If you’re a Millennial, or a modern feminist woman, or a fiery go-getter, or a Bohemian artsy type person, I have a harsh truth that I need to tell you. It’s going to be difficult for you to hear because it’s going to fly in the face of everything that you’ve been taught since you were a child.
See, when we were young, our parents told us that we could have anything we wanted, be anything we wanted, that we didn’t have to choose between having a family and a career and a side business and a cool artsy hobby and a gym membership.
And we believed them. So we joined sports teams and participated in high school clubs and got scholarships to great universities and took heavy course loads and studied art and science and history and math and danced the Bachata and went running and read to the elderly.
And somewhere along the way, we forgot to take time out for ourselves. We forgot to take time for our own sanity. Time to simply do nothing but….be.
We’ve all been told a horrible lie.
We were told that we can have it ALL. EVERYTHING we ever wanted can be ours and all we need to do is take it.
We were told that you can have a successful business and go backpacking in Europe every summer and release that album and go back to school for your Master’s degree and start a family and buy a nice, big house and hit the club every weekend and and and and and….
See, what the world’s most successful people know is this:
If you try to master all things, you will succeed at none.
I’ve written about the value of focus before, so I’m not going to dive back into that particular topic too much, but suffice it to say that when you actually focus on JUST ONE THING, you get better results than when you try to juggle 12 things.
The cruel truth of the world is that your time and energy are limited. You can never make more time. You get 24 hours each day, just like everyone else on the planet. And if you try to have everything, you’ll run yourself ragged chasing after things and never truly feeling satisfied.
What do smart business people do instead? They assess their opportunity costs.
The poster child of opportunity cost is Mohamed El-Erian. He was the head honcho at a global bond fund called PIMCO – a fund that was worth TWO TRILLION DOLLARS. He wrote a book that The Economist named book of the year. He’s been a contributor with Bloomberg, Business Insider, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic. He’s a regular guest over at CNN and CNBC. He’s a former U.S. Treasury committee member. He’s a prolific guest speaker at major universities and institutions all around the world.
Or, at least, he was. He was until he quit in 2014 so that he could spend more time with his 10-year-old daughter.
See, he was having an argument with his daughter after she refused to brush her teeth. (Kids these days.)
And when he asked her why she wouldn’t listen, she gave him a list of 22 of her major life events that he completely missed.
He missed his daughter’s first day of school. He missed her first soccer game. He missed parent-teacher night. He missed the Hallowe’en parade. Hell, this guy even missed his own daughter’s BIRTHDAY PARTY.
Because he decided that running a $2 trillion investment fund was more important than raising his child. He didn’t have enough time for both, so he was forced to choose.
(Although I should note that this story does have a happier ending. El-Erian later quit his job and took on a less demanding part-time role, so he now has plenty of time to spend with his daughter, and their relationship has greatly improved.)
But the point is: No, you can’t have it all. You will, at some point, have to choose what is most important to you. And El-Erian’s story is proof.
Opportunity cost is one of the first things that Econ 101 students learn. And in business, if you don’t get a handle on it, it can sneak up from behind and sucker punch you.
For those of you not familiar with the term, opportunity cost refers to the fact that absolutely everything you ever do comes at the cost of something else.
Let’s use a dead simple example. Let’s say you decide that tonight, you’re going to have pizza for dinner. Pizza is super tasty, right? (And I hear it’s gotten a lot better for you since the US Government declared that it’s a vegetable.)
So you’re raring to go for this big, fully loaded slice of pizza from the little Italian place down the street. You can practically smell the sausage and the onions, you can picture the melted cheese getting all stretchy-like after you take that first bite…and so you walk on in to the Italian pizzeria and walk on up to the counter and order some gosh darn pizza like a boss.
And then you bite into it, and it’s alright, but it’s not mind-blowingly awesome. But as soon as you finish that first slice, you suddenly realize that what you actually want is a big, thick slab of medium-rare steak. A nice sirloin tip cut, fire-roasted to perfection, with mushrooms and potatoes and an awesome marinade.
But too bad – you’re stuck with pizza. No steak for you!
This is what people mean when they talk about opportunity cost.
Every time you decide in favour of something, you decide against something else. Every dollar you spend on a newspaper ad is a dollar you can’t spend on digital marketing. Every hour you use to fiddle around with settings in your WordPress installation is an hour that you’re not billing clients for project work.
And the sad thing is that for most people, this kind of behaviour happens almost on its own. So many people in this world walk through life entirely on autopilot, always sticking to the plan, head down and grinding through, never taking a minute to look around and see what else might be out there.
Now, I’m not saying you should constantly second-guess everything you ever do.
What I’m saying is: You can’t have it all. So you need to give some serious thought to where your business is headed – and then decide what’s actually important to you.
Don’t spend 5 hours a week doing free YouTube videos if going to a few networking meetings will get better results.
Don’t start developing a dozen different info-products if what you really want to do is host workshops.
And don’t spend 5 nights a week out at the club if you think there’s even any remote kind of possibility that your business might be successful.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the paradox of choice. And I said that most people think they want more choices, but what they actually want is satisfying choices.
And that’s also true of the opportunities facing you. More opportunities does not equal better opportunities. And just because you have 10 different opportunities in front of you, that doesn’t mean you have to pursue all of them.
Not being able to have it all forces you to really figure out what’s important to you.
It forces you to prioritize, to figure out who you are and what matters, to figure out what’s going to get you where you want to go.
Better yet, it forces you to learn how to make tough choices – and that’s a skill that every business owner needs.
And when you can learn to say yes to opportunities that bring you closer to what your business is meant to be – and say no to opportunities that are mere distractions – you’ll realize that you don’t need to have it all….if you have enough.
Have you been trying to ‘have it all’? What sacrifices have you made in an attempt to do everything ever? Is it worth it?