You Cannot Have Everything.

The most important thing to learn as you become an adult is “Everything is about trade-offs.” You must have priorities because you cannot have or do everything.

It’s a resource allocation problem

You have a finite amount of money, time, and energy. If you use it for one thing, you cannot use it for any other. You can spend a given dollar just once. An hour wasted is gone forever. Your energy and enthusiasm is limited. If you use it regretting mistakes, or creating magical thoughts about the future, you won’t have it to use at its fullest day-to-day.

Athletes make the tradeoff of time and effort for skill. Success is an outcome they don’t fully control and they know it. It’s about process. Do the right things and you will have as good a chance for success as possible. Try understanding your process instead of analyzing your results to death.

Resource allocation is an important investment skill. Don’t stop there. It is key to success in every decision. Money decisions are often the easiest.

The payback for allocating

You need a vision and strategic goals.

“The necessity of making trade-offs alters how we feel about the decisions we face; more important, it affects the level of satisfaction we experience from the decisions we ultimately make.” Barry Schwartz, psychologist

You need a why. When you understand the necessity of a trade-off and address it, you will be dedicated to the choice you end up with. That’s what will motivate you to carry on when it gets difficult. When it stutters on the way to success, you can change tactics and stay within your why.  Accomplishment of an important vision is worth the trouble it took to achieve it.

The accomplishment feeling is worth a lot. Ask any parent who has a child say they used something you told them about and it worked. It feels good even if you don’t remember the lesson. Much of parenting is a guess. You don’t get it right all the time or even most of the time. It is fulfilling when you discover something worked.

Notice small accomplishments. They help you stay motivated.


People have decision paralysis for several reasons:

  1. Fear of Missing Out. FOMO. Every decision means something else is not selected. The other could turn out better. You lost. It never feels good, but no decision is wrong because it could have been better.
  2. Some people don’t understand risk and ambiguity. Risk is everywhere and always. Doing nothing is not a defence and is often far riskier than doing something.
  3. Ego is concerned with the possibility of being wrong. Good managers are not much better at making decisions than others. They do however quit bad decisions sooner. The best solution evolve because no one is smart enough to see it all from the beginning. Being wrong hurts, but having been wrong advances the cause.
  4. Any decision is better than no decision. Imagine a dead squirrel on the road. Their death is always the result of indecision. If you make a decision, you can repair it if the method you choose is inadequate. If you have a sound vision and the resources to achieve it, a decision is necessary. Indecision doesn’t offer a path to victory.

Some Planning options

Most people focus on the things they want or need. Everyone has a to-do list. That’s tactical and logistical. At the strategic level you need two lists.

  1. A To-Do List with vision goals. Be healthy, organize retirement, eliminate debt, provide education funds, and more.
  2. A Don’t-Do List. You know there are things that don’t fit your vision. Line them up so you know them in detail. When you know what you don’t want, “No!” is a very big energy, time and money saver.

When you make a decision, outline the reasons for the one you made and also outline the reasons for why you did not pick any of the others. If one of the other choices turns out to have been better, you can see it in the context of when you made the decision. Using hindsight alone is hard on your mental health. Look up Ron Wayne. Despite selling 10% of Apple for $800 he has said, “At the time it was the right decision.”

Don’t expect perfection. “There are no solutions; there are only trade-offs.” Thomas Sowell. When you understand the tradeoffs you can evolve better answers.

The background to decision conflict.

In his 1987 book, “A Conflict of Visions“,  Sowell addressed the idea of “tragic vision.” It’s the idea you can’t have everything as opposed to the unconstrained or utopian view where you can or should try to.

“Thus there are no “solutions” in the tragic vision, but only trade-offs that still leave many desires unfulfilled and much unhappiness in the world. What is needed in this vision is a prudent sense of how to make the best trade-offs from the limited options available, and a realization that “unmet needs” will necessarily remain—that attempting to fully meet these needs seriatim only deprives other people of other things, so that a society pursuing such a policy is like a dog chasing its tail.” 

For my part, I have noticed that people don’t agree about what’s important in society. That seems to make the Utopian solution unlikely. (the depriving other people of other things part) The adult world recognizes conflicts and limited resources. Know what you want, pick a way to get it, adjust as you go, and be happy you did the best you could.

The takeaway

  1. Every decision involves tradeoffs.
  2. You cannot have everything no matter what your resources are.
  3. Know why you want what you do and why you don’t want some of the other things.
  4. Enjoy the things that work out and try to do better the next time when they don’t

I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email

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