Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving”. I learned that lesson on my 6th birthday when I got my first two-wheeler. Sitting on the bike and putting my feet on the pedals was wobbly and scary, but I felt reassured because I knew that my Dad was holding onto the bike to keep it steady. Before I realized what was happening, he was running along behind me holding onto the seat, and hollering “Pedal hard, pedal hard!” Then with one last, big push I was on my own. I can still remember breathing hard and the feel of the bike as it swung first to the left and then to the right with me frantically pedaling to keep moving forward. It was a jerky ride, and I was out of control—first leaning too far in one direction and then too far in the other.
Eventually, I smashed into the back of the playhouse and hit the ground with a big thud. Dad hurried to pick me up and dust me off. Then he put me back on the bike, and we did it again. After several failed attempts, suddenly everything just clicked. I was riding and was in total ecstasy. There I was, pedaling and adjusting, pedaling, and adjusting, as my dad’s words of encouragement grew fainter in the distance. I had done it. I had learned how to ride my bike. When I returned, my father hugged me, and I was on top of the world.
I learned that I could only balance by moving forward and I couldn’t lean too far on either side. I needed to pedal and adjust; pedal and adjust… Little did I know that this was going to be the basis of being a working mother, a successful corporate executive and lifelong learner.
Becoming a balanced person is no different from learning to ride a bike. It takes a vision for what you want to accomplish, the courage to try, and the perseverance to get back on the bike and try again after each tumble. Use the experience of riding a bike to recognize that with all polar opposite attributes you can’t access only one or the other or you will topple and fall. You pedal with one attribute and then turn to its polar opposite. Then back to the original making small adjustments. When you are balanced, you enter a state in which the things flow naturally, and you always seem to know the right time to pedal and adjust.
For example, think about yourself but not too much before you think about others. If you lean too hard into being a group member you can lose the value of your individuality. And if you lean too hard on being an individual you can suffer from human detachment. Another example would be listening and speaking. Pedal to listen and then to speak. That is the value of a conversation. If you listen too much you don’t develop your voice and if you speak too much you will monopolize, and others will tune out. If you have too much we- insert some me. If you find yourself being too direct- try offering support. If you allow too much, insert some boundaries. Too much competition- collaborate! I could continue to go on, but you get the picture…
While each of us is more successful when using the balance of two polarized attributes, one will likely feel more natural than the other. It is no different from being right- or left-handed—one just feels better. Thus, we are most apt to turn to it first. Additionally, because it is the most familiar and the most comfortable, we are likely to consider it the most valuable making overuse very easy. When looking back at our achievements, we will almost always give the credit to the characteristic that set us apart. We take pride in that so when we are attached to an outcome and really want to demonstrate good performance it becomes natural to dial it up to the extreme.
That overuse means that strengths become weaknesses, but the great news is that they can be turned back into strengths by inserting some of its opposite. Most of us are reluctant to adopt our opposite traits because we have been conditioned to place a high value on our personal strengths and to consider them the superior and only option.
For example, if we pride ourselves on our directness, we may find it difficult to see the value in our being reserved. But it is the use of such combinations that will make us more successful. Similarly, those prone to action will fare better when they stop for reflection, as will those who insert a little caution into their confidence.
Balance is important in life and like when riding a bike, it’s not static. It requires nuanced movements left or right to maintain an upright position while moving forward. With time, we will gain confidence about when to pedal, when to glide, and when to adjust. Eventually, we will shift between polar opposites so smoothly that we won’t even think about it. it will feel natural and we’ll simply conclude, “This is just me being me.” And … it is!