Of Course You Really Can’t Have It All

Whoever said you can have it all either had a small wish list or a small capacity for reason.

Oh, I’m a big fan of shooting for the stars and fearless behavior. I also believe you should do what makes your heart sing — as long as it doesn’t make someone else’s quit! However, too often conflicting objectives cause people to avoid the decisions and actions that would allow them to be successful, though not perfect.

“You can have it all” has two different sources, greed or fear. Neither is healthy.

Here are a few examples I’ve recently come across:

  • A business that has the capabilities to serve two different markets cannot make a decision. As a result, it tries to split the middle and serves neither successfully. Not choosing a market because you might miss another one is trying to have it all. As they say in the investment world, bulls make money, bears make money, but pigs get slaughtered.
  • Unwillingness to compromise on short-term growth objectives causes a company to forgo long-term viability. A public example of this from years gone by would be Kodak. Remember the film people who also invented digital photography? This problem is particularly problematic in public companies. It takes a very bold CEO to endure a few jaw punches in Round 1 to later win the fight. (Here’s an example from a few years ago.) Avoiding the hard short-term decisions to live a long life — whether a business or a human in front of a stack of bonbons — is trying to have it all.
  • Several times in the past year I’ve run across a CEO who wants one of his executives to change his or her disruptive behavior but is unwilling to confront the person. So he tries to hire me to coach the executive. People only change to avoid pain or to reach a brighter future. When they don’t know that their behavior is a problem, they cannot be coached. Avoiding conflict while managing others is trying to have it all.
  • Although I’m very supportive of having a balanced life, choosing to be an executive and then whining about the hours required is folly. There’s a reason you get the big bucks. When thousands of employees count on your engagement and presence, you probably won’t have time to watch The Ellen DeGeneres Show. That’s trying to have it all.
  • And my favorite from today’s headlines (literally today as I write this): expecting people to bail you out when you’ve given them no reason to believe you’ll pay them back. When you spend more than you take in, something’s gotta give! Whether you’re the prime minister of Greece or the CEO of a private company pleading with the bank, there’s no free lunch. (Well, there might be for a while if you’re in Greece. …)

I hope you wish for many things, but you can’t have it all.

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