Balancing the Beautiful Contradictions

Balancing the Beautiful Contradictions

"Mom!!" Some mornings my son hugs me so warmly that I feel my heart is melting into my socks. The next minute, he snaps at me for inquiring about homework. Meanwhile, my daughter asks if we can do a mommy-daughter breakfast again, as she needs my advice on something, she needs my wisdom. The next minute, she scolds me for meddling into her boy troubles. "Moooom!!!"  (How do they make that one syllable word into two syllables?)

As a mom of two teenagers, I'm often perplexed by their behavior and seemingly contradicting needs. I've spent many pensive hours attempting to figure them out. In doing so, and in my own self introspective musings, I've designed my own system of categorizing people and their needs. I've come to the conclusion that these contradictive expressions—while more pronounced in teens—are universal. We all seem to have innate needs that beg for balance.  These internal struggles include: Community <> Individual, Certainty <> Variety, Connection <> Independence, Give <> Take, and Acceptance <> Growth.

Community <> Individual
"I want to belong but I want to be myself."

We all have a need to fit into a community and feel a sense of unity belonging to a group with which we share values or attributes. At the same time, some of the most vicious conflicts occur between groups that very closely resemble each other. Teenagers often experience intense peer pressure to fit in, yet at the same time go to extremes to mark themselves as unique, such as with clothing, body art, hair styles, etc. I've found adults (especially skydivers) feel the same way. It's a strange contradiction, but if an aware person finds the right mix and can consciously balance these opposing needs, their social facet is very fulfilled.

Certainty <> Variety
"I want predictable stability but I want excitement and risk."

It is true that most people only readily embrace change that they initiate, so the key to balance this particular contradition is being aware and making choices. If certainty or routine is forced on someone, especially a teenager, it may feel suffocating, and they may rebel and choose risky behaviors to unconsciously balance this out. Some unfortunate kids have too many choices, too much freedom, and along with that comes unrewarded risk for risk's sake, without the guidance of someone who has "been there." This is even true in unimportant things. I had friends once who would go out to eat every Friday evening, and their variety was the choice of restaurant. However, they always ordered the same meal at the respective restaurants. (I know, strange friends I had!) For me, for example, I love my morning routine of making coffee, grinding it by hand. Then I go out and strap strangers to me and jump from an airplane as a tandem instructor. I think the key to finding the right mix with this experience contradiction is choosing the right things to be part of routine, and the right things that are variety. 

Connection <> Independence
"I want intimacy and love from someone special but I want to be myself."

Although during teen years, this contradiction emerges as young people look at their sexuality, envisioning a life mate. But a form of this struggle actually started at age two, when a children start choosing for themselves.  As grown and independent woman, I still struggle with balancing this one. Spending time alone or doing your own thing, whether you are in a relationship or not, is the key to finding the right mix.

Give <> Take
"I want to give back and contribute beyond myself but I need to feel taken care of and that people will be there for me, too."

I had a coach candidate once who was very needy with a medical problem. There were some who thought she should not be a coach in charge of others because her need for help from others was so pronounced. In the plane before our evaluation jump, I decided to be someone very needy. Guess what? She stepped up and forgot about herself while she tended to my needs. It was one small demonstration of a universal truth: if we are out of balance in this contradiction too far on the "take" side, simply focusing on the needs of others can bring us back to center. You see this everywhere. Older people in nursing homes care for kittens and their health improves. Those who are slightly depressed volunteer in a community kitchen and feel revived.  Out of balance too far on the "give" side requires either saying no or asking for help. The key to finding a mix with this contradiction is extending yourself out to the world in the opposite direction. 

Acceptance <> Growth
"I want to feel that I'm enough as I am now but I want to grow and become better."

I used to be a perfectionist, until I saw this in my doctor's office over a decade ago; "Strive for Excellence, not Perfection." When I saw that, a sense of relief flooded me as I became aware that I was unbalanced in this contradiction. It gave me permission to be okay with who I was but at the same time, pursue being a better me. Teenagers have the most difficulty with this mix, as they are constantly in an environment that requires them to learn and grow as they pursue their education and choice of career. They are also among peers during a hypersensitive time in their lives. It seems sometimes that adolescents look at life through an empty paper towel tube: everything is so important yet myopic. You can only see a little bit, but that focus is intense. Because both acceptance and growth require a wide vision of a situation, the key to finding the right mix is in expanding your viewpoint to a greater time frame and to more people, more ideas.


I believe many people experience dissonance in their own hearts and choose not to look at their own behaviors because they cannot reconcile these seemingly contradicting needs.  People who are mature and well balanced have gone through a process of recognizing where they sit along the spectrum of each of their own contradictions, even if not naming them as precisely as I have here. People who are tolerant and accepting have additionally been able to recognize that others can sit at a different balance on the spectrum than where they sit themselves. How this balance of self and acceptance of others happens is only through conscious thought and self awareness. Hopefully my analysis helps you see these contradictions as beautiful and normal, and helps you be more conscious and aware on your journey.

  • 19 March 2017
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