If you were born before the turn of the millennium, you probably remember the United States Army’s slogan, “Be All You Can Be”. Just reading it here has probably started the jingle reverberating in your head! Let me suggest a better way to “Be All You Can Be”: that is to quit treating any opposing positions as the antithesis of what and who you are. Instead, embrace them as part of your being.
By taking in the biggest contrast out there and using it as your compliment, you will be happier, more fulfilled and more successful. Forget about being either an introvert or extrovert, a giver or a taker, or even being masculine or feminine. Satisfaction and achievement come from being both. It’s true that you will be primarily one or the other, but you’ll enhance your natural attributes by inviting the characteristics of your compliment into your life.
Colour Your World
Consider the your contrasting elements as colours. The philosopher Aristotle discovered that when one colour was placed against another, the combination looked more striking. Then artist Leonardo da Vinci observed that the finest harmonies came from colors exactly opposed. Later, physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton devised a circle showing a spectrum of colours and stated that those positioned opposite one another provided the greatest contrast. Ultimately, the scientist Benjamin Thompson coined the term complementary colors.
It is this interplay that makes the colours stand out, and it is the same with us. When we can use attributes from two seemingly opposite sides, accepting that the ‘this’ is also ‘that’ and the ‘that’ is also ‘this,’ we can truly shine. It is not unlike when Arianna Huffington recalled that her mother taught her that failure was not the opposite of success, it was a stepping-stone to success. One begets the other, making it far more than it could ever hope to be alone.
Give and Take
Another thought on this same theme came from Bill Gates when he presented at the World Economic Forum in 2008. He stated that there are two great forces of human nature: self-interest and caring for others. People are most successful when they are driven by a ‘hybrid engine’ of the two.
Even though self-interest and other-interest appear to be at opposite ends of a single continuum, Adam Grant, the author of Give and Take, says that it’s possible to be both, and research shows that you’ll be far better off when being so. Grant calls these givers ‘otherish’ and contends that they are the only successful givers.
He says that takers are selfish, getting more than they give and losing relationships in the process. Failed givers are selfless, with a high other-interest and low self-interest. They have no sense of self-preservation and give too much of themselves away, becoming unhealthy and depleted.
Meanwhile, successful ‘otherish’ givers want to help others, but they take care of themselves in the process. These givers pitch-in and help with no strings attached, being careful not to overextend themselves and become overwhelmed. Instead of seeing self-interest and other-interest as competing, they integrate them.
In and Out
It is the same as being an introvert in a very public job. Consider Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, and Barack Obama, President of the United States. It is widely accepted that both are introverts, preferring not to initiate dialogue or engagement. Each favours small, private groups and each thrives on time alone. Both men, however, routinely stand up before huge audiences and belt out speeches, crossing over to access extroverted characteristics in spite of being introverted. These two leaders integrate attributes from both ends of a spectrum to meet their personal objectives.
XX and XY
The same holds true for characteristics traditionally considered to be masculine or feminine. I contend that each of us has an authentic gender energy, and it matters not if we were born male or female. While our sex will provide us certain physiological characteristics, most of our polarized differences come from the expectations heaped upon us once we learn whether it is socially acceptable to pick pink or blue. In order to use the spectrum of skills available to us, we must break free of limiting gender expectations.
For women, who naturally take care of others, we must learn to stand in our own power, a characteristic most often associated with the masculine. That means taking risks, setting boundaries and promoting our individual attributes. For men, who are inherently gifted at setting themselves apart, they are well-served to consider the collective, practice empathy and listen to draw out others’ opinions. This bridge into the domain of the feminine will naturally enhance their ‘take charge’ masculine energy, just like the contrast of a complimenting secondary colour heightens the value of the primary.
Be All You Can Be
Satisfaction and achievement come from letting go of polarized thinking and finding value in accepting that ‘this is that and that is this’. For when you use attributes from seemingly opposing sides, you’ll find that one is simply the stepping-stone to the other, guiding you to Be All You Can Be!