Living with our Paradoxes — Finding “Balance” in a Frenetic World

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Many people talk about the notion of work-life balance, but I have come to believe this is a fraught concept. Not only can you find thrill and fulfillment from working at full tilt, it turns out that life is work, too. Like many aphorisms, we tend to believe it because we hear it a lot. But, undermining such equilibrium, I believe, are our inherent paradoxes.

Working with contradictions

I believe there are four fundamental and conflicting forces we face as human beings and leaders of business. These paradoxes define the human condition and, in today’s politically correct environment, can make it very difficult to navigate. If we are to say something strong these days, it seems we are always at risk of offending someone. That’s an issue for society. It’s also a major challenge for building a vibrant brand and/or company.

Here are the four contradictions:

  1. We need to belong yet be different
  2. We need to embrace our past yet project into the future
  3. We must reconcile the quest for order in the presence of chaos
  4. We seek truth, but gravitate toward stories.

Belong yet Differently

As part of establishing our identity, we need to feel like we belong to a group or community, which de facto means we don’t belong or relate to other communities. Once we have subscribed to a specific community, we still wish to affirm our difference within the ranks of those ‘like-minded’ individuals. Think of the embarrassment when two women show up to a party wearing exactly the same dress! (Of course, when men show up with a blue blazer and khaki trousers, that’s just considered a uniform.)

Past and Future

As much as I preach the importance of being present, it’s important to know where you come from in order to help chart your path into the future. A vision of the future is never stronger than when it embraces the past history, no matter how turbulent.

Order versus Chaos

In Discourse on the Method*, Rene Descartes talks of the need to decode reality. In science, we like to quantify the world. It’s part of the human adventure to want to discover, understand and ultimately master our environment. Everyone of us is drilled by society, education and/or the business environment into creating order and being organized. Yet, we are always subject to the random and chaotic nature of events. Despite the destructive element of chaos, we absolutely need to embrace it to help stimulate creativity. Ultimately, despite our constant quest for order, we must accept we cannot master and control everything. Chaos is exciting and powerful. It’s worth noting that chaos is an integral component to quantum mechanics and quantum computing**. So, too is chaos a key component to our ordered lives. An overly organized life is just plain boring.

Truth and Stories

As noble as truth may be, we are always moved by stories. Stories aren’t the truth, but they hold truths. Children may be berated for “telling stories;” however, the stories we tell are far more effective at moving us! Stories portray a version of events. Truth resonates; yet objective veracity is elusive. Storytelling is a natural part of our lives, and yet we thirst for truth, as if there were some divine and singular version. The best brands and leaders are those who know how to create and tell a powerful story.

Business leaders today who want to build a thriving brand need to embrace these four paradoxes as they navigate through these transformative times. There is no stasis. The ‘balance’ will always be in flux, so it’s about finding an arrangement and being prepared to adjust and evolve your mix.

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*The full title of the work, published in 1637, is Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences.

**Quantum computing is the use of quantum-mechanical phenomena such as superposition and entanglement to perform computation.

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