“The paradox is the appearance of contradiction between two related components. Although light and darkness seem to be opposites, you can’t have one without the other—the opposing elements of a paradox are inextricably linked…they actually complement and inform each other in ways that allow us to discover underlying truths about ourselves and the world… Paradox challenges us to straddle the tension of two conflicting elements and recognize that they can both be true…” ~Brene Brown
It is often life itself that brings concepts alive; it is our lived experiences that allow us to emotionalize intellectual and spiritual concepts. For the past several weeks, I have found myself living this idea of paradox and doing my best to “straddle the tension” between the contradictory elements of joy and sorrow.
In a single day, I notice myself moving between opposing feelings, depending on the moment. On one particular morning, while my husband and I were signing our updated wills over zoom, I found myself feeling sad as I contemplated how one day my children would be moving through these documents with me no longer present. That same evening, my husband and I were discussing our daughter’s upcoming wedding plans and delighting in the process, preparing to sign a contract to secure a venue. Also on that day, we felt saddened again, as we continued to navigate a very challenging chapter with my husband’s dear mother, whose health has been deteriorating quickly and is becoming palliative.
It has been so joyful planning a wedding for our dear daughter and her soon-to-be wife. We’ve shared in Facetime calls to see rings and have enjoyed wedding gown modeling sessions. We too have shared in Facetime calls with my ailing mother-in-law, but these were more challenging as my husband sat by his dear mother’s bedside in the hospital.
So, on the one hand, we are elated as we happily watch our daughter begin a new and beautiful life chapter together with her partner, and on the other, we are deeply saddened as we helplessly watch a precious mother slip into a new and very difficult end of life chapter.
I, too, go through living the paradox of joy and sorrow with my own father. Almost 88 years old, a man who was once an owner of a large and thriving company is now struggling to string together simple words to form a sentence. When we spoke the other night, his inability to properly communicate left me feeling sad, yet his ability to express care and concern in his own special way was most endearing to me.
When I hung up the phone, I realized that with my father’s journey I must learn to hold space for both the sadness and the joy that, although in a much more limited way, he can still find a way to communicate how much he cares. I realized that these forces were not in competition but rather were two paradoxical yet very real emotional states begging to exist side-by-side.
Although my mother-in-law is now 93, my husband wants to hold onto her for as long as he can. But he also knows that he needs to let her go—that he must offer his mother his blessing and allow her to honor her own wishes. This strong desire to hold on and the need to let go is another real-life example of living a paradox.
What my husband and I are both learning through our own personal experiences is that if we allow these opposing forces to compete with one another, then we will feel torn trying to choose between them. But if we allow them to coexist, we can more readily accept that life is a journey of ups and downs—of highs and lows, where we are able to navigate two conflicting emotions within the same day and even hour.
In Jim Collins and Bill Lazier’s book, BE (Beyond Entrepreneurship) 2.0, Jim writes:
Builders of greatness are comfortable with paradox. They don’t oppress themselves with what we call the “Tyranny of the OR,” which pushes people to believe that things must be either A OR B, but not both. Instead, they liberate themselves with the “Genius of the AND.”
I am trusting that my husband and I will continue to future-plan and humbly accept and hold space for all the different feelings that arise with each new milestone and chapter of our lives. And we will do so better, now that we understand how to “straddle the tension” between the contradictory elements and recognize that they can BOTH be true.