Before plunging into solutions, a perspective on what it means:

Having it all, of course is different for different people, and a single solution set or ecosystem is certainly not going to work for all. But in trying to help anyone have it all, one needs a degree of customization that denies the possibility of a systemic solution. On the other hand, In trying to help all have it all (I am channeling my inner Sir Humphrey, or was it Rumsfeld) we are confronted with the chaos of infinite choice all the time. This is what I call the have-it-all-paradox.


What does an individual who ‘has it all’ look like? Well heeled? Not necessarily, for scruffy people too seem to have it all. Rich? Helps, but that’s not it. Loved? We don’t even go there just yet (but yes of course, how can you have it all without love).

A folk tale, common to many cultures, says it better than I can:

A young man is sleeping underneath a tree/next to a river, when an acorn from the tree falls next to him (Or a fish jumps out of the water). The young man opens a lazy eye, and then goes back to his delicious nap. The breeze is cool, the grass under him is soft and he is possibly dreaming of the charming girl from the next village who will bring something nice for him to eat when they meet later this evening.

A passerby sees the lazy young man, the fallen acorn of opportunity, the river full of fish and asks him – why don’t you get up and use this opportunity?

And as folk tales go, they have a long conversation about how the fish sold in the market will get him money, the money can buy him a boat of his own, then a trawler, and then he could be the biggest fishing (or oak tree) magnate of the known universe.

“And then what?”, asks the astute young man.

“And then you can relax and enjoy your wealth, do whatever you want” replies the grown up passerby. (He may have a loan portfolio to build, but that is another story)

“What do you think I am doing now?” asks the young man, and promptly rolls back and goes to sleep again.

This young man seems to have it all, as does the passerby. The passerby in fact is so happy with what he has, that it has become a philosophy he wants to share with any sleeping youngster he encounters. What the young man does not have is purpose, or even a seeming need for purpose. His decisions are possibly myopic. But in the age of Black Swans and purple elephants, who is to say that his model is not more sustainable than the driven aggressive growth model of the passerby.

But the goal, the point of ‘having it all’ for both the models involved leisure and choice. And a point of not having to work for it – for some having earned it by a lifetime of work, for others, having earned it by sheer charm. This we have learnt from classical economics too, that after a certain income level, leisure is valued more than the additional dollar earned from work. This may also be the reason why we outsource as we move up the income ladder. We do this as individuals, as businesses and as countries.

Having it all is not about working less, it is about being able to choose something different, knowing that the ecosystem can survive and prosper, and yet have room for you. It is the luxury of stepping away from the table, knowing that the joint or the strategy will be carved well. And it is the luxury of knowing that there will always be a place at the table for you.

While having it all is about choices and consequences; about resources and tradeoffs; and, about holding on and letting go, it is also – at its very simplest – our individual story about creating a non linear trajectory towards achieving our potential.

3 thoughts on “The Have it All paradox

  1. You know…after your last piece, re-read some Aristotle. And I realise that if you just listen to that old man, you will be pretty okay! Sure, life can always be more…but I think I have it all 🙂

  2. Begs the more interesting question – do others in your ecosystem also have it all? Or is your having it all dependent on some one else not having it all?

    (not really a personal question)

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