The Danger of “Or”

The word “or” is often used as a crutch.

One of my favorite examples comes from Ramit Sethi. He talks about the college admission process, and an interesting answer on the FAQ page for one of the top schools in the country.

The question that was posed was roughly, “Is it better to take an easy class in high school and get an A, or to take a harder class with the risk of getting a B?”

And the answer the college provided was telling.

Their response was something to the extent of, “We certainly see the value in taking more challenging courses in high school, and would always encourage students to take the most difficult courses they can. However, we find that the students who are admitted to our university often take the hardest classes, and earn all As.”

Simply put – YES you should take the hardest classes, and YES you should get good grades while doing so.

It’s subtle, but the point the school made is critical.

It’s not a question of taking a challenging course or getting an A. If you want to be a top student, you need to do both.


We create these false dichotomies all the time.

We say that we can either have a healthy diet or enjoy the food we eat. Or that we have to choose between being a good athlete or being an excellent student.

But there’s rarely a good reason why we can’t do both.

Once you figure out how to build a well-balanced diet and adjust your tastes accordingly, it’s possible to enjoy the healthy meals you eat.

Just like it’s possible to excel both academically and athletically.

I was always confused when people would remark about how surprising it was that I was able to balance school and sports. I know there are stereotypes of the typical “jock” or “bookworm,” but those simplifications don’t stand up in real life.

If anything, pursuing two simultaneous paths can often make it easier to excel in both. The discipline and work ethic that is learned on the sports field can directly translate to the classroom, just like the learning processes that are developed academically can help an athlete to learn a playbook or develop the ability to read the opposing team.

The real problem isn’t that it’s impossible to be a good athlete while also being a good student. The problem comes when we try to do those two things while also wasting hours on end playing video games, or going out with friends.

But we rarely think about things like this, and it holds us back.

I’ve seen this in more own life when debating whether it makes sense to continue to write this blog.

When I think about what my life would be like if I stopped, I get drawn into the things that I might be able to do if I used my blogging time elsewhere. I think about the possibility of getting to the gym more frequently or spending more time playing the piano or maybe even starting a business on the side. The possibilities are endless.

So it’s enticing to fantasize about stopping this blog so I could have that time to put towards those other ventures.

But when I stop to think critically, I have to ask myself an important question: Why can’t I do those things now?

If I’m honest, I certainly have enough time in my week to pursue just about any of those ideas.

Back in the summer, I was working full time, spending 20-30 hours on the house each week, and still had time to put into writing and marketing the blog.

Now that the house renovations have slowed, I should theoretically have all of that time to put towards other productive things.

But that’s not what has happened.

Instead of transitioning the house renovation time to another productive endeavor, I’ve loosened up. I’ve started to spend more time with friends, been less strict on my sleep schedule, and have even started to watch a little TV.

I’m not saying that is a bad thing. It’s been a conscious decision that I’ve made to get more balance in my life after the hectic summer and fall last year.

But, it’s worth acknowledging when I’m thinking about making another change in my life.

If I really want to spend more time exercising or playing piano, it doesn’t necessarily have to come from the time that I’m currently spending on this blog. I have more than enough time to drain from the other less-productive areas that I just mentioned.

So in reality, the debate between whether I want to continue the blog or take on another pursuit is fabricated. I’m sure I can do both if I want.


Next time you’re faced with a difficult choice between two alternatives, ask yourself if it’s possible to do both.

It’s certainly possible that you will still ultimately decide to pick one or the other, just like I might ultimately decide that I want to take the effort I’m spending on my blog and exert it elsewhere. But if you don’t stop and at least consider the possibility of pursuing both options, you might be unnecessarily limiting yourself.

If you truly want both sides badly enough, you just might find a way.