In Asian philosophy, the concept of yin yang is used to describe how polar opposites or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn. I use this concept often in my understanding of marriage, leadership, and other societal or natural constructs. To illustrate, I tell folks who are thinking about a long-term committed relationship to remember the yin yang of commitment. Imagine the worse thing you can think about your significant other – the most annoying thing they do or say – and imagine having to deal with that day-in and day-out…for eternity. Sounds daunting huh? But that’s not where it ends. Think about the joy that person brings you – the feeling of security, the love, the assurance that someone is there – and imagine having to deal with that day-in and day-out…for eternity. Not so bad. To make it in any relationship, you take the good and the bad.
In leadership, one of my favorite poems, The Penalty of Leadership, captures this concept beautifully. “Jealously does not protrude its forked tongue at the artists who produces a commonplace painting.” When you step up to the challenge of being a leader, you get enourmous benefit with that. Recognition, letters of recommendation, opportunities to network, getting that great first job. But leadership also comes with a great burden – failure, being in a fishbowl, being held to higher standards, and pure unadulterated hateration from so many people. That’s the yin yang of leadership.
As a student, you also have to walk a delicate line. Being a student has its benefits and rewards, and it has its costs. As you round the bend on yet another semester, consider what excites you about being a student. Then consider what scares you. What are your favorite parts of school and of being a student? What parts do you hate? In school I always liked the lectures (weird huh?) The expert standing in front of the room bestowing knowledge; it always felt very “academic” to me. But I didn’t like homework, or getting up early, or having to meet deadlines, or sometimes working in groups. Being a successful student meant embracing both of these realities. Too often we want to do what we like, and ignore what we hate, causing many of us to fail and inaccurately conclude that we are bad _________ (fill in the blank). You’re not a bad _________ you are just unwilling to accept the yin yang of your situation. Leaders face the same fate, as they want all the glory with none of the work or responsibility. Take time to reflect on the yin yang of your life, leadership, academic career, or work life. Getting comfortable with the good and bad is essential if you are to be successful – otherwise you only live life understanding half of the picture – and you will never finish with only half the information.