Everything In Life Is A Trade Off: How To Cope With This Unfortunate Reality

When you are young and the world is your oyster anything is a possibility.

It's a wonderful time full of hopes, aspirations and dreams.

But then as you get older reality sets in.

Anything is still a possibility, but you realize you can't have everything.

It's a difficult time in every man's life as you realize that you aren't getting any younger and you can't squeeze it all in.

The reality is that everything in life is a series of trade offs. The choice is yours but every choice has consequences.

The Biggest Tradeoffs: Relationships and Career

trade off

Being single is awesome, as you get the freedom to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. You are unattached and can date or not date to your heart's content. But the price you pay is often loneliness and missing out on all the benefits a stable partner brings.

Being in a relationship is also awesome, as you can build a life together and get all the joy that stable companionship brings. But the price you pay is freedom.

You can't have both. And even if you try by having an open long term relationship, that comes with its own set of trade offs.

It's exactly the same with your career. You cannot have a high flying career and have lots of leisure time, a nomadic travel life and still have plenty of time for family.

You can strike a balance that works for you but you can't be operating at 100% in all aspects of your life all at once.

The Four Burners Theory

The four burners theory identifies four key areas of life: family, friends, work and health.

The argument is that if you want to keep all four running then none of them will ever reach their full potential. If you want to succeed in one, you have to make sacrifices elsewhere.

This concept recognises that life is a series of trade offs and that you can't have everything all at once.

The solutions that James Clear suggests to deal with this reality are threefold:

  • Outsource: Save time by outsourcing smaller tasks to allow you more energy for what you really want to do. For example getting a cleaner or delegating more at work.
  • Embrace Constraints: Accepting the limitations on your time and energy and doing the most you can to achieve your goals within the constraints you have. Instead of moaning that you could do more if only you had more time, you embrace the ability to achieve what you can within certain limits.
  • The Seasons of Life: While you won't be able to achieve perfect balance at all times, at different times of your life you can put more focus into different areas. For example in your twenties you might focus on your career, while in your thirties you focus more on family.

Prioritzing What's Important

It's hard to come to terms with the fact that you can't have it all. I struggle with this fact on a regular basis.

But ultimately you have to accept this, otherwise you are perpetually living with disappointment about all the things you aren't doing.

When you understand these limitations you can choose a path in life that is accepting of this fact and you can be happy with it.

It just means you have to prioritize. Does family come before career? Does being in a relationship come before the advantages of the single life?


Our time alive is finite and while there is an endless possibility of things we could do, we can't do it all.

We have to priorize and make compromises in life.

Just make sure you determine your own priorities and find your own balance and don't follow someone else's.

Don't compare yourself to others because everyone is doing it tough. Despite other people's Facebook feeds looking like they have it all, everyone has had to make trade offs somewhere.