Why the idea “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” is a poor way to live life


by Don Smith

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You have probably heard the saying, “you can't have your cake and eat it too.” What it means is that you can't enjoy two desirable but mutually exclusive alternatives. You can't eat your cake and have that same cake look like new.

“You can't have your cake and eat it too.”

The problem with this in practical life is that it defeats the entire purpose of having the proverbial “cake.” Why would you buy a cake if not to enjoy it? Many of us have had the experience of buying a cake for a birthday party, then you bring home the leftovers, they go moldy, and you eventually throw them out. If you were to not eat the cake at all, it would spoil, and defeat the entire purpose of having the cake in the first place.

What many fail to realize is that while it's true that you can't eat a cake and still have it, you can almost always get another cake. Not eating it, not enjoying the fruits of your labor, is an excellent way for that “cake” to mold and later become useless to you. I used to try and get by without spending any money on anything, and I still try to be frugal, but that's a scarcity mindset. That mindset says that we will never get another “cake” so we must protect what we have, and ignores the fact that we make money so that we can enjoy it and often spending money on the right things leads to making even more money.

Jim Collins and Jerry Porras revealed in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies that great companies have learned to embrace the AND rather than be ruled by the OR, meaning they realize that most of the time they don't always have to choose between two seemingly excellent alternatives, they pick them both.

The scarcity mindset is a whole other topic which could take up a book, but think for a moment about someone who has ten million dollars. Except in very rare instances, they didn't get there merely by saving every penny, because the math on that one is you'd have to save up for a hundred years if you put in $100,000 a year, or thirty years if you invested $100,000 a year at a compound interest rate of 7% which is the average stock market return. No, those people have learned how to eat their cake and make more cakes.

In business, in life, learn to enjoy your “cake” today, while it's fresh. You will never get time back with your kids, which is why I took mine on vacation last week and will take another one soon. You never know when your health may fail as well, so do things you want to do while you're still healthy.

You will never get very far in business if you hoard your money and refuse to invest it in the tools and skills you need to get more business either. You don't want to eat cake every day, but if you have it, please don't wait too long to eat it before it goes bad. Share it with others, that's what cake is meant for, to be shared and enjoyed today. Learn to enjoy what you have today rather than worry about losing it. Holding on too tight is an excellent way for good things to spoil. Tomorrow you can bake or buy a new cake, or maybe you'll even get lucky, and someone will make you a cake to enjoy because you did that for someone else.

Family vacation
Some photos from our recent vacation

About the Author 

Don Smith

Happily married with five kids, Smith owns a technology company, has served on the board of directors for multiple companies, and loves playing soccer, hiking, and mentoring.

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