6 Paradoxical Truths of Life

The first paradox I ever saw was Waterfall by M. C. Escher.

Examples of Paradoxes Cover
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How does a four-year-old come across a perpetual motion illusion by an artist who died 20 years before he was born? Well, it hung in our hallway. Not the original, of course. The copy provided enough staring material for hours.

How does that work? Why does the water flow up and down at the same time? How fast must the wheel spin to make it all go round? Most importantly, why aren’t they staring? The people in this painting have no care in the world. To them, this magnificent delusion barely exists.

When you first encounter a paradox, your brain goes on the fritz. Which version is true? Why don’t they add up? And why do they feel like, somehow, they still kind of do? It’s easy to get stuck on this part. To obsess and try to cram the contradiction into a box labeled ‘consistent’ in your mind.

If you don’t however, eventually, something wonderful happens: Your brain turns off. It stops trying. Suddenly, you can, somehow, accept the idea at face value and, instead of dissecting it, appreciate its beauty.

If you’ve ever felt this way, if you’ve ever been mesmerized by something you could not understand, then you’ve witnessed not just the beauty of paradox but, actually, the essence of life: It’s a mystery, but it’s marvelous.

Just because we can’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s not there by design. This applies to the mechanical parts of your coffee machine as much as it applies to a breakup, a car accident, or, well, this painting. All of it was designed just for you, just for this moment. You might not “get it” at the time, but, later, you most likely will. “You can only connect the dots looking backwards,” Steve Jobs once said.

Deep in our subconscious, we know this, and that’s why our brains allow us to eventually gloss over the details and focus on learning, enjoying, and finding the positives. Yes. This is the paradox we need right now. If we accept it, it’ll give us peace of mind, a sense of ease, and freedom from worry.

If we appreciate it even, it’ll open a door to a new perspective: Maybe, both versions are true. What if the paradox combines two ends of the same spectrum? And what if we can stand on that spectrum and re-balance as needed? Might what looks like a flaw actually be an advantage?

Open your mind. Let the paradox in. Appreciate its beauty and accept its truth. It’ll prove useful time and again. It’ll prove to be part of the design.

Here are six of my favorite examples of paradoxes that can make your life a lot easier.


1. You didn’t come this far to only come this far

Dean Karnazes ran 50 marathons in 50 states on 50 consecutive days. Imagine being on day 49 of such a feat. “I can’t run another marathon. I just can’t.” Yes. But then, he did.

I’m sure there was more than one mile Dean hated. On the 30th marathon. On the 10th. Even on the first. But each time, whether it was mile two in race one or mile 17 in race 43, he remembered: You didn’t come this far to only come this far.

When you have trouble starting, remember how you got to the starting line. When you have trouble finishing, remember how you got close to the goal.

No matter how far you’ve come, no matter how daunting the obstacle ahead, there’s always a little more to go. This isn’t sad. It’s life — and simply a reminder of all the great things that lie behind you already — even if, sometimes, these great things consist of small steps.

2. Wherever you go, there you are

While life is a never-ending journey and we should always move on and strive forward, it pays well to stop sometimes and look around. “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Heeding Ferriss Bueller’s advice lets us take a breath, enjoy the scenery, and celebrate our accomplishments. It also affords us a chance to look at the path that brought us here. We didn’t take all turns deliberately, and not all deliberate turns take us where we want to go. Yet here we are. This is it.

Why did you send that careless email? How come you stayed in this city? Why did you tell her your embarrassing story? Maybe you know, maybe you don’t. But it led you right here. To joblessness. To friendship. Into love. And that’s all that matters.

3. The easiest way to getting what you want is learning to want less

Once you’ve arrived, the best way to be present is to not look too far ahead. You’ll hit your next obstacle soon enough. That’s a time for forward-thinking.

For now, again, look around you. Look at what you have. Isn’t that enough? Slowing down today makes tomorrow feel like we lived more yesterday. Like we had it yesterday. Enough. And if we start from enough, today is a gift.

