Accepting the Paradox

In November I was asked to be a speaker at a women’s conference in Boise. The coordinators asked me to provide a bio and a headshot for the event.

I wasn’t excited about either task. It felt weird to pose by myself in front of a photographer (even if she was my friend), and it felt even weirder to write about myself in a promotional way.

But duty called, so I sucked it up.

Here’s how my headshot turned out:

tiff smiley_Fotor

And here’s what I wrote for my bio:

“Tiffany Stenson Erickson is a paradox. She is totally put together and a complete mess. She is her own biggest fan and her worst critic. She is as shallow as she is deep. She seeks daily for self-improvement and self-acceptance. She wants to change the world and enjoy the world just as it is. She is learning to embrace that she contradicts herself.”

I included some other things about my husband and kids and life goals and accomplishments, but the gist of what I wanted the women to know was that I am a big fat ball of contradiction. I am everything and I am nothing.

It has taken me a long time to accept that I am a paradox. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around my contradictions because I thought I had to be one way or the other. How could I be shallow and deep? How could I want to chill out and step it up in the same moment? How could I love motherhood and hate it all in the same day? I was anxious that I didn’t fit neatly in a box. I struggled to calm myself because I couldn’t categorize myself.

It’s taken me just as long to accept that life is a paradox as well. I knew there was opposition in all things like good and evil, right and wrong, but I hadn’t considered that the opposition could be between two good things, two right ways, two valid emotions, two polar positions of equal merit, etc. I wanted life to be either Yes or No. Black or White. This or That. Right or Wrong. But instead it is any of the above at any time.

When I finally opened my eyes to life’s paradoxes I found them everywhere.

For example,

I didn’t want my husband to be called into a Stake Presidency; yet I was sad when he was released.

I want to eat healthy and feel great, but I love cheese, chocolate chip cookies, and candy bar shakes and I want to enjoy life to its fullest.

I enjoy order and clear tables and counters, but I want my kids to color, craft, cut, and create.

I don’t want my kids to grow up too fast or too soon; but I love it when they reach milestones and make progress.

I want to bow my head with humility and hold my head up high with confidence.

I want to stay home and be together as a family; but I want my kids to be out developing their talents.

I consider getting fake boobs and fake eyelashes; but I want to fight against the looks-driven world we live in and I want my daughters to know what real beauty is.

I want to serve anonymously, but I want to feel appreciated.

I so desire to improve myself and to be a better person, but I also want to accept and love myself just the way I am.

And perhaps the biggest paradox I face on a daily basis is summed up by this quote by E.B. White:

“I arise every morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world.  That makes it very hard to plan my day.”

It wasn’t until I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Reuben that I started to consider that other people felt the pull of paradox as well. She acknowledged for me that paradoxes exist, but that we don’t have to choose between them.

She summed it up beautifully, “I wanted to change myself but accept myself.  I wanted to take myself less seriously–and also more seriously.  I wanted to use my time well, but I also wanted to wander, to play, to read at a whim.  I wanted to think about myself so I could forget about myself.”

Understanding and recognizing the paradoxes in my own life has helped me recognize and accept the paradoxes with parenting. I can love my children just like they are right now and at the same time I can want them to learn and become better. I can want my kiddos to stay little and I can want them to grow up. I can want them to need me and I can want them to be independent. I can see their strengths and I can see their weaknesses. I can be merciful with them and I can hold them accountable. I can teach my kids to respect authority and I can teach them to question it. I want my kids to have choice and I want to tell them exactly what to do. I can teach my children to accept themselves and I can teach them to better themselves. I can hope that they will not suffer and at the same time I can hope that they will be stretched.

All of these paradoxes work together for the good of my children. And the best part is I don’t have to choose which way is right or best because they all are.

As difficult as it is, I am continually learning to accept paradox in myself and in life. I am aware of my want to reconcile my thoughts and opinions and have things be one way or the other, so I have to tell myself to embrace it all.

Paradox is what makes life complicated, but it is also what makes life full and complete. Paradox gives us ugly and beauty in the same face. Paradox is its own paradox.

 

3 Comments
  1. A thoughtful piece. Brings a lot of clarity to why I always seem to be in a fog. Truly, I believe it contains some answers that I’ve been seeking for a while now. And I totally feel the paradox too! Especially the tug between living life to the fullest by being “productive” and living life to the fullest by slowing down.

    Thanks for putting all of these thoughts together!