Ayn Rand describes sacrifice in a very specific way.
“Sacrifice” does not mean the rejection of the worthless, but of the precious. “Sacrifice” does not mean the rejection of the evil for the sake of the good, but of the good for the sake of the evil. “Sacrifice” is the surrender of that which you value in favor of that which you don’t.
If you exchange a penny for a dollar, it is not a sacrifice; if you exchange a dollar for a penny, it is. If you achieve the career you wanted, after years of struggle, it is not a sacrifice; if you then renounce it for the sake of a rival, it is. If you own a bottle of milk and give it to your starving child, it is not a sacrifice; if you give it to your neighbor’s child and let your own die, it is.
If you give money to help a friend, it is not a sacrifice; if you give it to a worthless stranger, it is. If you give your friend a sum you can afford, it is not a sacrifice; if you give him money at the cost of your own discomfort, it is only a partial virtue, according to this sort of moral standard; if you give him money at the cost of disaster to yourself—that is the virtue of sacrifice in full.
A friend and I discussed making sacrifices in order to move your life in the direction of your choosing. To be clear, I’m not against changing your life based on some new direction you want to take. But I am against viewing it as a sacrifice. I believe that if you feel like you’re making a sacrifice, you need to rethink your priorities.
The example we discussed was me moving across the country for my boyfriend and the fact that I do not consider this a sacrifice. My more accessible example is if you’re offered a dream job. Would you consider giving up your current job a sacrifice; the answer is no. But you will be giving up your current city , being close to your current friends, and if you have a family, uprooting them as well. And this is where your priorities come into play. If your city, friends, or family are more important than your career, then taking that dream job is a sacrifice. It is also a choice you shouldn’t make – because essentially you making a choice that’s not in line with what you want in life; you’re choosing to be less happy.
It’s not the act of giving something up or even having a sense of loss at giving something up that’s my issue. It’s purely the word sacrifice and all it implies. It implies you gave up something for less than its value. It implies a strange sort of regret. It implies that your choice was not the best for you, but the best for someone or something else. And I personally think, it somewhat implies that it’s possible to not have to make difficult decisions (or rather, that you’re somehow special for having to make those decisions). Oh, I sacrificed my career for my family. Who doesn’t have that fork in the road eventually? You just rarely hear the other side: I sacrificed my family for my career. Because that sounds terrible. And probably because most people in that situation don’t feel like they sacrificed anything. Every single decision you make, you could think you’re sacrificing something. Every time I choose a salad, I am sacrificing a hamburger! But life is choosing what’s important to you.
So in my case of moving. Sure I’m giving up certain parts of my current life. But I don’t think any of my friends would think they should come before my boyfriend. And I don’t think anyone would tell me that I should stay at my job (despite me loving my job) if it also means staying in an indefinite, long distance relationship. When it comes down to it, choosing friends or my current job or Wisconsin, is essentially not choosing my boyfriend – and then, why am I even trying to make it work? Moving, while somewhat awful, is just a stepping stone to getting where I want to be. The same as choosing to work my butt off at Cornell was a stepping stone to getting an Ivy League degree. I don’t feel like those four years were a sacrifice, even though one could argue that I gave up a very different college experience than I would have gotten at a tiny school or a party school.
But if it’s not a sacrifice now, why wouldn’t I have just picked up for California right after college? Aren’t I basically saying my last two years were filler, that there’s nothing that would keep me doing what I’m currently doing? And here again is where my priorities ultimately make the decision. At 22, it was more important for me to have a job, to be self sufficient, to do the whole “adult” thing than getting married and being “the girlfriend”. Now at 24, I’m a little bit over the work world, and I’m ready to get married, and eventually have kids (which is still significantly in the future but requires planning out a few stepping stones to get there). If my priorities were the same as they were two years ago, moving would be out of the question.
It’s really all a way of thinking. And if the word sacrifice comes to mind, it would prudent to rethink.