I was glad when 2018 was over. I’d had quite a few curve balls thrown at me and a lot of ups and downs, which left me tired and reeling.

Now that we reach the end of 2019, I am not sure I had a more balanced or positive year…

And that got me thinking. About how we humans like to categorise things into black and white, good or bad, happy or sad.

And it made me think about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quote:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.

When I was younger, I was always quick to judge and categorise. Either a movie was good and I loved it, or it was simply crap. The same labelling was applied to jobs, boyfriends, restaurants, people, situations and the weather.

After some years, some experiences, a lot of rollercoaster rides, and a lot of attempts to put these into the black or the white box, I started to realise what this need for categorisation really is: a need for control. When we simplify things into two nuances, two boxes, two opinions, we simplify our lives maybe, but we also miss out on a lot of things in between: the big grey area.

Our brains are hard wired to understand. From when we’re babies we learn to categorise our learnings. Hot or cold, good or bad, safe or dangerous. It helps us grow. Yet when we grow, we seem to stick to the simplified thinking that served us as a baby. Because it gives us the impression that we have things under control. And control is safe and gives us an impression of security.

Until we have our first experience in life that throws us off balance. It does not allow us to put things either to the left or right. This may be a difficult family situation as a child or teenager, our first love, our first really big rejection, a huge row with our best girlfriend.

Suddenly our need to classify the person or situation into either the good or the bad situation doesn’t work anymore.
Yes the friend behaved badly and deceived us, but we loved her, we still love her.
Yes the ex cheated, but we had so many great years, grew so much and had two wonderful kids.
Yes the job firing was unjust, but we keep in touch with colleagues who become friends and the experience made us grow so much and move on to create our own business which became wildly successful.

So how do we ‘hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time’?

By letting go of the need for control. By letting more colour into our palette.

As an artist, I let people go wild with colours on their first layers. Then I ‘force’ them to add black. This is a stage they usually hate. Black? Really? But it will turn the beautiful colours into something dark and ugly. Well, yes and no. Because you get to add white too and then add more layers and colours . What the black and white do is create contrast and depth. If we only had two colours it would indeed be a Rothko kind of painting. Yes, they are interesting, because of the colour restraint and palette and shape limitation. And that might work well in art. But life lived like that would be boring, and exhausting.

Imagine putting all the experiences you have into only two colours on your canvas. Mixing colours is hard work. So trying to take the colour green (the ex who cheated) and turn it into orange (one of the two colours of your canvas) is not impossible but take a lot of time and effort.

So no wonder you’re exhausted if you’re trying to categorise your life like this.

There’s always good in the bad and bad in the good.

There’s always grey between the black and white.

There’s always more than two colours.

There are always two sides to each story.

There are always nuances in everything.

There is no absolute truth.

So my 2019 was out of balance. Was it good? Yes. Was it bad? Yes.

Was it at times uncomfortable? Hell yes!

But only when things are uncomfortable, meaning when we step outside our comfort zone (willingly or not 🙂 ) are we able to learn and grow.

I have in the past talked a lot about comfort zones. My Tedx talk even was about it.

And I recently found an image that I really liked because it clearly shows where the comfort zone is and how it evolves.

Just to be clear: there is no good or bad in this image either. When you’re in the growth zone it doesn’t mean you’ve made it! Because we constantly move from left to right and right to left again. Because we constantly learn new things and we constantly return to our comfort zone when encountering scary, unknown situations.

It’s a circle. It spins and turns and sometimes tumbles. And we tumble with it. Sometimes it’s comfortable and we stay on our couch and sip tea (or wine). Sometimes it feels like the spinning cycle of our washing machine and we come out all hustled and bustled.

But it’s all good.

And bad.

And the biggest learning in life is to have those two sit on the couch with you at the same time.