The Dichotomies of Life

I read a post the other day that said, “Life is not a competition; it’s a journey.” My first reaction was to agree with the statement, but the more I thought about it, I found myself struggling with this concept. On one hand, life is a journey, but it is also a competition. A couple days later, I was watching a motivational video, and the title said, “Don’t focus on others, focus on yourself.” Again, I found myself struggling with this concept. On one hand I agree, but on the other hand, we need to focus on others. Life is filled with dichotomies, and we must carefully balance our thoughts,  ideologies, and convictions between them all. 

Let me begin by saying life is not “either, or”, life is “both, and.” We tend to live our lives in absolutes, where we place “either, or” constructs on our thinking. In reality, life is very much “both, and.” Please don’t misunderstand me, there are absolutes, but when it comes to personal or leadership growth and development, we need to remember that nothing is “either, or.” For example, it’s not, “I either need to be assertive, or I need to be humble.” It should be, “I need to be assertive, and I also need to be humble.” Be careful that you do not build mental constructs that force you to think in “either, or”. It is important that we understand life with a “both, and” mentality and stay our thinking away from extremes.

Life is a competition, and it is also a journey. We are always in competition, and to think that we are not hinders our ability to grow, rise, and become more. Competition is good and healthy. It is okay to see life as a competition. Competition is part of our genetic code. It is engrained in our humanity. From the earliest humans, we have always had to be in competition. Throughout the world, competition is still very much alive and well. Now, I am not talking about the kind of competition one might find in sports. Rather, I am talking about the competition we face in life. We compete for mates, we compete for jobs, we compete for success, and so much more. Life is a competition. Not only do we compete with others, we are and should always be in competition with ourselves. As the saying goes, “The only person you should be better than is the person you were yesterday.” Competition is good, and we should never shy away from it. Otherwise, we become weak, useless, and unmotivated. However, we should never allow competition to overrule our focus. Be aware of the competition in your life, but do not allow your focus to be solely on competition.

Life is also a journey. Life is about taking one purposeful step after another. Our life journey should be about becoming better, becoming more. No journey is in a straight line. Life’s path has consistent twists, turns, curves, hills, valleys, and even cliffs. The question is, what are you learning, and how are you improving throughout your life’s journey? How are you becoming better than the person you were yesterday? How are you applying the lessons that you are learning? A journey requires taking action. It requires movement not stagnation. A journey means you are taking one step after another. We need to be careful that we do not get lost on our journey. Yes, life is a journey, but that doesn’t mean we take every path that comes our way, nor does it mean we get lost in the scenery. A journey requires movement, and our journey doesn’t stop until we are 6 feet under. 

We must be careful not to become so self absorbed throughout our journey that we neglect those who are a part of our journey. On the other hand, we must be careful not to put too much focus on others and lose sight of ourselves in the process. This is a dichotomy that many struggle with. We tend to either focus more on others and less on ourselves, or we focus everything on ourselves and neglect those around us. There must be a careful balance between these thoughts. 

We must focus on ourselves so that we can keep growing, become better, and stay mentally and emotionally healthy. We need to ensure that we are applying the things we are learning along our journey. If we do not focus on ourselves, we may miss valuable lessons and learning opportunities. However, focusing on ourselves does not mean we become self-centered. Rather, it means we are self-aware. We know our limits and limitations. We know when we need a break and when we can keep pushing forward. We know when we need to change our mind and when we need to stand our ground. Do not confuse self-awareness with self-centeredness. We must always stay self-aware, and the best way to do that is through reflection, meditation, and discipline.

On the other hand, we need to invest in the people around us. We need to be an encouragement and support to the people we lead, or to those who join us on our life journey. We mustn’t become so self absorbed that we neglect the relationships in our life. When we focus solely on ourselves, we build an attitude of entitlement and self centeredness. These two qualities lead us to fail at the one thing in life that matters most – building strong, quality relationships with those we lead. Side note: I have mentioned in previous blog posts that we are all leaders. If we interact with people, which we all do, we then have the power of influence. That is what makes each one of us a leader. If we fail at being a positive influence and building healthy relationships with the people who are in our life, or who we may meet along our life journey, then we have failed at the most important part of life. There must be a healthy, positive balance between self awareness and selfless servanthood.

Do not allow yourself to get stuck in the “either, or” mentality. Be flexible and open to the reality of “both, and.” Life is filled with dichotomies, and we must find balance between the extremes. 

As always, stay humble and serve well!

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