Trade-offs in Life: We can’t have it all

It seems many of us wish to have it all in life. Each of us has a live, ever-updating and growing list of needs, wants and desires. And we want them by making no compromises and having no regrets.

We learn quite late in life that there is a tradeoff for everything in life. Most of us understand the concept of tradeoff the hard way- through experience. The definition of trade-off is an exchange where you give up one thing in order to get something else that you also desire.

Here are five key tradeoffs we all have to make in our lives:

  1. Money vs Time
    90% of all jobs and promotions are a trade-off between money earned and the time required. At junior levels, you clock in mandated hours of attendance for your fixed salary. As you grow in responsibility and compensation, the demands on your time eat into your daily hours, weekends and holidays. Solution: To solve this trade-off, either change or expand your skillset. Imagine a super-specialist doctor vs a general practitioner at a hospital. With more valuable skills you can choose between more money or more free time depending on what is critical in your current stage of life.
  2. Generalist Vs Specialist. In a real world, most of the professionals we come across are either Generalists or Specialists. Generalists have knowledge about a lot of subjects, which is why they tend to have loosely defined roles, with flexible KPIs within organizations. A general medicine practitioner, for instance, might attend to patients of varying age groups, presenting with a broad range of symptoms. Contrast to this is a Specialists role. It takes more time to be a specialist in any discipline and that’s the reason specialists often earn more, even at entry-level jobs. They have tightly defined job roles and organizations often employ fewer specialists than generalists, meaning that the dependence on specialists is high, making them more valuable and difficult to replace. However, there is a flip side to being a specialist for a number of reasons such as career inflexibility, limited opportunities pool, and the fear of being replaced by robots and other emerging technologies looms large for specialists.
  3. Safety Vs Economy: I am not sure how many of us have noticed this trade off between economy and safety. This is quite evident in cars: Large cars can carry many people (five or more), and since they have larger crumple zones, they may be safer in an accident. However, they also tend to be heavy (and often not very aerodynamic) and hence have a relatively poor fuel economy. Small cars like the Smart Car can only carry two people, and their lightweight means they are very fuel-efficient. At the same time, the smaller size and weight of small cars mean that they have smaller crumple zones, which means occupants are less protected in case of an accident. In addition, if a small car has an accident with a larger, heavier car, the occupants of the smaller car will fare more poorly. Thus car size (large versus small) involves multiple tradeoffs regarding passenger capacity, accident safety, and fuel economy.
  4. Speed Vs Accuracy: The complex relationship between an individual’s willingness to respond slowly and make relatively fewer errors compared to their willingness to respond quickly and make relatively more errors is described as the speed-accuracy tradeoff. Either you can accomplish a lot in given time with many errors or accomplish little in a given time with near perfection.
  5. Career Success Vs Family Success: Many of us face this trade off while only few of us have made peace with it. The career gives you financial stability whereas family gives you social stability. These are two sides of the same coin. If you have a career, you will miss your family and if you have your loved ones you may regret not having a great career. Both are important in one’s life. So, a practical solution would be to raise one child while focusing also on your career. It’s still hard but manageable.

These are only some examples of tradeoffs. A trade-off involves a sacrifice that must be made to obtain a desired product or experience. Understanding the trade-off for every decision you make helps ensure that you are using your resources, whether it’s time, money, pleasure or energy. Every minute of every day, you and the people around you are making Tradeoffs. Whether it’s picking your next investment, next job or deciding whether to have your next child or partner, there are going to be tradeoffs.

What do you do when you can’t do everything you want? The best way to decide what you need to trade against what, is to understand your personal value structure. It is wise to give up a lower value for a higher one or put another way maximise a higher value at the cost of a lower value.

One of the secrets to living a fulfilling life is to understand the tradeoffs in life. Acknowledging the fact that gaining something desirable also leads to losing something desirable, makes us truly grounded and contented.

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