Sunday, December 7, 2008

You Can’t Have It All (All At Once)

We live in a society that is impulsive and filled with the need for immediate gratification. With a computer mouse click or two, you can have a new product at your doorstep tomorrow. We live in an optimistic culture where we believe that anything is possible. While, for the most part, this belief has a tremendous upside, it also has a dramatic downside. When you believe you can have it all, you are never satisfied with what you have. And when you’re dissatisfied with what you have today, you can't bring your best for an even better tomorrow.

You may admire someone who seemingly "has it all." You look at your boss and aspire to be in that job. You see your neighbor's brand new Porsche and you hope that one day you could afford one too. You kiss your child goodbye, as you scurry to catch a plane, but on your drive through the neighborhood, you see another parent walking their child to school and you wish you could, too. Your co-worker has another date with someone promising, and you can't seem to meet anyone that's right. You met someone who has the career you wish you had, but you stayed home with the kids instead.

At any point in life, you can find yourself wishing for something that isn't in your grasp at that time. You end up focusing more on what you don't have, often forgetting to enjoy what you do have. You’re so focused on the job you aspire to get, that you aren't even doing the job you actually have. As a result, you undermine your performance.
You can have it all, with time and a long-term strategic view, but you might not have it all at once.

When I became a corporate executive after consistently working hard for more than 15 years, I was fulfilled professionally, but not personally. I was single and didn't have a family of my own. I had certainly met a professional goal, but at the time, I believed it was at the great expense of a personal one. This belief hindered the joy that I felt about my professional accomplishment. It also made me resentful that I didn't really "have it all", so it didn't allow me to perform at my best level.

At that time, I believed that I deserved to have it all, all at once. I didn't fully understand that every benefit has its cost. When we choose something, we invariably pass on something else. We really can't have it all…at least, not all at once.A female executive once said to me, "get clear on the choices you make, because every choice has its share of sacrifices.” How right she was.
In Marshall Goldsmith's New York Times bestseller, “What Got You Here Won't Get You There," he explains that successful people see a direct correlation between all of their actions to their successes and even their failures. In other words, people create their own success; it isn't because of luck or happenstance.

I found his insights to be particularly interesting because highly-driven, action-oriented leaders believe that they can create their own success, no matter what. They believe they can have it all, when they want it, all the time. They have a commanding leadership style and a tremendous confidence in their ability to "make it happen". The downside to this confidence is that there is little understanding of the relationship between cost and benefit. The illusion of "having it all" is a slippery slope that can sour quickly.

If you’re struggling to make things work in both your career and family life, realize you can't do both to the max at the same time. You just can't demonstrate successful leadership in both your work and home lives simultaneously. You can be a great mom or dad today and a great business professional tomorrow. Something always has to give.

When you’re in a particular role, give it your fullest. Don't lament on what you aren't doing. If it is for a day at a time, or even an hour at a time, focus on what you’re doing, and don’t get preoccupied with anything else.

If you are putting something on hiatus while you are deeply focused on attaining another goal, accept your choice and its corresponding trade-off. You will get to another phase in life, where another choice will take you down another road to achieve another goal.

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