The Price of Admission

The Price of Admission

Some years ago, there a talk given by advice columnist Dan Savage that caught on, going “viral” before viral was even a thing. And it’s still some of the best advice on relationships I’ve ever heard. His theory is that for any long-term relationship to be successful, we cannot hope to “fix” the flaws of another person, we can only hope to rise above them, usually by pretending they don’t exist. In other words, there is no settling down without some settling for. But, if the rest of what we get from that relationship is worthwhile, then the other stuff – the stuff that drives us batshit crazy – we should accept with good humor and grace as “the price of admission.” 

The older I get, the more I see now that everything comes with a built-in price tag. And I find the thought of this oddly consoling. For example, there was a time not too long ago when I might look at a very impressive beach body and think “Wow! I wished I looked like that!” Now, the more rational part of my brain says, “That’s a lot of time in the gym. And that looks like a lot of serious discipline. I love chocolate muffins, and I’m not sure I’d be up for that.” With the way my life is currently set up, and because I know the time it takes to develop a body like that, this is a price I am simply unwilling to pay. There is freedom in knowing this.

How much am I willing to pay?

About 20 years ago, I gave up a very enjoyable and well-paid corporate job with the goal of working for myself. In my work as an executive recruiter, I was already doing some “coaching” – so it seemed like a good fit, and a natural extension of a skill set that I already had. Because I am a practical person, I didn’t immediately quit my job and hang up a shingle. Instead, I gave myself the very simple goal of getting just one paying client within a year. Happily, I did that. And then one client led on to another, and it gradually grew from there. There were some very lean years in the beginning, but I was able to keep my head above water. For the most part it worked out, and I now enjoy far greater autonomy and flexibility. But the cost of it – a steady paycheck, good health insurance, a retirement plan – was one I had to be willing to pay.

Most of us have stuff we are working on all the time – dreams and ideas we’d like to see manifested in our lives. It could be getting a promotion at work, building a business, nurturing a loving relationship or writing the Great American Novel. While none of these things are impossible, all usually come with a ton of hidden fees. All involve some degree of personal sacrifice and a willingness to forgo immediate, more alluring pleasures and comfort. I once read an interview with John Grisham where he talked about his burning desire to write in the early years, long before he was famous. With a fulltime job as a lawyer, and a young family at home, he set himself the modest goal of writing simply “one page a day” – just 300 words every day. He got up earlier and wrote for an hour before work each morning, and sometimes in the evening where normally he would watch television. Within three years, he had written The Firm

I work with a lot of female executives and entrepreneurs, and I would say that by far the hardest decision most of them will ever make in their working lives is deciding when and if to have children. Speaking as a working mom myself, I know that I drastically underestimated the cost – in terms of the amount of time, mental and emotional energy that is required to raise small humans. And while I know that all parents make sacrifices for their children, the unique challenges of motherhood make it as stressful, demanding and challenging as any fulltime job. Perhaps even more so. I spend a lot of time coaching working moms, and it’s okay to admit that the price we pay for our careers is often far steeper than any of us ever imagined. By the same token, it’s also okay to admit if the price is one you are not willing to pay. 

What do I value?

I think in the end, it all comes down to knowing oneself, and “what is it that I value most?” Is it freedom, adventure, moral fulfillment? Is it fame, fortune or power? This isn’t a good/bad judgment call. But it can be useful to get clarity on some of our main drivers in order to make better decisions. And a lot of these drivers can (and do) change over time. So it helps to check-in with ourselves every now and again. A lot of what I do as a coach is simply encourage people to look deeply at their own internal value system to make sure it is properly aligned with their stated objectives. 

Nearly anyone I know who has been successful, either in life or in business, has a pretty well-developed value system running in the background. They also tend to keep working hard, even after they become successful. Especially when they become successful. Because they understand the key to getting what you want is actually pretty simple.

Figure out the cost, and then pay it.