Picture a small boy in a candy store with a $20 bill in his pocket. As he looks around the store at all the wonderful delights, he knows he can have anything he wants! Fast forward to the point where he has a temper tantrum because he can’t have everything.

We can excuse this behavior in young boys, or girls, because it’s somewhat age appropriate. Yet, when working adults exhibit similar behavior about their careers we believe “something must be done about this.” The “solutions” take on names like work/life balance, flex hours, time management, learning to say ‘no,’ and most recently leaning in.  There’s a place and a profitable use for most of these notions. They, however, obscure the real issue: responsibility and contentment with our choices.

It’s okay to have healthy dissatisfaction. It seeks to improve and innovate. It is the genesis of creative work. It’s the corrupted and dishonest version that seeks the undisciplined pursuit of more. “If I can have anything, why can’t I have everything?”

No one can have it all. No one can be excellent at all things at all times in every situation. No one escapes John’s Law of Trade-offs (I just made it a  law): Productive resources are scarce. Therefore people cannot have all the goods/services/etc that they want. This means some things get chosen and others are given up. Life is a series of trade-offs. This basic understanding of economics applies as much to career choice as it does to production planning as it does to consumer choice.

You can’t have up and down at the same time. Left and right. Hot and cold. I don’t believe we like the reality that “to choose is to refuse.” That is, the decision to take the benefits of one alternative in life means refusing the benefits associated with the next best alternative.

We are, to a large degree, in control of our choices. So, make choices in life understanding that life is a series of trade-offs and we own the choices we make in those trades. While our choices may not be the same as others‘ – one person’s workaholism is another person’s great day at the office – they are ours. And if we have chosen wisely there is no reason to fall into the comparison trap or the “I didn’t get enough” sinkhole.

I’m not a huge fan of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, I do have great appreciation for her comment, “If I had to embrace a definition of success, it would be that success is making the best choices we can… and accepting them.” To me this gets at the heart of the work/life balance and “can’t have it all” conversations. Responsibility and contentment with our choices.


In Other Words…

“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” ― Marilyn Monroe

“Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” ― E.B. White

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.” ― Margaret Mitchell

“This is your life and its ending one moment at a time.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” ― Dr. Seuss, Happy Birthday to You!

In The Word…

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.” – Haggai 1:7