The Strange Dichotomy of Life


I was running the other day, thoughts of life passing through my brain as my feet rhythmically hit the ground. Running has a way of drawing deep thoughts out of me. I started thinking deeply about something that has been gnawing at me as I continue to learn more about myself and the natural world. I circled back to the same thoughts, once again. It is not earth shattering for me anymore, as it has almost become a law of nature.

Life is the opposite of what you think it is. The reverse. The counterpoint. The sooner we learn this and act on it, the better off we are.

Sounds like a platitude I know, but stick with me here. This is a lesson life has been trying to teach me ever since I’ve been able to make a decision for myself, but one I have only come to understand in the last 10 years or so. With age comes wisdom I guess, something I am only scratching the surface of.

So what do I mean? Here are a couple of examples that occur both in nature and in practice:

To gain interest, appear uninterested:

Another way of saying this is the more you want something, the less likely you are to obtain it or that it will want you back. A classic example many have experienced is in dating someone new. We’ve all been there when we are enraptured by someone and can’t help but shower them with attention, which only backfires when they push us away. Life teaches you that the less you appear interested, the more what you want is drawn to you. Even deeper, if you can actually loosen your grip on the thing you want and not simply appear that way, the draw is even stronger.

My example is a classic one, but it can apply to so many other areas of your life. Trying to close that sale? Really want that investor to invest? Dying for that new role at work? This paradox will tell you that it is only once you are ok being without it, that it comes to you.

If you spot it, you got it...

Ever get so annoyed about somebody who talks too much? Have you ever gotten angry about somebody that was late for a meeting with you? Chances are that you dislike the trait or feature of that person because you actually dislike the exact same thing about yourself. Think about it, I’ll wait...

People who call other people fat are generally insecure about their own bodies. People who get mad about money that other people have are insecure about their finances. This is called Projection in psychology lingo. It’s our minds was of distracting us from the trait we have in ourselves by seeing it in others. There is real power in this though. You can not only reduce the friction you feel with others by looking inward, but you can also make real change in yourself by seeing that it is you that has the issue.

The pursuit of happiness, brings unhappiness

This is an interesting one. We are all striving to achieve happiness and contentment. The challenge is that we generally look at it with a view that clouds our vision of what makes us happy and content. We see happiness as a place that we “arrive” at once we obtain or complete something. The truth lies in the fact that happiness is a choice in the current moment you stand. It’s not at the end of the rainbow somewhere with some pot of gold. More specifically, it is the actual day to day process that brings people real joy.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have goals. In my case, I learned this through running. I set lofty goals, train extremely hard and then put everything on whether I accomplish that goal. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t, but there is one constant. I can’t wait to get back to running and training again. This is because I love the process of it, not the outcome. Completely changed my world view.

The only certainty is uncertainty

Life and your journey on it are in a constant state of change. From when we are babies, we are trying to maintain consistency in our lives. The world has other plans however. The sooner we recognize that nothing is guaranteed except that your life will change in ways you can’t imagine, the better we are at dealing with the feelings that arise from this inevitable change. It helps us to not “grip too tight” to the state of the world as it currently resides. Remember, the tide is always coming for your sand castles, best to embrace the tide, because either way it’s coming.

The obstacle is the way

Everyone on my team knows that one of my favorite books is The Obstacle Is The Way, by Ryan Holiday. It’s like an operating system for life, taking the tenets of Stoicism and applying them to your day to day challenges. What we normally do as humans is run and hide from our obstacles or try to find easy ways around them. What Holiday argues is that correct route is directly through the obstacle, turning it into an actual advantage.

One example he cites is the story of Sam Zemurray. Zemurray was once an upstart fruit merchant trying to make his way in the banana trade. As he grew, the competition began to notice and when he went to buy some banana land in Central America, the largest fruit distributor tried to buy it at the same time. The issue was that there was a dispute between two parties as to who the rightful title owner of the land was. The huge fruit company sent down a team of lawyers to argue the dispute and research who was the rightful owner, something that would take ages to figure. What did Sam do? He simply paid both parties for the land. Just like that, he took the obstacle out of the way.

The more vulnerable you are, the stronger you appear

This is an interesting one because as children, especially boys/men, we are taught to look tough. Maybe it is our society trying to teach us to protect ourselves somehow by protecting our egos. Unfortunately, this is not how it plays out later in life. We see time and again that when someone chooses to be vulnerable, we embrace that and see them as strong because of how they are in control of their feelings. We love to hear people share how they have failed, mistakes they have made and where they are insecure. To us as adults, we see bravery and authenticity. So, while it seems counterintuitive to what we are taught, showing your real self, with its imperfections, actually gains you more trust than hiding those flaws.

The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know

This is attributed famously to Albert Einstein and Socrates, but has been said by many of the famous intellects in history. The premise is that when you stop learning, you close yourself off and fail to realize how little you actually know about the world. When you choose to continue learning, you start scratching the surface and realize that there is a vast, diverse world of people, communities, situations and choices that can be made. More knowledge leads to more questions and so on and so forth.

These are just a few of the endless examples of the dichotomy of life. That what seems like the answer often is not. Ok great, but what do I do with all this, you ask. How do I apply this to my personal life or my business? I ask you to start small. The next time a co-worker or manager frustrates you, ask yourself whether you share the same trait. It will diffuse your frustration and teach you something about yourself. The next time you feel like at every turn something is standing in the way of you and your goals, stop and look at each of those obstacles. Really pause and think about how you can use those as an actual advantage in advancing your goal. When faced with an important decision, a choice to act or stand down, a choice to engage or disengage, I challenge you to stop, take a breath and look at what the direct opposite answer would look like. Ask yourself, what does my limbic brain tell me to do? Then pause to view what the 180 degree opposite response would be.

If you’re at all like me, it’ll end up that the correct answer or move is like making a u-turn.


Liz WhittenComment