Paradox in action: Learning from conflicting feelings

newsletter paradox self-awareness

How can understanding paradoxes in my life help me?

Today, I am dealing with one in particular. I am realizing how sad it makes me that my kids are growing up, while at the same time noting that it is a sign that I am being successful at parenting.

It really hits me each day when they ride off to school. On their own. Which I used to do with them just about every day.

The paradox: doing a "good job" has made me feel "bad."

It is easy to say something dismissive to myself:

"Well this was always going to happen, get over it."

Or worse:

"That's a dumb thing to feel about this. You should be proud."

Those won't help at all.

From David Burns, I learned about noting the positives that the negative feeling shows about me.

I'll be a bit more explicit with the negative thought:

"My kids will never need me again and it is really sad to see them grow up."

What does that show about me that is positive and true? That I am a dedicated dad, I love my kids, and I enjoy spending time with them.

When I frame it like that, I already feel better about that thought.

There are a lot more layers to that statement we can look at, but let's try a different viewpoint.

What about looking for a hidden assumption here that serves me?

Presuming I wanted to change being sad about this (which I don't necessarily) - what is the hidden assumption?

One might be that I shouldn't be sad when I am being successful. I called the feeling "bad" above (which is definitely how I thought of it in my head) but that is a label I gave it. There is an assumption that being sad is a bad thing to be avoided. This serves me by steering me away from some of the sadness and depression I have experienced in my life.

By realizing this assumption is there, I can remove the stigma of feeling sad about my kids growing up and be ok with it. It allows me to sit with the paradox instead of trying to solve it.

Last, what about trying to be happy? How can I use the idea of this paradox to aim for a better outcome for my emotions? Well, I probably shouldn't bother.

If I did come up with a plan, it would be counter-productive. Try to make my kids less independent so I feel better? I know it is hard to predict, but I am pretty sure that won't work at all.

The answer is to be open to the experience and trust that if I keep doing the right thing along the way, the journey will be positive. I don't have to predict what will make me happy, and with kids involved, that is even less of a good idea.

I know this will be an ongoing process to reconcile my pride in my sons growing up with the sadness it causes me. I loved this podcast about the topic and how it framed the situation.

The key is to note that paradox is a big part of the important feelings in life. Understanding how to reconcile that, and be at peace with it, is a critical skill to self-awareness and growth.

Find your path to a purposeful career. 

Get 4 steps to unlock your journey sent to you.

Four Tips to Find Meaning at Work