Embracing the tradeoffs

Sometimes Seth Godin’s posts are a little too short and sweet.

His argument is that a decision without tradeoffs is not a decision. I assume the point was that without acknowledging that you’re giving something up, you’re probably deluding yourself into thinking you’re doing things “the right way” rather than “the best option given current understanding”.

I sort of have to infer that, because there’s no context or explanation. I would also assume that Seth would agree that those “decisionless decisions” are lazy and cowardly and optimized for shifting blame for failure, rather than a calculated risk with a specific reward in mind.

But I’d go a step further and say that unless you embrace the tradeoffs, you didn’t make a decision, you’re letting decisions feel like circumstances, and letting them push you around.

About a year ago, my wife and I made a commitment to getting out of credit card debt and letting her become a stay-at-home mom. She’s now been home for about 9 months, and it’s been wonderful in many ways.

But last night, I caught myself complaining about my financial situation. It’s our first holiday season on a single income, and some unexpected home repairs didn’t come at the best time.

The thing is, we knew this was coming. We knew we’d be making some sacrifices after years of high comfort and low worry. So it’s disingenuous to complain about it at all. It’s certainly not true of every couple, but in our situation, we’d much rather have a little stress about money and have the benefits of a stay-at-home parent. When I’m being mindful to embrace the tradeoffs, I’m immensely grateful that’s even an option for us.

Why embrace the tradeoffs?

It’s a formula for focus. Creating a product for a niche market imposes severe limits on mass adoption, but it lets you stop trying to be everything to everyone.  For my wife and I, embracing the tradeoffs gave us the vision we needed to get out of debt.

It provides strength when you need it most. When people undertake something without predicting and embracing tradeoffs, the first serious challenges come as a shock, and this is where most people quit. Understanding and remembering what you planned to give up is often all it takes to stick through those rough patches.

It puts you in the driver’s seat. Embracing the tradeoffs means that even when everything isn’t rosy, the decision was yours, and you also have the ability to change couse if necessary. You’re not the victim of circumstances beyond your control, you’re experiencing the effects of a decision you made.

How do you know whether you’re embracing the tradeoffs?

If you’re complaining about your circumstances, I can pretty much guarantee you’re not embracing them. Any time you catch yourself complaining about a circumstance, you’re probably complaining about the effects of a decision that you made. This is, in essence, complaining that you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

If you’re choosing the lesser of two (or more) evils, it’s unlikely that you’re embracing them. This type of decision allows you to absolve yourself of the results of that choice, and lets you place the blame on the fact that your choices were limited. It’s nearly impossible to embrace the tradeoffs you make with this mindset.

If someone else is at fault, you’ve forgotten that you even made tradeoffs in the first place. This signals a serious need to dig deep and analyze the decisions you made that put someone else in charge of such a big part of your life.

This is a fundamental concept that means the difference between success and failure in business, and often between happiness and despair in life. It isn’t about taking control, it’s about taking responsibility and ownership for your decisions. Control simply tends to follow along for the ride.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve heard two idioms over the years that sort of sum this up in a capsule: “Own your choices” and “Decide deliberately”.

    Also, there’s a Rush lyric from ‘Freewill’ in here: “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.”

  • http://fleetventures.com David Richards

    I like how you conclude this with accountability. As I read this article I was thinking about how the accountability mindset changes my effectiveness. As I take accountability for decisions I’ve made and the things I can do, the tradeoffs worry me less, and I streamline my efforts. Life feels like leaning forward, rather than bracing for whatever might hit me next. I also like how leaning forward in life, we are forced to make the tough decisions, which clarifies our purpose and commitments. I would much rather be a purposeful, committed person than a victim of circumstance.