How you do anything is *not* how you do everything

Good Sunday afternoon dear readers,

As you’ve probably noticed by now, I like to question things. I like to analyze, and understand, and get to the bottom. And because I do, I often find weaknesses in accepted “wisdom” or SOPs or the “done thing”… and then I try to find a better way.

And because that’s how my brain is wired, over the past few years I’ve come to realize that the oft-repeated-and-very-sensible-sounding phrase “how you do anything is how you do everything” is complete and total garbage.

Here’s what I mean. 

Because the laws of physics (aka tradeoffs) are inescapable, it is utterly impossible to do everything we do with the same level of commitment, dedication, and investment. Whenever we invest a certain amount of time, energy, emotion (or other valuable resource) in one thing, by definition – physics! – we can NOT invest that same time, energy, emotion (or other valuable resource) in something else.

Or to put it another way: to be excellent at anything, we have to be willing to be mediocre at a lot of other things. And it is needlessly self-flagellating to believe that we can balance all of the competing parts of our lives. We can’t. Tradeoffs exist. And tradeoffs mean that how we do anything can not be how we do everything.

We know this intuitively – from our own lives, and the lives of every great figure from history. 

Gandhi was a passionate and committed freedom fighter, but he wasn’t equally passionate about and committed to his family, even though he had one. 

Martin Luther King Jr was a radical civil rights leader and incredibly gifted orator, but he wasn’t incredibly gifted at cooking, even though he had a healthy appetite.

Marie Curie was an era-defying genius in multiple scientific fields, but she wasn’t an era-defying genius on a bike, even though she was an avid cyclist.

They all made choices. Choosing what to focus on, choosing what to give their all to, and making sure that in doing so, they didn’t divert or diminish their incredible gifts. That they didn’t “water themselves down” by telling themselves silly things like “how I excel at chemistry has to be how I excel at riding a bike.” 

That would be plain stupid. 

But we do this all the time. We beat ourselves up with silly expectations around excellence-at-everything.

But no more. Because that approach doesn’t make sense. And it doesn’t work.

But here’s what does: taking The “Heptathlete” Approach™. You see, in the heptathlon, athletes compete in six different events, but each individual athlete isn’t the best in the world at all six events. Instead, they choose 2 or 3 events to excel at and then let themselves be just good enough at the other events to stay in the running.

And that’s what we all need to do: we need to excel at a chosen *few* things (2 or 3 at the most, I would say), and then let ourselves be just good enough at everything else to keep it all from falling apart.

That’s it.

This is what life requires: chosen and intentional tradeoffs, not maximalist obsessions over so-called balance or unrealistic demands that we commit equally to everything.

Choices. Chosen carefully. And committed to fully. 

Intentional imbalance™, instead of impossible balance.

xx Rupal

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About Me
Rupal Patel logo
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Rupal is a born-and-bred New Yorker now living near London. Her high-octane career as a CIA officer turned serial entrepreneur has taken her from military briefing rooms in jungles and war zones to corporate boardrooms and international stages.

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