Embracing contradictions

When opposite approaches are possible – with projects and people, and within myself

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When faced with a pair of opposite feelings or values, I've noticed that I have a tendency to pick one over another. For example, as the eldest child and a daughter of immigrants, my instinct is to choose hard work and pushing through over rest and play. My identity is often wrapped up in this too. For example, I think of myself as a hard-working person. I also think of myself as logical and consistent. As a result, choosing hard work makes sense.

It's easy to say that the best approach to a given situation isn't always one or the other, but the challenge is to catch it in the moment. Even bringing awareness to such opposites and my tendencies for each has helped with some recent decisions. One sight that I need to take a step back is when my default tendency doesn’t feel quite right.

Here are some of the opposites that have come up for me recently. Even bringing awareness to them and my tendencies for each has helped with some recent decisions. These can apply to any work commitment, or relationship with a partner, friend and even oneself.

With projects and people

I have a bias to action. But sometimes it's time to end a project and cut my losses. Sometimes the most useful thing to do is to pause – in the words of Warren Buffett, "There’s no use running if you’re on the wrong road."

Sometimes a fully fleshed-out strategy should come first, while other times questions need real-life data and experimentation.

Sometimes the choice that feels the most right can also feel the most terrifying. Tara Mohr describes how Hebrew has two words for fear: pachad is projected fear, "lizard brain" fear. In contrast, yirah is the fear that comes over us when we're stepping into our own power.

There's a time to receive whatever or whomever comes, and there's a time to hold out for something or someone specific. There's a time to be open to new ideas and experiences, and there's a time to cut out the ones that no longer serve a given situation.

Similar contradictions come up when working on creative projects too. Sometimes I need to put a project aside to incubate, and other times I need to focus on it completely to ship it. Sometimes I work on a project led by a feeling of "must," while other times it takes unsexy stamina to get a project over the finish line. Sometimes I need to create structure and routine for a project to thrive, while other times I need to add in variety.

Within myself

I also need to embrace these contradictions within myself. I can be both sensitive and strong. I can be both compassionate and effective. I can be both creative and spiritual at no loss to my analytic and strategic mental faculties. I can be both serious and playful. There's a time for deep meditation and a time for deep house. 

No matter what I build in this next phase of my life, I can do so with the utmost zeal yet I need to understand its ultimately ephemeral nature. The same creative work or act of kindness can be considered useless to most, yet deeply meaningful to me and to those I encounter. I can grow while also being content with the present moment.

What are some of the contradictions you encounter on your path? How do you approach them?

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” ― E.B. White