There is so much to love about Amanda Gorman and the poem she read on Inauguration Day: her brilliance, her fire, her composure. Every word in “The Hill We Climb” is meticulously selected and perfectly placed while also somehow appearing to be effortless. Every stanza packs a powerful punch that cuts to the core of who we are as a nation in this precise moment. However, as a coach, this excerpt particularly stands out:
"Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried"
What she so beautifully captures is what we in coaching circles call a “polarity.” It’s the complexity and duality of situations that are not simply either/or, but instead best understood as both/and.
As children, we are led to believe that most things fall into one of two buckets: good or bad. Right or wrong. In the cartoons my kids watch, it’s clear that the superheroes will always prevail over the bad guys (and sometimes even bad gals). It’s predictable, comforting, and reassuring to believe that this is how the world works.
But, as we get older and become more sophisticated in our understanding of the world, we start recognizing that things are much more complicated. The tricky part about polarities is that both sides of the pole are valid and viable. There’s so much more nuance in real life when people are layered and situations are complex. In fact, living in the gray is antithetical to the desire for our brains to make sense of things by categorizing and sorting them into simple buckets. As a result, we rail against it mercilessly, our brains working overtime to gather and analyze evidence that proves its good/bad binary narrative correct. Although there may be a sense of comfort in that effort initially, eventually that worldview and associated mindset become insufficient, unsatisfying, and just plain exhausting.
What Gorman insightfully describes is the polarity of not only what it means to live in America right now, but what it means to be human. To release ourselves from the oversimplified version of either/or in order to embrace the complexity and relish in the freedom found in both/and.
For me, living through the pandemic these past ten months has been a constant practice in both/and. I am grateful that (knock on wood), my loved ones have remained healthy, but also immensely disappointed that we haven’t been able to see each other. I am not thrilled that my 7-year-old is spending 1st grade on an iPad, but appreciative that he has an amazing teacher and that we have the technology, flexibility, and resources to help him to be successful. I love working from home, but it can sometimes feel lonely even when I realize that the only alone time I’ve actually had in days took place in the shower.
In my work as a coach, polarities come up with every client in one way or another. We spend time navigating through the scenarios together and then often revisit the concept in subsequent sessions. For one person, the polarity may be about how to remain true to oneself while also being intrinsically interconnected with conservative family members. For another, it may be how to trust their natural instincts and intuition as a leader while also valuing what it means to be considered an expert in our paternalistic society. For yet another, the polarity may be around how to approach team management by simultaneously balancing their tendency to ask with the desire to tell.
There are no clear or easy answers in any of these situations. That’s not really the point. Instead, the hope is that through focused prompts and self-reflective exercises, clients can get to a place of comfort with and acceptance of the specific polarity that is present for them. The ultimate objective, however, as Gorman so magnificently intimates, is for clients to embrace a mindset of both/and in all aspects of their lives in order to embody the beautiful richness and challenging complexity of what it means to be alive.
If you (or someone you know) could benefit from working with a certified coach and trained facilitator who will provide customized, holistic, and tireless support as you or your team identify and take action towards your goals, please reach out to One Eleven Leadership to set up a complimentary consultation.