Graduation is a paradoxical time. We leave school with knowledge and facts that we have learned to apply in a neat and precise way. The world we enter and have to navigate, however, is less precise with fewer “correct” answers.
Whether you graduated last year, or like some of us, many years ago, these same truths are there facing us each day.
I’m presenting five pairs of life truths. Each pair represents a paradox – two statements in contradiction, yet both are true. As you read them, reflect on which you believe or operate from most – and how that is influencing your results in life.
Your potential is remarkable. / You must work to reach that potential.
Yep, your potential is amazing! Science tells about the wonders of our brains and what they are capable of; history shows us examples of tremendous achievements of individuals. We have in our DNA the ability to accomplish great things.
And, potential is worthless without work.
We can’t achieve anything close to our potential without learning, discipline, focus, purpose and effort. Believe in your potential, but do not stop there. Potential alone is possibility, but you must take (massive) action to make it that possibility a reality.
It’s all about us / It’s not about us at all.
Since that potential is ours, and since we choose our path (and no one else can choose for us), our future, our results, our happiness, and our success rests in our hands. In that way, it is all about us.
And, you can’t do any of it alone.
While we cannot control others, we can influence them in a thousand ways. If we keep our focus solely on ourselves we will not enlist the help and support of others. Since there is no truly self-made person, to act as if you can succeed alone is shortsighted and ultimately the way to failure.
People are amazing / People are messy.
For all the discussion and advancement of artificial intelligence and machine learning (which is astounding) it is all being created by us, and all of it is trying to replicate what we can do, in many cases, naturally. Human beings are truly amazing creatures – and when we recognize that not just in ourselves (see paradox 1), but in others we will be more successful.
And for all the power and wonder wrapped up in people, we are sure confounding.
We all make mistakes, many each day. We screw up, are inconsistent, and get in our own way. While all of that is true for each one of us, collectively we are all different, with different styles, approaches and beliefs. If we want to have any chance of success for ourselves and others we must recognize the amazement and the messiness.
Plans matter / Plans always “fail”
If we want to move closer to any worthy goal we must have a plan; whether for a party, a project or a career. The plan helps us consider options and understand possible problems. The plan provides a map to towards success.
And things never work out exactly like the plan.
It isn’t about the plan itself, nearly as much as it is about the planning process. The planning process gets us thinking, keeps us nimble, identifies our priorities, and keeps the end goal in mind. When you remember that is about the planning process and now as much about the resulting plan, you will plan, and be glad you did.
Life is long / Life is short
While we never know when we will leave this earth, as a general statement we have all the time we need to accomplish whatever we want. We have 1440 minutes every day; each of which we ultimately control our use of. Our life is a long time, and it is an opportunity to use it to our advantage.
And, the older you are, the more you realize how short it is.
It seems my children were just born, and now my son is a college graduate and married, and my daughter will be graduating from college in a couple of years. It seems I just started my business, and it has been over 25 years! Time flies, and we all know it. When we remember that time is short, we put more urgency in our work, more pep in our step, and keep moving. There may be time to accomplish that goal, but we must start today.
Everything I’ve just shared is true. If you believe or act on only one half of any of these individual statements, you will, at best, fall far short of what was possible for you. At worst, you’ll fail miserably. To be highly effective (and happy too) we must see all of the truths, remember the opposite truth, and view the world and situation from both perspectives at the same time.
If you are feeling confused, your mind whipsawed by these competing ideas, that’s okay. Nobel prize winning physicist Niels Bohr wrote, “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.”
Paradoxes, yes. Use them, balance your thinking, and get started towards your remarkable future.