Do I want to run my own business, or do I want to lead a balanced life? Me, the passionate entrepreneur or me, the committed family man? I used to think of these as opposites, leaving me with a seemingly unsolvable inner conflict because being an entrepreneur and leading a balanced life seems vital for me to live a life true to my values and purpose.
We live in a world that constantly asks us to choose between different options. Aim for a high salary or choose self-fulfilment, opt for security, go on adventures, appreciate what you have, or strive for more. The issue: Thinking in opposites and absolute categories like this creates inner tension, quickly leading to frustration and dissatisfaction. On the other hand, freeing us from this kind of either/or thinking and adopting a both/and mindset suddenly creates a vast space for growth and exploration.
To be clear, there are situations when we must choose one way or the other. If you decide to go camping in the mountains next weekend, you can't be hitting the waves in the ocean at the same time. If someone asks you to marry them, they'll expect a yes or a no (actually, they'll probably expect a yes). But in so many cases, simply replacing either/or with both/and can unlock an entire universe of possibilities.
But it's not simply about "having it all". It's more about recognising that polarities can be handled in a way that's different from going exclusively with one of the poles. Brian Emerson and Kelly Lewis' book "Navigating Polarities" provides a step-by-step guide on precisely doing this. In a nutshell, it's about recognising that each pole has its benefits but also comes with negative consequences if overused.
In my example from the beginning of this post, the benefits of running my own business are, among others, having the freedom to apply my effort to tasks that are meaningful to me and choosing whom I'd like to work with. Living a balanced life means having enough time to spend with my family, go for runs, enjoy music, write and learn new things. Overusing the "entrepreneur" pole means insufficient time for the most important people in my life and an unhealthy level of stress and pressure. Overusing the "balanced life" pole means leaving a large portion of my potential untapped and triggers a nagging feeling that I'm not living up to my values, which include having the courage to try out things and do them on my terms.
Navigating polarities requires skill. And applying what Emerson and Lewis call "the third way" can take courage. It's about overcoming the fears we associate with the overuse of the two poles and starting to trust that there is a way of combining their benefits. Running my own business doesn't mean I have to sacrifice balance, and valuing a balanced life doesn't mean I can't have success as an entrepreneur. Next time you're beating yourself up over an either/or decision, see if you can approach it with a both/and mindset.