Some days I feel like I am being pulled in different directions in a way that I long to resolve. A sort of fussy first-world charlatan-like-less-painful-version of William Wallace at his demise. I want to have my own time, and I want high-quality people contact. I want to be unstructured so I can respond to my energy levels and creative spark, and I don’t want to feel admin tasks hanging over me (though I don’t tend to get to them if I freeform). Oh, woe betide me, how to deal with such a manifold desire set! When I am in that place of tension between competing desires, clever-dick Jack tells me I am doing something wrong. There’s something missing. And if that something could click in place it would solve the tension around wanting me time, we-time, defined work-time and unstructured time all on the same afternoon. I can go to bed thinking about it, and I can wake up and within minutes be going round on it. It’s more earnest than self-critical; more like ‘I can solve this’ than ‘I should solve this’.
It’s almost like sometimes I can be inadvertently selling myself a false dream. Looping myself on an advert that is about as predictable as the standard dishwasher tablet commercial. That one day I will happen upon a perfect way to spend a day and then my only job is to execute and stick to that; it’s the disciplinarian in me countering my freedom-lover. It entices me to believe that living an automated life of highest-value highest-leverage activities would somehow be the G-spot of personal evolution.
Alas, I sense it includes more than a home-grown dollop of wishful thinking.
I remember my good friend lawyer-turned-coach James Boddy first putting the idea of consciously living tensions on my radar. He had been to a spiritual adviser who had encouraged him to live the tensions that existed in him (for example between the desire for an isolated spiritual life and the desire to be a householder and contribute through your career). That the specific tensions you experience are part of your essential expression. There is creative frictitous mojo in them. So cherish them, live them, wrestle with them, be wrestled by them, get down and dirty, be with them. Maybe they are coming through you at this time for a reason. Most other people are not engaging with the exact same questions and tensions. But for those who are, your tribulations, distinctions and mastery can add tremendous value. It made sense to me immediately. Remembering it is harder. 🙂 If you want a more poetic version, try the popular Austrian-born Rainer Maria Rilke. Ah, if only old Rainer had a better way with words… 😉
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
The first time I sat down with my now-friend Steve Mcintosh in his beautiful Boulder living room, he landed the difference between ‘problems to be solved’ and ‘polarities to be managed’. I had read about it many times, but he landed it for me. At a certain stage of awareness, we start to appreciate that genuine polarities (e.g. freedom and structure) are irreducible. We need both. Churchill, to whom I owe this blogpost title, got it. He said that he spent the first 25 years of his life wanting freedom. He spent the next 25 years of his life wanting control. In the subsequent 25 years, he learnt that freedom was in control. Similarly, in the start-up world, one of the signs of a maturing entrepreneur is the value they place on building systems rather than just being ideational and chaotic in a way that destabilizes the organization. Otherwise you are a crazymaker – see Getting Things Done Matrix of Self-Management – a visionary who is so out of control that your attention is scattered, your leadership is diffuse and life is a whirl of chaos. It can have an addictive adrenaline-rush seat-of-your-pants quality. But it’s hardly wise living now, is it?
“Freedom-not-Fear” by Pascale Riby – http://wiki.vorratsdatenspeicherung.de/Bild:Sans-titre-1.png. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
So it’s our job to notice if we need to bring more of the opposing pole in. In my experience, it’s more about ‘how quickly do I notice I may need the other energy/pole?’ than always living the reality of both poles. It’s like presence, you can aim to be present all the time. What this really translates most usefully as is: how quickly do you notice when you drift from presence? My friend Diana Chapman and her Conscious Leadership Forum have done great work on this. You can think of it like a swinging pendulum where we need both sides of what is on offer, even if the swing duration might be hours, days or months. But hoping one day to collapse them is futile. The pendulum doesn’t have any energy if it’s perfectly poised in the middle. Sometimes in life there’s a time to be wild; sometimes there’s a time to follow the rules exactly. Trying to do both always satisfies neither inclination in you. It’s like gambling in Vegas with a really tight budget, you can’t really fully inhabit the experience of what Vegas offers. My first time in Vegas I tripled my money, which often impresses people if they don’t ask clarifying questions. It was….wait for it…$1 to $3 🙂 Alright, alright, I know it’s lame. I didn’t fully drop into the Vegas vibe. Luckily Carter Thomas and Daniel Novaes made sure I lost more than $300 for my next Vegas night (and I felt good about it and I don’t think it was post-hoc reduction of dissonance).
As it happens, it seems being able to comprehend the value of opposing polarities in itself builds upon a developmental achievement. So if you’re with me, give yourself a pat on the back 😉 Call your Mum and congratulate her on her part in developing an advanced human being 🙂 William Torbert is an expert in levels of ‘vertical’ leadership development. Basically, developmental stage progressions of leadership outlook. He has an 8-level progression model. Yes, you know I love my models and mental maps 😉 It’s only at his 6th level (Transforming) that most of us become more comfortable with noticing and holding paradox, which is arguably the same ability which allows us to hold and manage polarities.
In my own life I have noticed so much of this at play. I want to be super active and fit and yet I have hamstring pain so most forms of exercise aggravate my condition. I want to spend less time working from home, and if I have to sit on normal chairs at normal tables for too long I get pain. And there’s almost nothing on Starbucks menu which doesn’t have wheat, sugar or dairy. Then the few things which do are salads, which lack protein, the mainstay of most my meals. Brilliant. Sometimes there’s a lot going on at the inputs/values level beneath a seemingly simple decision like what you want at Starbucks. And while some people may value a ‘back-to-basics’ a coffee-is-a-coffee approach, this does not acknowledge as we become aware, there are just more complexities for us to attend to.
Recently was the annual SoCap conference in San Francisco. What a great tribe. The underlying question is how can your business/investments both value profit and purpose? In the early days of Future Foundations, the social-purpose business we built in the UK, I was asked by schoolteachers what are you really, a business or a charity? It was hard for me to have the language at the time but we valued both, with no hierarchy necessarily. More of a pendulum – if we had done lots of pro-bono projects, it was time to be more commercial in our thinking.
So where in your life could you benefit from noticing a polarity at play? How could you work to bring in more of an undervalued pole – like structure for us freedom-lovers? Where are there creative tensions in your life which you are currently being antagonistic to? And which you might relax into seeing clearly, being with and appreciating?
To presence and passion,