Dilemmas –> bias recognition –> self-acceptance –> change –> balance

Nov 15, 2011

I subscribe to Michael Bungay Stanier’s excellent Great Work Blog , where I get loads of inspiration and personal development-related thoughts to chew on. Today, he posted “3 Paradoxes of a Well-Lived Life” which certainly caught my eye, given my heavy focus lately on those last three words. It also lends perfectly to a coaching conversation I had just this morning with a woman trying to make choices and take action. I’d like to begin where he ends – with a powerful quote from psychologist, Carl Rogers:

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.

These words are holding true for me, for as I learn more about my inner workings, or the things from my past, convictions, beliefs, etc. that drive my behavior, I find that my new focal lens allows me to change in ways I didn’t know were possible. So I would change this slightly to:

The curious paradox is that when I undergo self-exploration, become aware, accept myself just as I am, then I can change.

So what are these 3 paradoxes (or I prefer to call them dilemmas) about, and how might they lead to a well-lived life? Stanier writes, “I think the art of navigating our lives tends to not lend itself so easily to the simple answer. What I think happens for most of us is that we try and pick our way through complexity, making the best choices we can when nothing’s quite black and white. . . I notice that behind the immediate choice lies some bigger paradoxes about my [own] life. They’re paradoxes because they’re choices – but both choices are things that I want. So I’m trying to find the right mix of both that fits whatever situation I’m trying to solve.”

Amen to seeking balance. That’s what I’ve come to figure out. A well-lived life is an ongoing effort to find the right balance between the things that seem to pull us apart. For me these entail:  Career vs. home life. Me-time vs. time with my partner and children. Solitary vs. social time. Relaxation vs. exercise. Checking out mentally vs. exhilarating mindbenders.

Based on Stanier’s thinking, I would say balance is:

  • seeing the dilemma
  • seeing yourself wrestle with the dilemma – and noticing your bias toward one end or the other
  • making the best choice you can knowing your bias and knowing that there’s always “punishments and prizes” for any choice you make

In his post, he includes this exercise to help you see yourself within dilemmas:


Hurry up. Slow down.

Hurry up because you’ve only got a certain amount of time to live, life is short and you want to squeeze the juice from life. Hurry gets you places, spurs you to accomplishment, keeps things moving.

Slow down because if you’re going too fast you won’t notice yourself and your life. Slow down because mindless doing isn’t life at all, but just doing. Slow connects you to what’s around and with who you are.

What’s your bias?                           Hurry                                   Slow
                                                                1           2           3           4           5

Big Picture~Details
Look up. Look down

Look up and see the bigger picture. Understand the context. Step back to see where you’ve been and where you’re going. Scan the horizon and make new connections and sense.

Look down to notice the details. Draw closer to notice the beauty and the grain in what’s there. See the pattern in the minutiae. Fine tune what’s there.

What’s your bias?                      Big Picture                     Details
                                                           1           2           3           4           5

It’s about me. It’s about us.

You can only control yourself, so master this tool. You are endlessly complex and fascinating, so explore this treasure. All sense comes from who you are. Embrace the power of selfishness. Become the most complete version of yourself.

We are all connected. As an individual you’re transient, but as a contributor to a group great things are possible. Greatness arises from the complexity of how we interact. Civilization is a group.

What’s your bias?                                Me                                            We

                                                                     1           2           3           4           5


Describe your own set of dilemmas facing you currently.


For each of the three dilemmas in the exercise and for your own set,  rate yourself. What do you get from that behavior? How does it serve you? What’s the cost of that behavior? What price do you pay?

If you could tweak each scale, in which direction would you move? What new behavior would you practice to do so?

Cara Crisler
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