“Both/And” as an ideology, is the opposite of “this or that”, and is an omnipresent guide in how to accept oneself, as well as the limitlessness of valid contradictory truths found within society.

Both/And is not just a title, or a fancy name. Both/and is a method of thought, acceptance, actionable advice, and ever present value in how to accept oneself. What’s more, Both/And is a powerful ideology fueled by the limitlessness of your own unique genius and it can help inform how you can engage with the world around you.

The problem with Both/And, though, is that it is not our natural state. We, as humans, are naturally inclined to gravitate to the fundamental limiting opposite of Both/And, “this or that.”

Why “Both/And” Is The Opposite Of “This Or That” And How It Can Be A Guide To Accept Oneself

“This or that” derives from our natural, and sometimes involuntary, desire to belong to a larger group – so we flip between extremes. Whether it’s love and hate; fundamentalism in all its forms – from extreme religious views through to atheism – or selfless martyrdom to self-absorbed disregard for others. Boiled down to a simple and familiar phrase: You’re either this, or you’re that. That’s it. There’s no middle ground.

The beauty of Both/And is that it is quite the opposite ideal. Both/And, as a larger philosophy, welcomes the inalienable truth that two seemingly contradictory ideas can be equally true, and that our society is not solely and specifically composed of the needlessly reductive “this or that” demagogy.

While many people rarely sit with the space in the middle, and gray, muddy spaces that make us uncomfortable, my life has taught me to appreciate the richness and intricate beauty of being unique. Finding that character defining unique quality – which can be ONLY yours – comes from learning to sit in, dance in, and embrace a worldview of Both/And; the acceptance that two seemingly contradictory ideas can be equally true.

Accepting The “Both/And” Ideology Means You Don’t Have To Choose Between Being Successful Or Having Integrity In Your Life

You don’t have to choose between being wildly successful and having integrity. Just like you don’t have to choose between your health and being a good parent. In that same breath, you don’t have to choose between being a supportive partner or a fulfilled individual.

Just like those instances, you don’t have to make a choice between either delivering incredible outcomes that address a major social need, or running an organization that consistently makes money.

If you sit in the mess of discomfort, you can design a life that is uniquely yours, and allows you to have Both/And.

I hear your rumbles of disbelief and questions. I also sense your fear, and discomfort with all of the unknown parts of living in that middle ground due to what that might look and feel like.

If you’re anything like me, though, there will be a dash of curiosity and deep resonance which stirs a knowing in you concerning the truth of the world. That is to say, you know deep down that the world isn’t actually as clear cut as being black and white.

Yet, if you’re honest with yourself, you probably also recognize the fear of an authentic life which requires vulnerability and grappling with your own truth, longings, and desires. It can be scary because that same authenticity requires you to own the patterns and behaviors that are deeply rooted, but not serving you, and not in line with who you really are or who you want to become.

Your Ability To Embody The Gray Space Which Exists Between Extremes Is Not A Task Which Comes Easily

Trust me, I, of all people, know this is not easy. Actually, I want to share a personal story with you about a time in my life where that fear of Both/And was very strong, but the desire for my life to be different was stronger!

Our kids are now teenagers and young adults but, like many parents, I found it hard not to get lost and overwhelmed in my role as a mother when my kids were little.

Despite promising myself I was not going to become a martyr; the truth is I felt lost and invisible and often wanted to run away.

The extremes of either motherhood being all consuming, or being single and fancy-free, felt like obvious options but the middle ground was much less conspicuous.

I hated the idea of becoming a resentful martyr who never pursued her dreams, but I was terrified that if I opened back up to what I wanted, I might discover I’d actually just prefer to be alone. I wanted freedom but I also knew that being alone and self absorbed was not the kind of Mum I wanted to be.

When it became clear that my youngest son was nearing the end of breastfeeding, and I knew I wasn’t having any more kids, I felt it was important to mark what had been an incredibly intense chapter in my life. So, I decided to take the time to both acknowledge that reality and create the space to dream and plan for what I wanted moving into my next chapter.

Though, I ran into another complication – I also knew that in order for me to do this planning properly, I would have to be by myself. Planning and ideating for the future with a child who desired my attention at all times was not conducive to a productive environment. As much as it pained me, I knew that I had to have the space to think, journal and talk to someone I trusted.

Upon this conclusion, I asked my partner, Brad, what he thought about me going to London to see my best friend and stay with her for a week. My lovely partner proceeded to say, “if you’re going all the way to London, don’t go for a week, go for two!” He then used his frequent flier points and booked me a business class flight to London.

My time away, on my own for the first time in years, was exactly what my soul needed. I was able to grapple with my fear of whether I would suddenly become selfish and a terrible mum if I found myself again.

