Work, Family, Scene: You Can Only Pick Two

Life is about tradeoffs

Ryan Holiday
Published in
5 min readNov 10, 2021


Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

When I first moved to Austin in 2013, I went out to lunch — fittingly — with a writer named Austin Kleon. I was a longtime fan of his book Steal Like an Artist (his book Keep Going is a new favorite). After we ate, he drove me around the city, showing me things and giving me advice.

Austin was a little older than me and was already married with kids.

I remember asking him how he made time for it all. “I don’t,” he told me. “The artist’s life is about tradeoffs.” And then he gave me a little rule that has stuck with me always:

Work, family, scene. Pick two.

Work — that is your creative output.

Family — that’s a spouse, kids, or any close personal relationships.

Scene — that’s the fun stuff that comes along with success. Parties. Fancy dinners. Important friends. This is the stuff that looks good on Instagram, that you can brag about, that falls into your lap like a wonderful surprise. Offers, invitations, perks.

It’d be wonderful if you could have it all…but you can’t.

You can party it up and hang onto a relationship but you won’t have much time left for work. You can grind away at your craft, be the toast of the scene, but what will that leave for your family? Almost certainly it means they will be home, alone. If you’re as committed to the work as you are to a happy home, you can keep both but you will have no room for anything else — certainly late nights or hangovers or exotic trips. And if you try to have it all? Well, you won’t get any of it.

I emailed Austin about this all recently and he pointed me to a poem by Kenneth Koch from the New Yorker that had inspired it for him. It had a great verse in it:

There isn’t time enough, my friends —

Though dawn begins, yet midnight ends-

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

Pick two.

I know you think you’re the exception, but you’re not. I wasn’t. I can tell you that from experience. I tried all the different variations. I’ve traveled too much…and family and work suffered. I’ve worked too much and…



Ryan Holiday
Writer for

Bestselling author of ‘Conspiracy,’ ‘Ego is the Enemy’ & ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’