“You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
A line that catches and rankles like raspberry brambles. It’s doled out like cough medicine or hurled like a rocky snowball. It’s like someone saying, “I don’t mean to be mean, but…” followed by an eviscerating, hurtful comment.
And it’s been endured by generations—since the 14th century. The original meaning morphed from: “You cannot have your cake, and eat it.”
Language and interpretation being such a game of telephone over the centuries, it’s amazing the saying’s retained this much of its originality. Compared to the earliest phrase, attributed to a letter written by Tom Cromwell in 1538: “a man can not have his cake and eat his cake.”
The way the saying has changed over time is via verb construction confusion: ‘Have your cake and eat it too’ started out, and makes much more sense as: ‘You can’t eat your cake and have it too.’
Meaning: You can’t have both. Can’t have it all. Don’t even try. Often referred to someone who has made a difficult choice, leap of faith, or taken a chance.
Modern interpretation: Life is about choices—you can’t have one thing, if you have another.
Other cultures have their own versions such as, “you can’t sit in two chairs at once” and “you can’t be at two weddings at once.” Practical, yes.
But also a limiting perspective.
Which begs the question, why, in certain instances, can’t you have both?
Our culture lauds success, but we only focus on the final product—the end result. In order to obtain success, at some point there’s the necessity of risk. On the other side of the spectrum, our society disparages failure. Those who have tried and failed are often shamed for what is deemed reckless behavior by an audience who would, most likely, be singing a different tune if odds and fate had been different.
In researching this essay, I came across a website called “failurelab.” Their intro reads: “FAILURE:LAB was founded in 2012 by a group of professionals in West Michigan to eliminate the fear of failure and encourage intelligent risk taking. We showcase storytellers and entertainers who share personal stories of failure, publish crowdsourced lessons, and instigate discussion.” I’ve enjoyed listening to the stories, and the above statement resonated with me.
It is only through failure that I’ve learned to cook. Flavors reveal their nuances and compatibility through trial and error. I learn just as much from botched cooking as I do successes. This lesson holds true in life as well.
Fear of failure is one of the most powerful forces determining major decisions in people’s lives. And this fear has many nuanced tentacles: fear of disappointing those around you, fear of being a laughingstock, fear of change, etc. There are many clique sayings about “inaction being action too” because, as with most cliques, it’s true. We’re told we can’t have both the joy of the cake, and the enjoyment of eating the cake. It must be a choice.
But not always.
Eat it one piece at a time. Savor each bite. And when it’s almost gone…make another goddamn cake.