Do you run your biz like an all-inclusive resort?

I ask this knowing that it reeks of White Lotus rage (and if you haven’t watched that show on HBO, it’s a must).

But I’m going to say it anyway.

Are you running your job, your business, your life, like an all-inclusive resort? Might want to rethink that.

Having spent a really fantastic week at an all-inclusive resort in Turks—and acknowledging that being able to do that is about as privileged as it gets—it made me revisit, once again, why all-inclusives seem better in promise than they are in execution. And it also reminded me of why I don’t run my business like one.

Is it freeing to walk around without a wallet, order drinks willy-nilly, and, when you’re done with dinner, simply stand up and leave?

Yes, this has an appeal and I get it.

But while it “feels” free, of course, nothing is free. I don’t need to tell you that it costs exactly an arm and a leg to stay at an all-inclusive resort, namely because while you don’t have to pay line items, you essentially buy it all up front. The entrees aren’t free; you already bought all the entrees. That pina colada? You bought all the pina coladas last January.

This freedom removes the tension of “paying” for things—but it replaces it with another kind of tension: unchecked and unmanaged expectations. Because two things are happening: The staff is run ragged by high expectations and endless requests, and guests get impatient when they feel they’re not getting what they paid for—or, if you’re of a Northeastern temperament, that you’re not getting it fast enough.

End of the day, this is the contract, and it’s not good or bad—it’s just another kind of contract: When everything’s already paid for, no one owes anyone anything, not really—and that may feel like tension, or freedom, depending on what kind of experience you had.

Look, some people love this set up. Turns out, I don’t. I’d rather pay for each meal knowing exactly what I’m getting.

This experience also reminded me of why I don’t do retainers anymore. Because while you may beg to differ, I never liked them. Someone always thinks they’re getting screwed: Either they’re overpaying—or underpaid.

In fact, I ended a lucrative retainer deal years ago—why, because I like throwing away money? Nope. But because if you’re on retainer and your client earns less in Q2 than they expected, you’re no longer in the consulting biz; you’re also in the accounting biz. And I didn’t sign up to be in the accounting biz.

I knew the most fair thing to do, for them and for me, was to revert to project by project. Which we still do. That way, everyone’s expectations are managed. And—you have more opportunities to exceed them.

I don’t care if you’re a W2, a W9, a WD40. Doesn’t matter. The more effectively you manage expectations, with anyone, the happier you’ll be. And nearly all the disappointment, resentment, and rage—whether we’re talking a client project, a spat with your spouse, or the endless wait for a pan-seared snapper—stems from what one person expected and didn’t get.

Fact is? I had a wonderful vacation. And, like any good project, it has come to an end. We all fully enjoyed our tropical environs and each other. My sisters’ kids exceeded our expectations in their adaptability and stamina, my mother felt she’d died and gone to heaven, and I bobbed in the turquoise surf happily for hours. It was precisely what we needed, and precisely what we got.