Have It All!

Nearly two decades ago, as part of my doctoral program, I took a course on psychometric theory and measurement. It was all about the science of asking the “right” questions to measure accurately and reliably someone’s knowledge (in a test/exam) or attitude (in a survey/assessment). A good question should come with one and only one right/optimal answer. Any compound answer option, e.g., “a and b,” “b and d,” etc., is considered poorly constructed, unreliable measurement. If we ask the question right, it should always yield a single right choice among options. The objective is to have a forced choice of one. “Or” is good, “and” is bad.

Option A or B?


What prompted me to dust off the cobweb around this long archived memory? Last week, I came to a fork in the road, a real-life forced choice between Options A and B. Option A would have me continuing to explore something that has been a source of joy and embodies the potential to fulfill a big intention in my life. However, this path also includes conditions that are incongruent with some of my deeply held values and beliefs. Option B would have me walk away from something that has fed my heart, along with the potential it holds for the future. The upside of this option is that I won’t have to compromise my values and beliefs; I can stay true to myself.

I chose B, which was the better of the two options. To my chagrin, however, “better” still required me to give up something I want, and I most certainly feel the sting of having to choose—and of the outcome of that choice. Why couldn’t the “or” be an “and” choice? That is, why couldn’t I have what I want without having to compromise my values and beliefs? It’s as the popular saying goes, “You can’t have the cake and eat it, too.” Similarly, Oprah said, “You can have it all. Just not all at once.” But why in the world not?

How did the belief that we can’t have something without giving up something else work itself into our social and cultural conditioning? Why do we accept without questions such limitations in our conventional mindset? How does life appear to be a series of forced choices to select only one option, when there are often some truly desirable conditions or features in the other option(s) we must forego? How about more “and” and fewer “or” choices?

Two Types of Mindset

I believe that life is a mirror reflecting back to us our beliefs, whether or not we’re conscious of them. There’s nothing random about life, and every experience serves a higher purpose, if we’re open to seeing it. Since life isn’t a static event but an ever-evolving journey through which we change and grow, forks in the road are opportunities for us to reassess whether our belief system could use any updating. Many unpleasant experiences are meant to shed light on latent limiting beliefs lurking in our subconscious mind, most of which we may not even remember acquiring, let alone recognize how they contribute to creating situations that seemingly force choices.

Tell me if you can relate to the following two levels of consciousness, two alternative types of mindsets:

ConsciousnessOur only limitations are those we set up in our own minds. ~ Napoleon Hill

First, it seems that the need to make mutually exclusive choices is premised on a subconscious fear of lack and limitations, that we can’t have it all, that there are always strings attached to what we want. When we’re happy, deep down we fear it won’t last, and we wait for the proverbial other shoe to drop. And, of course, as a self-fulfilling prophecy, whatever we fear becomes reality. This mindset of lack and limitations creates “or” experiences—like the one I outlined above.

When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. ~ Lao Tzu

An alternative mindset that allows for “and” scenarios is one of abundance, infinite possibilities and limitless potential. The different elements of what we desire in our life don’t contradict one another, nor are they mutually exclusive. As such, there’s no need to make tradeoffs; instead, we can feast on a buffet of complementary options. Applied to my case above, I’d be in a desirable situation that fully aligns with my values and beliefs. It’s a total win-win, an “and” scenario.

Lesson on Making “And” Choices

I recognize that this objectively unpleasant fork-in-the-road experience bears gifts of valuable reminders and life lessons. First, it made me stop and re-evaluate whether any part of my belief system is outdated. After all, over the years, some things I used to believe were non-negotiables had been relaxed. Beliefs stemming from my core values remained. In this case, the values and beliefs being challenged are still critical to me. I made the right choice.

This experience also made me realize that there are still remnants of lack and limitations in my subconscious mind. It’s my opportunity to gut a hidden program in my belief system about life being a series of forced choices with tradeoffs. What’s standing in my way of having “and” instead of “or” experiences is my latent belief that I must give up something in order to have something else I want. I have no illusions that tradeoffs and compromises are necessary sometimes. Nonetheless, this latest forced-choice episode has prompted me to be mindful of cultivating more of an abundance and limitless consciousness in ways I hadn’t thought of abundance before.

