Navigating Life’s Trade-Offs and Avoiding Awkward Stretching

Last week I wrote about a small part of the message in Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism the chapter on focus and asking yourself “What’s Important Now?” (W.I.N.)

I want to take a step back this week and talk about a much broader theme that McKeown writes on.  Trade offs.

Whether you recognize it or not our lives are full of trade offs.  From the mundane, if I have spaghetti for dinner I’m passing on all of the other food options out there, to the very big, if I choose to live in this neighborhood I am giving up being close to my family.

Once I became aware that nearly every decision in my life requires some sort of trade off it became really difficult to ignore them.  Even when I am making a poor decision, like one more episode of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and pretending that I am unaware that it’s 11pm, I am reminded that I am trading some much needed sleep for that extra T.V. time.

Sometimes we try to fit it all in.  We try to avoid making a trade off by using what McKeown calls the straddle strategy.

Maybe I don’t need to point this out, but I will, straddling something too big (or too many things) can be pretty uncomfortable and stretches a human in the wrong ways.

An example of straddling that I find myself attempting is creating and crafting while the baby is awake. I tell myself that I can do both. I can entertain my one year old and crochet a new hat for my friend’s birthday. Heck if I’m feeling extra flexible I can also teach one of my bigger kids how to chop mushrooms for the spaghetti sauce I have on the go at the same time.

The result is rarely successful. (And I only say rarely because I don’t like the word never).

My interactions with my kiddos are half-ass and shallow.  They become an unintended interruption instead of a much cherished joy in my life. The mushroom cutter ends up with an injury that may or may not be related to cutting mushrooms. And the baby finds an opportunity to toss my yarns across the room.

The trade off for straddling is chaos or failure.  Not failure in the “I tried something really brave and it flopped, but I learned a lot.” good way.  Failure in the “I made a crappy decision” bad way.

I want the things in my life to be deep and meaningful.

The way to swim to the bottom of a pool is to place your hand in the torpedo position and point down and kick your legs.  This is a very compact activity.  Your concentration is on one thing.  Touching those blue tiles.

If you try to get to the bottom of the pool by spreading out and covering as much surface as you can, you float and you fail to do the necessary work to achieve your goal.

Saying yes to anything requires saying no to an abundance of other opportunities. 

“…until we accept that reality we’ll be doomed…stuck in the straddled strategy that forces us to make sacrifices in the margins by default that we might not have made by design.” (Essentialism Greg McKeown)

I am so not perfect at choosing the very best over wanting to have it all, but the tweaks I have made in that direction are making a difference and helping me to live with greater intention and purpose.

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