Day #266: What is Your Comparative Advantage?

Today I had the good fortune of seeing our women’s basketball team win a national championship.  OK, it wasn’t THE national championship, but it was a championship nonetheless.  I am embarrassed to admit that it was the first women’s game I’ve attended.  I have met the coach on several occasions and had promised her that I would attend, but it’s tough to make the rounds to so many sporting events.  At any rate, I was glad I went.  Those ladies are talented!  I’m not quite sure what I expected, but even my husband was astonished by the fact that these ladies were just as physical and athletically gifted as their male counterparts.  I’m guessing that next season, we won’t wait until the last game of the season to support the ladies.  As I watched the game and marveled at the collective skills of this group, I couldn’t help but think about their talents rather philosophically. 

Comparative Advantage

I sat with one of the men’s coaches for the second half of the game and listened as he methodically dissected the talents of individual players.  He noted how one of the seniors broke the conference record for three-point shots in a single season as well as the school record for three-point shots in a career — beating even the men’s record.  We both were amazed by a fiery sophomore who ended up being named most outstanding player for the tournament.  She was a scoring machine but was also an excellent passer and ball-handler.  There were many other ladies who made strong contributions to the victory, but it was these two — Amanda and Amber — who stuck in my head.  Clearly they have identified the things that they do better than anything else.  In economics, there is a law of comparative advantage that states that two parties can both gain from interacting with one another if their relative costs are different.  That is, if two entities produce two different products, trading with one another can make them both better off if their production costs differ.  Often, when I explain this concept in class I take an even simpler approach.  Conceptually, I tell my students that it simply means that when we identify something we are good at (can do better, faster or cheaper), we should do it.  From a financial standpoint, these advantages usually stem from greater access to key inputs like land, labor and capital.  For Amanda and Amber (and the rest of us) a lot of the advantage likely comes from raw talent coupled with hard work.

Identifying Your Gifts

Regardless of the source of the advantage, it is important for us as individuals to figure out our special gifts.  What is it that you do well?  What is it that you are passionate about?  I probably couldn’t hit a three-point basket if my life depended on it and certainly not five in one game like Amanda did today.  However, there are other things that I think I do pretty well.  When I was traveling on business last week, I had an opportunity to spend a few minutes with an aunt and I guess you could say she inspired this post.  She told me that my gift is service.  I chuckled to myself because I get in trouble for this gift quite often!  You see, service is part of my job, but early on in my career I struggled with balancing that part with the others (teaching and research).  I think I’m doing better with handling that balance now, but I’ll probably always spend a little more time on service than the average person in my position.  I guess that’s just who I am and as my Aunt Lucy said, service is the special gift that I offer to the world.  It’s important to me to provide aid and comfort to others if I can.  I know now that that is why I bcame a teacher.  Students neeed A LOT of aid and comfort!  That’s why I tend to be the go-to person in my family in times of crisis.  That’s why I’m so passionate about that darn Waterboy!  I try to provide guidance and because I’m so accustomed to serving others the cost of doing so is relatively low for me.  It’s what I do.  These students and my family members make me feel needed and valued.  It really is a two-way street.  So, after 42 years I have figured out who I am and what makes me ‘tick’.  What about you?  What is that you do a little bit better than the average person?  What is it that puts a fire in your belly and fuels your passion?  Figure it out and do more of it.  I think you’ll be glad you did.  I know I am.


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