My heart still feels tender in the aftermath of the choice I had to make, even though I chose well for myself. I’m grateful for the fact that this experience manifested at just the right time to help me elevate my consciousness to live out more of my best life, one with much more “and” and far less “or” experiences.

Over to you: Do you believe that you must always give up something to receive something else? Which do you find more prominent in your life: “or” or “and” scenarios? What do you do to minimize needing to make forced choices you may not wish to make without burying your head in the sand? How do you embrace with love those choices you don’t want to but must make?


Photo credit: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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Judy Ringer
Judy Ringer

Alice - both/and - a wonderful goal, I think. My own process is much like yours--using the challenge as a teacher that shows me where to look next. Often, for me, the goal is right in front of me. I have already found it. I need but to look differently. Many thanks!


Hi Alice, I do believe we are limited only by our beliefs. We see it all the time - when we feel a thing has to take a lot of work and effort, it does. But if we can see something as happening easily, it does that too. I agree with you that our world reflects our inner beliefs, many of them unknown to us until circumstances bring them out. I resist the thought that you have to trade off one thing in order to have another, but I don't win this mind battle often. For instance, we traded off a high income for an at home family business while the children were small. Looking back I see that was a great either or choice because it was also a trade-off between time with the kids and time away. We made the better choice. Maybe the or choices aren't always bad. Lori

Kumar Gauraw
Kumar Gauraw

I think it's true that we "have" and "should" give up something to get something. But I feel the whole idea is flawed in most cases where it is generally used. I feel that we are here to give away - love, knowledge, expertise and if we receive something, we should be grateful that we received. Giving something because we expect something in return is a selfish giving and since results are never in our hands, it may yield to disappointments. However, I do believe that there is a value in receiving and then, it should be considered as an "exchange" such as a business transaction. Only in those cases where we give something tangible, should we expect a thing of equal value in return. By the way, thank you for sharing your experience in your usual style. Enjoyed your post. You are awesome!

Alli Polin
Alli Polin

Alice - You brought up so many great questions. Thank you for sharing your experience. I face forced choices with much more of a heart at peace then ever before. I believe I face the "or" choices with hope and possibility in my heart for more "and" that is yet to come. What I love most about this post is that it will continue to stay with me long after I shut my computer for the night. I appreciate you, Alice!

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Thank you, Judy, for your comment. It's so true that, most of the time, we already know the answer. But, for a host of reasons, we "pretend" as though we don't know it, e.g., the subconscious fear of needing to do something about it. Life constantly presents us with opportunities to be honest with ourselves, doesn't it? We can either continue to pretend not to know and live that story or tell a different one. Thank you again.

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Many thanks for for your thoughtful share, Lori! Yes, tradeoffs aren't always bad, as perfectly illustrated by your example. If I were in your shoes, I'd have felt also that my kids are multiple orders of magnitude more important than a high income; it wouldn't be a difficult tradeoff decision to make. I'd venture to guess that most people would feel the same way. That is, unless I can elevate my consciousness from one of lack and limitations to one of abundance and limitless potential to believe that time with my kids AND a high-income family business can co-exist. That's not beyond the realm of possibilities by any stretch of the imagination, and would then make the need to make an "or" choice unnecessary. Anyway, thank you very much for this great example for the topic!

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Kumar. Yes, when it comes to giving, gracious giving is the only way to go, vs. giving to ingratiate someone so as to get something back. It really is the energy behind what we do that others feel. If we give to get, it's really not giving. Thank you for taking the time to share your comments.

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Many thanks for your kind words, Alli! I can feel the sincerity coming from your heart. Making choices in life is a very interesting thing that reflects much of our inner world and outlook. I appreciate having thoughtful, heart-centered folks like yourself with whom to discuss these sorts of issues in an authentic way. I appreciate you, too, Alli!


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