Sunday, May 17, 2009

Opportunity cost

This week I officially authorized my resignation from the military after 10 years of service. It's something extremely difficult to do because the military is more than a job; it's an identity and a way of life. It can be an agonizing transition to walk away from the service, its mission, its people, its sense of purpose, and its history.

I turned in my original resignation in January. In an effort to retain me, several weeks ago the military offered to both pay for HBS as well as full salary during my two years of study. The catch? 4.5 years of commitment on the back side.

I have done a lot of soul searching about this option, and queried many opinions. Some said I would be a fool to not take the offer. Others said the opportunity cost of 4.5 years would just be too high. Opportunity cost is a term I am quickly learning to appreciate.

Earlier in my life I could pursue one path without necessarily closing the door to another. For example, I could serve in the military and still be a doctor, a lawyer, or a businessman later. I could move to one country, and still expect to eventually establish roots in another. As one becomes older and more experienced, options may be more abundant, but choosing one option inherently negates many others. The post-HBS 4.5 year commitment would take me into my late 30s, and essentially negate many opportunities coming out of HBS. On the other hand, it's very plausible to return to the military should I change my mind in two years.

When weighing my options, I considered two key points:
  • The opportunity cost of 4.5 years of my life versus that of several hundred thousand dollar investment in me today. Of the two options, I believe the 4.5 years is a riskier proposition.
  • The assumption that I can serve as a greater agent of change in this world coming out of HBS than I can following my current path in the military.
That analysis represents a judicious approach; it does not take into account the emotional and mental aspect of saying goodbye to such an integral part of one's life. Only time will tell if my leap of faith is wise, but that's the risk I have decided to take.

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