Open Road Press

The Cost of Limited Choices

On our recent trip to Denver, Debbie and I noticed an interesting phenomenon as we were funneled in and out of our country’s air transportation system. I use the word “funneled” because that is exactly what happened. An air traveler moves from wide open environs, with a multitude of choice about where to go and how to get there, to a highly controlled setting with very narrow choice. This funneling effect begins on the way to the airport. When you enter your car, you become constricted by the road system upon which you travel.

When you pass through security screening at the airport, the funnel has narrowed substantially. And the control over you has ramped up. No liquids and nothing that the deranged could convert into weaponry are allowed. Take off your shoes and allow the authorities to search your entire body if they so choose. Then, when you step on the plane, the funnel is narrower yet—ultimately narrowed all the way down to the seat to which you are assigned. The wide open space, with its virtually unlimited choice, has been reduced to approximately 60 cubic feet with little choice. One is confined, in fact strapped in, and forbidden most of today’s amenities, like restroom, cellphone, and computer privileges.

Thankfully, our confinement by choice had a limited time horizon. As we navigated our way in and out of the funnel tunnel, not only had our freedoms shrunk, but we also noticed that the cost of goods and services increased as the size of the operating space diminished. Free Internet access that businesses in the wide open would normally grant to woo potential customers became a money-making proposition for those companies who paid the toll charge to operate within the tunnel. A one-dollar energy bar sold for four dollars at one snack stand adjacent to the air terminal gates. And a two-dollar snack on the outside became a six-dollar snack on the plane. You have become a captive and there is a cost.

The loss of control and additional financial cost are striking. When you allow yourself to enter a controlled environment, you are exchanging certain privileges and freedoms for something else. In our case, the “something else” was to tend to family matters. The trade-off, of course, was a small price to pay. Yet, the powerful principle remains: there is a cost of limited choices.

What choices do we make in other facets of our lives that are subject to this principle—and we don’t even realize it? For example, by choosing where to live will affect your choices and your life experience. An urban environment may come with more services, job opportunities, and entertainment options than a rural setting. But, are the traffic, long lines, faster pace, and limited outdoor recreational options worth it? By choosing a certain job, you have submitted yourself to the control of the employer and limited your ability for employment elsewhere, perhaps in better places…perhaps not.

In a traditional employer-employee work setting, you are choosing to exchange your valuable time for money. Depending upon your financial situation, you may feel that you have little choice. For some, that may be true. But, for others comes this question: How are you choosing to spend the money that you traded your time for? Spending irresponsibly is a decision that will funnel the spender through a different but no less confining tunnel. The excessive spender limits his choices by sacrificing financial freedom in favor of personal consumption.

There are trade-offs in all facets of life. And we will necessarily find ourselves with limited choices. The choices we make set these principles in motion. Is it time to consider the trade-offs that you are choosing. How are your choices limiting…well…your choices? There is indeed a cost of limited choices. Make sure the value you are receiving in return is well worth the investment.

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