“Desire is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want,” Naval says. Wanting is powerful. It makes you do things. Doing without wanting is joyful. It makes you love things. You choose.

4. You can’t *change* the people around you, but you can change the *people* around you

How many of the people you’ve met made you think, “I wish they’d never change?” That’s rare. Wishing for others to be different is the norm.

Of course, most people don’t change quickly, easily, or at all, let alone according to your wishes or because of anything you did, and so, eventually, you’ll leave most of them behind. That’s okay. It’s necessary. But when you find someone who makes it easy to stay, think long and hard before you leave.

How many true friends do you need to be happy? Five? Three? One? It’s easy to wander through life, hopping from circle to circle, always meeting people, always hoping for better but never quite connecting.

What if we stuck with those to whom we feel connected already? Let’s leave behind who we must leave behind but cherish the people we never want to change.

5. Don’t try to find people you’re willing to be with — be willing to try with the people you find

As little as you can do to change others, as much there is to be done inside yourself. Meeting the people who fit into your life like perfect puzzle pieces takes inner work — especially in love.

Bring out the best in yourself, then let those parts act like feelers, just waiting to register a signal from someone else. In the meantime, the strongest signal you can send is showing up.

Don’t wait for someone to open your eyes, mind, and heart. Choose to go through life this way. Hand out trust advances. Be willing to try, and you’ll be surprised how many people will extend you the same courtesy.

6. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others

If our lives didn’t end, they’d be meaningless. That’s another example of a paradox. Maybe the biggest. Most of us want to spend this limited time in the most meaningful way, and that usually means taking care of others.

Whether it’s being a mom, a great husband, a kindergarten teacher, a writer educating readers, a coach helping entrepreneurs, at the end of the day, life revolves around people. One of the hardest commitments to make is to hit pause on that carousel, step back, and take care of yourself. It’s also one of the most important.

The only way to bring the most and best of your time and energy to the grand human table is to ensure you have time and energy to spare. It’s not egoistic to put yourself first. It’s generous.


The guy gazing at the sky. The lady hanging her laundry. The reason the people in Escher’s painting don’t care about the waterfall is that they’ve accepted it. They rest easy. They don’t mind the inconsistency.

Paradoxes can seem like they’re here to make our lives harder. Little puzzles to keep our heads banging against the wall. They’re not. Paradoxes give us more options for truth because the truth always has more than one version.

Pulling from opposite ends of different spectrums lets us navigate even the most challenging situations with relative ease. Ironically, we can’t see this when we try to explain everything away.

To live life is to live inconsistently. To love life is to love inconsistency.

So smile at contradictions. Grin wide as you take on their challenge. Appreciate the beauty in life’s many little discrepancies.

It may take you a while to see it, but once you do, you might even think life’s better when the water flows both ways.

Yearly Theme Cover

How to Set a Theme for Your Year

You’re an ambitious person. You set goals for yourself, and then you hustle to achieve them. You’ve never shied away from working hard to get what you want.

But maybe this sounds familiar: For some reason, despite all you’ve accomplished, you still feel unsettled. The milestones that were supposed to bring you a sense of contentment never did — and now you’re worried that whatever you do will never be enough.

You can put your worries to rest. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not wired to be unhappy. You’re just using the wrong system.

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Failed Relationships Cover

Your Failed Relationships Hurt Because You Think They Ended – But They Never Will

Why does it hurt to lose someone you were never meant to be with?

Often, after a relationship falls apart, we realize it’s for the better. We spot the flaws in ourselves and the other person, and we accept there’s work to do for both of us. Work we’ll have to do alone.

Like Ted Mosby says, “Sometimes, things have to fall apart to make way for better things.”

Whether it’s a romance, a friendship, or a relation with a colleague, as much relief as this realization brings, it rarely absorbs even a fraction of the pain that comes with cutting the relationship rope. Like a steel cable snapping in half, there’s a bang, an echo-y sound, and then, somewhere, a slash wound that runs deep.

Why is that? Why doesn’t the score feel settled when everyone agrees it’s time to leave the court? I think the answer lies in how we look at relationships.

We tend to define the success of a relationship mostly by how long it lasts. At least, I used to do so. Now, I’m not so sure that’s right.

Throughout life, we all start many relationships. We work hard to maintain, cultivate, and cherish them. That’s honorable, but when our efforts fail — and, occasionally, they do for all of us — we assume the relationship has failed too. We couldn’t hold on to that person. Oh no! What did we do wrong?

Chances are, we did nothing wrong, except making that assumption. If all relationships that fade are failures, wouldn’t all relationships inevitably fail? We all die one day, so, really, there’s no relationship we can hold on to forever.

Ugh. What a depressing way to look at the world. I’m not sure I want to play that game. Even without the death barrier, I’d be a terrible player. I’m sure I’ve lost 90% of “total relationships started.” Not a great stat on my profile. You probably have it too.

Maybe, we need a new way to look at relationships. Maybe, we need to play a different game. And maybe, in that new game, time isn’t part of the rules. In any case, one thing is for sure: Just because you and your former connection left the field does not mean the game is over.


When I walk past a wall, I love running my hand along the stones. It makes me feel connected. Earthly. As if I’m leaving an invisible trail of paint that says, “I was here.” No one can see it, but someone might feel it. Maybe, a thought will hit them. A thought I left there years ago. Like this one:

What if our relationships never end?

What a comforting one. Every human connection ripples out into infinity. Can you imagine? Yeah, feels good. Maybe, I’ll leave that thought here.

Have you ever placed a coin upright on a table and then flicked it so it spins? That’s what meeting a person is. The second you collide, momentum changes. The movement may not last, the coin may stop spinning, but the shift in direction can’t be reverted. It’s etched into the marble of time, and it’ll stay there forever.

You might not get a second date, your best friend might move away, but the flicks you gave each other? The tiny pushes towards all kinds of paths? You can’t take those back. Their effects will compound in that person’s life. Even once they’re gone, the effects of effects will persist. Who did they flick because you flicked them? You’ll never know, but the energy was there.

What if relationships aren’t meant to be collected? What if they’re not stamps we can put in an album, store away on a shelf, and then feel good about knowing they’re there? Maybe, all we have is the coin flick.

Your boyfriend left you. Your favorite colleague quit. But they didn’t stop playing. The game is still on. It’s called life. It’s called being human. You’re in it as much as they are. And the plays you made together will always have been. No one failed. Nothing has ended. It’s just the coin that’s no longer spinning.

When we declare our relationships broken and finished, we disrespect the compound interest of our actions. We take more credit than we deserve.

Who says you won’t meet again? Who says they won’t think of you each year? No, no, this ain’t over. The rope didn’t snap because there was never a rope to begin with. That’s not how humans connect. The rope is cut when we’re born. From then on, we’re individuals. Individuals made of atoms, and all we have is particles. Little sparks we can eject and hope they’ll react with one another.

Those reactions can happen anytime, anywhere. Like infinite rows of dominoes, each one falling over at its own pace. I like that. None of my relationships have failed. They’re all out there, meandering, and, at some point, I flicked my finger at each of them. I spun the coin.

I don’t know if my touch made them better or worse, but I think it’s always too soon to say. What I do know is this: Instead of trotting through life, thinking I’ve failed at most of my relationships, I’d rather flick more coins. I want to leave sparks everywhere. Paint every wall and fence I pass.

Your relationships never end. They may take a turn you can’t follow. That’s okay. You can celebrate at the intersection. Wave at the person. Be grateful you caught some of their spark. Its imprint will always glimmer on your soul.

One day, maybe you’ll meet them again. Maybe, you’ll stick with the memory. For now, know that you did your best. That it’s time to keep moving. Keep touching the walls.

Soon, you’ll bump into a new person. Another player full of sparks. Like a coin sitting on a table, they’ll be waiting just for you. There’s no telling when you’ll arrive, but whenever you do, promise me one thing: Promise me you’ll flick it.