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Bittersweet Contradictions

My favorite scene in the Barbie movie is America Ferrara's monologue. Her character, Gloria, deftly points out the many contradictions women must navigate living in our society.

"You have to be a boss, but you can't be mean. You have to lead, but you can't squash other people's ideas...You have to be a career woman but also always be looking out for other people."

It was refreshing because the fact is all of us, regardless of gender, struggle navigating such contradictions in life. Yet it's not something commonly talked about, which just makes matters worse.

Social media has contributed greatly to this disconnect in the last 20 years. It's easy to look at everyone else's beautifully curated lives and wonder, "why am I the only one struggling?"

Feeling alone in our suffering only makes the experience harder. But the reality is we are not alone. Struggle is a part of everyone's life.

Even in the most beautiful and precious moments, suffering is present.

The birth of a child is a joyous occasion that completely turns your life upside down.

As a new parent I distinctly recall feeling both extremely elated and utterly exhausted. These two entirely different feelings were coursing through my veins at the very same time. It's like eating something that's both savory and sweet - you'd never think those flavors could go well together and yet they do.

Transitions of all kind have this effect.

Getting a promotion is incredibly exciting. Not only does it come with a pay raise and new opportunities, it also shifts the power dynamics in existing relationships. There's often a sense of loss at the peer relationships that had been and no longer are.

But the sense loss is rarely talked about because you're supposed to be happy and grateful for the promotion. This of course just adds to the struggle. It's hard enough to step into a new role with greater responsibilities. But to do so without acknowledging and dealing with the fundamental ways it's changed your relationships, and your day-to-day work creates an additional burden to shoulder. 

Harry Levison once said, "All change is loss. And all loss needs to be mourned."

It's not only ok to feel both grateful and sad at the same time, it's completely normal.

Perhaps part of the reason contradictions are so present in our society is because our very existence is a contradiction in and of itself. Life is both beautiful and messy. Our body's are both amazingly strong and extremely fragile. We are both highly adaptive and creatures of habit.

Denying the fact that contradictions are present is one way toxic positivity rears it's ugly head. This happens anytime we insist that someone looks at the sunny side rather than being present with them in the darkness.

A wholehearted leader holds space for such opposing experiences to be heard and seen. She validates others feelings, and acknowledges that the struggle is real. Sometimes that's all she can do, and that's enough. Other times it's possible to help repair the discord and she does.

The point isn't always to solve the problem. We're so obsessed with solving problems for each other that we fail to meet the fundamental needs of our fellow humans - to be seen and heard. To feel a sense of belonging and connection.

Part of the reason America's monologue was so powerful was because she gave voice to something so many of us have felt yet hadn't been able to express.

We all experience contradictions in our life and work on a daily basis. I feel  contradictions in my body - it's both an uneasy, antsy sensation as well as a tightness and constriction. But we rarely talk about the contradictions we face because we aren't supposed to complain yet are expected to be honest.

What if we stopped making things harder on ourselves and took the muzzle off?

I don't know that we can ever fully eradicate ourselves of contradictions. Afterall, the sky is both bright and dark depending on what time of day you look up.

But we can have open and honest conversations about the presence of contradictions in our work and life. Conversations that shine light in the darkness. Conversations that help us know we're not alone so our burdens feel lighter. Conversations that invite us to challenge the status quo.

It's near impossible to change something you don't talk about. And while contradictions are a normal part of life, I for one would be happy eliminating the many that are completely optional.

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