  • I found a new sense of empathy for my mum and other women who had given up so much of themselves, their identities, hopes and dreams to fit within the constraints of the expected role of wife and mother.
  • I acknowledged that falling into martyrdom and becoming invisible was actually really hard to avoid and that I needed to be kind to myself.
  • I went for walks and talked with my wonderful friend Marcella about my fears that maybe I had had kids too young and now wasn’t going to be able to “get back in” and build the career I dreamt of.
  • I mapped and journaled, walked and talked and acknowledged the fear, and
  • I began to let my vision take shape of what existed in a world where I could be fulfilled as an individual, and also love my children well.

That trip, 12 years ago, was so important in the transition for me. But that was my journey.

Of course, your situation might look quite different.

It might be a few hours of quiet reflection while the rest of the household sleeps, or spending a few days with a friend. Perhaps it is intentionally carved out time each day over many months to reflect and let things emerge organically.

Whatever it looks like for you, if we are to lead from a place of alignment, we need to regularly look within, muster the courage to question, and actualize a deep clarity of self awareness. Moving forward is prescriptive of being honest with ourselves, and others, to name our fears and notice when we fall into extremes.

Then as our vision emerges, we can consciously shape it with a Both/And lens that seeks to bring the fullest expression of ourselves. Only then can the possibilities of the change we want to be part of in the world finally emerge.

Mistaking Movement For Progress: The Fatal Error In Your Path To Accepting “Both/And”

To be clear, I am not saying that you can have it all, have it all at the same time, and have it right now! No. Not only is it an unrealistic ideal, it’s far too simplistic.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, I believe there are probably goals you’re putting a lot of time, effort, and money into that you don’t actually want. Through that complicated mess, it might be likely that you are making assumptions and projecting about what you believe others expect of you. In turn, it might be safe to assume that you are busily running around trying to achieve this epic list that is neither needed, expected, nor satisfying for you or those about whom you care.

The worst part about this endless cycle of expectation, lack of passion, and misguided focus is that chances are – despite your best intentions – you may just be committing the most cardinal sin of them all: mistaking movement for progress.

Let’s put your Time, Talent and Treasure to work on a set of goals and values which actually move you in the direction you truly want. Since you’re here, I know what you want: a meaningful life that is wholly and uniquely yours – unencumbered by society’s eternal need to tell you how you should live that life.

Your Ability To Embody The “Both/And” Lifestyle Begins With Clearing Space In Your Life

Living your own unique life is where Both/And comes into its own. Let me run you through what I think Both/And makes possible.

It starts by clearing the space for an exploration of what really matters and allowing your needs and desires to emerge from the noise and busyness.

From there it creates the space to play, be creative, design and iterate until you find what works and create the mix that is uniquely yours.

Let’s clear some space now and quiet the noise of all those demands and voices, the expectations, and the lists.

Before we begin to reflect and create some space in our lives, take some deep breaths and just slow down with me for a moment.

This exercise is important because the reality is that without clearing out some space, the process can feel too overwhelming to make room for new thoughts. For if we don’t allow the appropriate space, the overwhelm and mental load of exploration can feel like just another goal for which we have neither the time, nor the energy.

Once you separate yourself from the overwhelm, you must ask yourself two questions:

  • What are you doing now that saps your energy, destroys your flow or where you find you continually procrastinate?
  • What can you do now to eliminate, automate or delegate?

As you quiet the noise, and start to tune in to your own voice, I know there is a temptation to jump back into the busy work of doing or building. It’s ok – that’s just how you have been trained in the past, and continue to fulfill that training in your later years. While you feel that urge, I encourage you to consider the ultimate problem with that kind of thinking – it automatically pushes us back into things external to ourselves. The external always circles back unto itself because it needs your validation to succumb to being driven by the deadlines, goals, demands of your customers, expectations of your team, requirements of your investors, or needs of your family.

“Both/And” Is A Dance Of Exposing Opportunities Between Your Current Context And The Vision Of What You Want To Create For The Future

I know you’re a visionary, and you’re also prone to jumping in and getting things done. Again, you’re here. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t the kind of visionary I’m describing. The good news is that even though you have some internal work to do, the world needs people like you!

My hope for you in cultivating a Both/And view of the world is that you can open up to more possibilities, and push yourself beyond the easy, lazy extremes of the either/or, black and white world views.

Just as I had mentioned one of my own struggles above, I also want to share one of my personal core values: beauty. Beauty is so central to me because it draws me to a place of becoming, growth, the pure foundations of an idea or vision. It informs my ability to accept Both/And.

The extraordinary Irish poet, theologian and philosopher, John O’Donohue, wrote an incredibly powerful book about beauty which can essentially be summed up by one main theme: at its heart, beauty is the opposite of all forms of fundamentalism.

This part of beauty, the fact that it is the opposite of fundamentalism takes us right back to the human tendency to swing between extremes. Beauty is an antidote to that tendency, and it is why I see the world in color, not black and white.

Beauty allows me to hold paradox, contradiction, and the swirl of possible ideas.

Beauty allows me the hope, inspiration, excitement to design a meaningful life unique to me.

Beauty allows me to sit with, and flourish within, Both/And.

In discovering Both/And, I hope that you can determine your unique genius, and live within the meaningful new ways which allow you to flourish too.