4th July 2019

Want it all?


I’ve never really understood the phrase “you can’t have your cake and eat it”

Maybe it’s because I immediately start thinking about cake and don’t get any further.

According to Wikipedia it means that once you’ve eaten your cake, you don’t have it any more i.e. you can’t have two incompatible things at the same time.

A more obvious and probably more common phrase, is “you can’t have it both ways”. I hear this a lot. I hear it from clients, both men and women, as they talk about wanting to improve their lives at home and at work;

“I’m probably being greedy and maybe I need to accept that if I want to be successful at work, my home life will suffer”


“Perhaps I’m being unrealistic. If I want to have a happy family life, I can’t expect to find work that stimulates me too.”

Ooof. Just writing these sentences, evokes a kind of weight on my chest and shoulders. And I know it feels much heavier if you say and believe it yourself.

If this sounds like you, it’s OK. Take a breath and relax.

Now, let’s break down what you’re really saying;

  1. I’m not satisfied with how things are in my life right now.
  2. I reckon I could do something about it because I’m intelligent, capable and motivated.
  3. Doing something about it could be brilliant and make a real difference to me and those around me.
  4. There’s also the possibility it might not work out. It could even make things worse.
  5. So I should accept not being satisfied and ignore these feelings and thoughts about how things could be better and just carry on as I am and hoping I or things around me change.

It doesn’t make sense does it?

You are an intelligent, experienced professional. What’s happening here is not due to a lack of knowledge or competence. In fact, it’s probably quite the reverse.

Recognising and acknowledging when you’re “not feeling it”, or you’ve “lost my mo jo” or are “just not myself” (Step 1) shows self-awareness.

Knowing that you have the ability, intellect, creativity, motivation and energy to do something about it (Step 2) is taking responsibility for your own life and how you feel about.

Imaging a life where it all works out (Step 3) is exciting and demonstrates your creativity and resourcefulness.

Then the doubts creep in and it gets scary (Step 4). The “what ifs” multiply. You remember mistakes or failures from your own history or from others’ (or both, just to make them extra powerful).

This bit also demonstrates your creativity. Your ability to imagine the worst is impressive! You might tell yourself this is the reality check you needed. But it’s no more REAL than when you were imagining how much more fulfilling your life could be in Step 3.

But the fear, uncertainty and doubt is powerful. It’s like a salacious tabloid headline or a Facebook discussion about bad parking. It draws you in and, even though you don’t like it, it makes you feel a bit grubby and you know it doesn’t represent what you believe, you still go there.

At this point, you stop thinking about the potential for your life to be more fulfilling, more fun, more successful or whatever and you choose to do nothing (Step 5). Telling yourself you are being unrealistic or greedy for wanting too much is the cherry on the top.

I am not criticizing. I empathise completely. I choose to do nothing for over a year because I was scared of what might happen to my career and home life. It didn’t feel much like a choice though. I felt “stuck” and I felt greedy wanting to be in a place where I could make a difference, add value and be valued and guilty wanting to leave a “good job with a good company”.

It sounds daft now. Why would anyone STAY in an environment where their expertise was not valued? But we do. We do because the power of fear, uncertainty and doubt means we give more significance in our minds to the thoughts of things going badly than things going well. Without critically examining either scenario, we tell ourselves the negative outcome is more “realistic” until it feels “safer” to stop thinking all together and stay put. Cue another well-word phrase “better the devil you know”.

So can we have our cake and eat it?

Absolutely! Making a positive change in your life is not a question of all or nothing – all the cake or no cake at all! You could go out and have a whole crazy afternoon tea of cakes if you like or you could add a slight twist to one of your own creations and enjoy it even more!

Only you can decide which is the best option for you so it’s important to allow yourself time and space to give them all proper consideration.

If you want to make a change but are feeling scared or even guilty about what might happen, try this:

  • Set yourself a time limit (10 minutes for example) to imagine the best outcome and write it down
  • Now give yourself the same time limit to imagine the worst outcome and write it down.
  • What does your description of the best outcome tell you about what’s important to you?
  • What does your description of the worst outcome tell you about what you are afraid of?
  • How likely is the best outcome? What are you using to determine this? (facts, previous experience, imagination, others’ actions or opinions?)
  • How likely is the worst outcome? What are you using to determine this? (facts, previous experience, imagination, others’ actions or opinions?)
  • What would you do if you best outcome became a reality?
  • What would you do if the worst outcome became a reality?
  • What could you do to mitigate the worst outcome?
  • What is the first step towards the best outcome?

And the most important question of all:

  • What will you do now?

Whatever your answer, you’ve properly weighed up some options and you are making a choice. Your choice is relevant to this moment and is allowed to change. So, if your answer is “Nothing”, how about adding the word “Yet” and see how that feels?

Right, after that talk of cake I’m in the mood for a scone with cream and jam. It is summer after all. Anyone like to join me?