Playing Favorites By Marshall Goldsmith There’s a reason I devote...
Resolve Your Dichotomies
This exercise is also inspired by Ayse Birsel. And it, too, involves crossing out words, so keep your pencil handy.
In 2015, when she was launching her “Design the Life You Love” seminars, Ayse asked me to bring a few friends to one of her first outings in New York—to fill up seats, since only six people had signed up. I brought seventy. If Ayse was nervous or intimidated by the big crowd, I couldn’t detect it. But I also knew that talking for an hour or more to an audience of several dozen strangers requires a little more projection of personality than talking to six people. Six people make a dinner party, six dozen make an audience. So I decided to help raise her energy level.
Ayse had once told me, “If I were stranded on an island and could have only one creative tool, it would be dichotomy resolution.”
Her favorite part of product design was resolving “either/or” decisions that the client left to her discretion, such as whether the design should be classic or modern, small or functional, stand-alone or expandable into a product line, and other choices. Ideally, in design it’s a mash-up of both — a classic design but updated with modern materials, such as the Ford F-150 pickup with an aluminum body instead of traditional steel. But the dichotomies in our everyday behavior seem to demand resolution rather than forced integration. Optimist or pessimist? Joiner or loner? Active or passive? Pick one or the other — you can’t be both.
Remembering her affinity for dichotomies, I took Ayse aside moments before the seminar began.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever resolved the extrovert versus introvert dichotomy in your life,” I said, “but today’s not the day to choose introvert. Let’s sing.”
I started singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Amazingly, she knew the words and joined me. Afterward, when she finished laughing, I told her, “Remember this feeling. The audience isn’t here for another business meeting. This is showtime!”
Half of us see the world in black and white — the other half see shades of gray.
Like Ayse, I’m in the first group (the previous sentence is proof). If you’re like me, you know that seeing the world as an endless string of dichotomies won’t automatically simplify your decision making. You’ve merely reduced your many options to two. You still have to choose one. This is especially critical at the start of the aspiration process. Unless you’re hoping to flip your personality completely, your aspirations should not conflict with your core preferences, virtues, and quirks.
You need to identify the dichotomies that regularly reappear in your life, especially when they’re a recurring source of problems or failure (for example, procrastination as opposed to timeliness). Then you have to resolve them, deciding which half you want to own.
DO THIS: List all the dichotomies that come to mind.
You have three rounds of decision making:
First, make a list of as many interesting dichotomies as you can think of.
Second, use a Sharpie to completely redact each unchecked dichotomy that doesn’t really apply to you.
Finally, study the remaining dichotomies and decide to determine which half of each pairing reflects you.
Are you a leader or follower? Life of the party or wallflower? Present or distracted? Ask partners or friends for their opinion, if it helps. Now, cross out the half of the pairing that doesn’t apply. You should end up with a sheet of blacked-out words that looks like a government redaction of a CIA agent’s memoir. The remaining unobscured words reveal your defining qualities.
You can’t argue with the picture they paint. You painted it. These qualities not only influence what you aspire to, but whether or not you will earn it.
Share (if you dare) your finished sheet with the people who know you best, for valuable feedback.