Two out of Three: Making Hard Choices

Page from my journal

A page from my journal

I finished a book this week entitled Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal. It was a quirky memoir by the author who recently wrote an essay for the New York Times which went viral. In this essay, she discusses her imminent death and her quest to find a new wife for her soon-to-be-widowed husband. It was a gut-punch of piece, enough so that I sought out some of her other writings.

In Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, she included a poem by Kenneth Koch:

You Want a Social Life with Friends

You want a social life, with friends,

A passionate love life as well

To work hard every day. What’s true

Is of these three you may have two

And two can pay you dividends

But never may have three


There isn’t time enough, my friends—

Though dawn begins, yet midnight ends—

To find the time to have love, work, and friends

Michelangelo had feeling

For Vittoria and Ceiling

But did he go to parties at day’s end?


Homer nightly went to banquets

Wrote all day but had no lockets

Bright with pictures of his Girl.

I know one who loves and parties

And has done so since his thirties

But writes hardly anything at all.


 It’s cute. And provocative. For those of us who work with project managers, the pick two concept is not new. You want a new product? Fast, good, or cheap. Pick two.

Pick two options also lurk in everyday life, even when the trade-offs are made with no apparent thought. I think back to my days with young kids, rushing through Taco Bell on the way home from work. When life became insane, we decided that Pat would stay home. It was the pick two that ended a string of pick twos.

Some of life’s tradeoffs are much more subliminal, and impactful. Yet we plod forward in a fog of indecisive decisiveness (hang on, if that phrase doesn’t make sense, I think it will).

Six years ago, I decided I could pick two: retire early, travel a lot, keep my home. Three was not an option. What had masqueraded for years as indecision had been my decision. In the absense of picking two, I did not retire. I travelled and kept the house. In the absence of picking two, I had in fact, picked two.

Then one day, I came to grips with what I really wanted, which was to retire. And travel–a lot. The home had to go. The subsequent plan took years to execute, but at least I had a roadmap. And forward movement towards a goal.

I thought about all of this today, as I contemplated Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who passed away on Monday at the age of 51. This quirky poem. My own pick two. When I finally confronted my decision and realized the home had to go, I unleashed a chain events which brought me here, to this moment–in a coffee shop, writing, in Paris.

The longest life is still too short.

Categories: Ruminations

Tags: , , , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. A really good maxim, especially for those of us prone to making unachievable ‘to-do’ lists. Thanks for this piece and also for sharing the sweet and thoughtful poem.

  2. Thanks Julie! Really great piece!
    I had used the choose two rule at work for over 20 years before I retired– for me it was Speed, Quality, Price. It was the attributes we would use for our IT projects.
    Only once did our customer choose all three and actually provide/ facilitate each. It was the best project I ever worked on, but it ruined all future projects for me. Two more years of work living with having to choose just was demoralizing for me and I ended up retiring too years early.
    I never had consciencely applied the same rule to my personal life, but I realize now after reading your post that we have been doing it all along.
    We too have chosen to retire and shed all the stuff. Over two years in and we don’t regret it. Less is not more, it just is less complicated and creates rather than limits opportunities.

    (BTW – love the look of the new site!)

    • Thanks Dan… You guys have done such a great job at crafting a next phase of life. It must be your project management chops. We all should look at life as a project: Determine our risks and mitigations. Constraints and options. Communication needs. Finances. Then make the most of what you have and what you want. Well done by you and Mirka!

  3. I read Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s essay in the NYT’s a couple of weeks ago and was charmed and humbled at the same time by her love for her husband. I love the idea of two out of three and, having picked your exact two choices, can assure you that you’ll never regret your choice to retire early or travel a lot. My husband and I are at the ages (60 and 67) where we’re seeing friends felled by ill health or death, pondering our own mortality and are no longer comfortable putting things off until tomorrow. If you have your druthers, then for sure pick the things that will make you happy and figure out how to make it so! Anita

I love hearing from readers. Please comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: