“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
— Dr. Seuss
We all have contradictions, and we’re especially adept at spotting contradictions in the characters of others. A contradiction is defined as “a person, thing, or situation in which inconsistent elements are present.” You can be forgiven for thinking that doesn’t sound like the kind of person you want to spend time around.
However, contradictions are not flaws, rather contradictions are the substance of who we are and they are what makes each of us unique. For something to be a contradiction it must be inconsistent with some taken-at-face-value axiom, some product of society’s expectations and biases.
She was a hard worker, BUT a good mother.
He was a scientists AND a man of faith
He was an honest politician
She was a banker who wasn’t greedy
He was an Artist and a Businessman
The word contradiction comes from the latin “contra-” which means against, and “diction” which means a judgement or prediction. Contradictions occur when you break the model, when fall outside the mold, when you can’t be put into a box. They are what make you interesting, they are the stuff you’re made from.
Let’s look at one famous example of a man riddled with contradictions, Steve Jobs. Jobs was incredibly in tune with what his customers would want. This incredibly empathy is what enabled him to envision beautiful products and entirely new categories long before anyone else could see their potential.
With so much empathy and charisma, you’d think he’d get along fine with all those around him — not so. Jobs, by nearly every account was a very difficult and demanding person to work under. In this contradiction lies Job’s great strength. He had an uncanny ability to empathize with others, BUT he never let that get in the way of his leadership.
Jobs could read his employees expectations about what they could/could not accomplish, he understood their concerns and objections, and even their sacrifices. What made Jobs exceptional as a leader was that he never let people hold themselves back from their true potential. Jobs could understand the people working for him and he knew he might be hurting them, but he didn’t let that get in the way of his execution.
Most people who are as empathetic as Jobs find themselves unable to lead as aggressively as Jobs. Without this key contradiction, it’s unlikely Jobs would have been able to achieve his audacious visions. He never tried to change this part of himself because he understood the value it had in his life. You shouldn’t either.
The world is better off that Steve Jobs was a man full of contradiction. The world is better off that you are filled with contradictions. Try to identify what utility your contradictions have to your life, and maximize it.
Be you. Be true.