Are the Opportunity Costs worth it? The Confessions of an Aspiring Actor

Madison Williams- Honorbound

Aparicio- Afternoon

“Every decision that we make involves some kind of trade-off” (9) [1]

These words written by Charles Wheelan reign true in our everyday life whether that be with choosing between a blueberry or banana nut muffin or with deciding to get tea instead of coffee. Any trade-off can be identified as an opportunity cost which, by definition, refers to the next best alternative forgone or, very simply, what we miss out on when we make a decision. Some of the most difficult decisions and trade-offs arise during our career search, especially if you choose a risky career that could lead you nowhere. So, for an actor, is the career worth pursuing when you could easily end up as a waiter or waitress for the rest of your life? Is the slight possibility of making it big worth the financial risk of such a competitive career? In economic terms, if the career will bring you utility then that career proves worthy enough to pursue. In regular terms, do whatever makes you happiest.

When we refer to utility, we mean the thing that gives you some type of satisfaction, but not necessarily pure happiness. For example, if I enjoy eating ice cream, then having an ice cream cone will give me utility. On the other hand, like Wheelan says, he can “derive utility from getting a typhoid immunization and paying taxes” (6) [2]. In economics, there are assumptions that we make about humans and utility. According to Wheelan, “Individuals seek to maximize their own utility” (6) [3]. However, humans are also unpredictable and do not always do what is in their best interest. Therefore, when we think about our future career, some of us decide to pursue what makes us happy while others pursue what will make us the most money. But, if one pursues a career for money, is it really worth the effort? For instance, if an individual wants to become a doctor, then they have to go through years of school before they start making any money. So for someone who truly wants to become a doctor because they love the career, they will accept the costs of going to all of the those years of school as opposed to anything else like traveling. Therefore, if an individual strives to be a doctor just for the money, then those years of school begin to look like a deal breaker (at least for some).

On the other hand, for an actor, the stakes are a bit higher. With a slim chance of being successful in the field of acting, the opportunity costs become larger, and incentives—something that inclines our behavior in a particular way—form towards more stable careers. Similar to the teachers Wheelan mentions in his discussion of adverse selection who pursue a better paid job as opposed to accepting the uniform pay of being a teacher as, the field of acting creates a strong incentive to pursue a more likely career that ensures a stable job. (36) [4]. However, for those who genuinely love to act, the cost is worth it. So the point of utility, the opportunity costs are worth it as long as the choice you choose gives you the most utility, or happiness.

[1] Wheelan, Charles. Naked Economics. New York: W. W. Norton & Company,  2010., 9.

[2] Wheelan, Charles. Naked Economics.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010., 6.

[3] ibid

[4] Wheelan, Charles. Naked Economics. New York: W. W. Norton & Company,  2010., 36.


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