Does Success in One Area Mean Failure In Another?

Shonda Rhimes’ Dartmouth commencement speech just hit Medium. It’s ostensibly posted by Ms. Rhimes herself, which — I mean, I really want to break this down for a minute, she could have picked anywhere to post her speech, anywhere from HuffPo to The Atlantic to Kindle Singles, and she picked Medium? (Does Shonda Rhimes really need a gatekeeper-free publishing platform to share her message?)

Anyway, the speech is great, and the pull quote about “dreamers vs. doers” works, but to me, the most interesting part of the speech was the section that began:

Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means that I am failing in another area of my life.

That is the truth, right there.

I used to joke that “everybody got two,” which I think I actually cribbed from David Sedaris’s Four Burner Theory: you have four stove burners in your life (family, friends, health, and work) and you can only keep two burners on at any one time. I chose to re-interpret that as “you get two things to focus on in your life,” and in my case it was my office job and putting a song a week on the internet, and during that time I wasn’t focusing much on family or friends.

Now I think my “two” are work and friendships/relationships, which means that Mint is flailing its arms because I’m exceeding my spending goal on drinking sake mojitos. But I absolutely get what Shonda Rhimes is telling the Dartmouth graduates: when you do well in one area of your life, something else has to fall away. When you do more work, you read fewer books. When you spend more time with friends and family, you spend less time exercising. The more people you have at your table, the more you’re going to overspend on food.

In terms of finances, it seems like the more successful you become in any area of your life, the more you’re willing to take on a little debt to maintain that success. Parents go into debt for their kids, entrepreneurs go into debt for their businesses, Dartmouth students go into debt to stay on the top of the educational game. I could pay down my credit cards faster if I made my “two” work and saving money, but that’s not the choice I’m making right now.

What do you all think? Can you succeed at something without failing at something else? Do we really only get “two,” and have to let the rest go?