don’t like working for someone else. Yet, obedience and submission are the marks of a disciple of Christ.
As long as I put my trust in my 401K and the equity in my business, I could never be sure. Businesses crash and burn. 401K’s become 201K’s as we have painfully seen. If I’m putting my trust in my financial success, the risk of stepping off the success track often seems too high.
Since entering my decompression phase, God has helped me see the conflicting values and views I had been holding. I’ve painfully learned a bit of humility. I’ve learned not to take my value from what I do. I’ve learned how to plant seeds, and water, and be OK if I never see the results. Bob Buford says, “The fruit of my work grows on other people’s trees.” I aspire for that to be true in my life. It is wonderful to reach a point in life where you don’t have to prove yourself, and can invest yourself in others without the need for a reward.
So, as I go off for a week of leaf-peeping in Vermont to celebrate my 60th birthday, I pose this question to my peers still on that success track. Are you living the abundant life? Or, has abundance in material goods left a void in your spiritual life?
To my young friends, getting traction on careers and starting businesses, are you calculating the opportunity costs of the choices you are making? Does your work allow you the quiet space and time to hear God’s still and quiet voice?
What would it look like to get more of what matters more? To have less of what matters less? Until you create a space and time for God, and reach clarity on what matters most, can an abundant life unfold for you and your family? That’s the opportunity cost I’d like you to consider. Harder to quantify, but infinitely more valuable to figure out. May God bless your journey with his peace, may you find purpose and calling on the path. May you live the abundant life.