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Maybe I don’t actually understand opportunity cost

Maybe I just have a poor understanding of the economics surrounding what people refer to as an opportunity cost, but something struck me this week that doesn’t make much sense.

I was reading a book called About Time by a guy named Paul Davies and he noted the following three things about Albert Einstein:

1. His average mark (in school) was a creditable but not sensational 5 out of 6.

2. He was formally expelled from the Gymnasium on the grounds that he was disruptive in class and disrespectful of the teachers.

3. His uncle Jakob was able to fire the young boy’s imagination with conversation and books about science and math.

Based on a little deductive reasoning I think it’s safe to say Einstein was an above average student who starred in a specific thing.

I understand why kids need to learn how to read and write and add four and six but beyond that why, specifically in high school and college are we lauded for being good in a variety of subjects instead of nudged towards being elite at one thing?

And pardon me for thinking “having a major” doesn’t equate to “being elite at one thing.”

Being the best in the world at a thing — whether it’s making leather knapsacks or writing a blog on hummingbirds or selling refurbished Furbies — is irreplaceable. That is, you can sell that skill or, if you work for a corporation, they cannot let you go without making their company worse.

If you become the best in the world at something, we can work with that, you can make a living out of that — one you actually enjoy. It’s a ticket to success in life.

That’s where opportunity cost comes in — Jon Acuff wrote a version of this post a while back, essentially saying that the cost of him cutting his lawn wasn’t worth the money he could make by not cutting his lawn and doing something else (in his case, writing).

God created us all to be different at different things so don’t fret if you’re bad at cutting grass or catching pop flies. Somebody else is good at it but bad at the thing you’re good at it.

That’s why opportunity cost exists.

But instead school encourages us to essentially erase our elite skills — or at least encourages us to slow down in developing them — for what reason exactly?

Again, maybe I just don’t understand opportunity cost.