Maggie munched on her potato chips and sipped the new herbal tea, annoyed it was no longer steaming. She had to leave for Uganda the following morning, and the idea of traveling in the rain made her even more irritable. "I don't know if all this work to eradicate hunger and poverty is really making the world a better place," she mused. She sighed and rested her head on the back of her chair. As if talking to the gods, she pleaded, "Couldn't I just stay home? Traveling isn't fun anymore. I'm always working — or recovering from working. Can't I have a personal life I don't have to squeeze in between trips and still try to save the world?" Dreading the inevitable stress of packing, she sluggishly pulled herself out of the chair; instead of heading for her suitcase, she wandered into the kitchen to try out that new coconut brownie recipe her friend described as "to die for."
Maggie struggled between two options: either commit to her professional life or commit to her personal life. Each time she chose one, the other reared its head. She thought choosing between them was the only way to save her sanity. The stress of it all often made Maggie want to just give up and quit everything.
Some Things You Simply Can't Fix
Maggie was desperate to have her problems fixed. "I can't keep living with so much turmoil and pressure. This issue has to be resolved once and for all!"
It's totally understandable to want something to be fixed if it doesn't work — or to remove it if it gets in your way. But Maggie didn't realize that some things in life simply aren't fixable. She felt there had to be a right choice, and problems were always solvable. But they aren't.
Two Kinds of Dilemma
Maggie wasn't aware of a small detail of monumental proportion: there are actually two kinds of dilemmas. One you can fix. The other you can't. And there are no personal flaws involved.
The Resolvable Dilemma
To be sure, there are resolvable dilemmas, where your choice between the two available options fixes the problem and it's over and done.
For example, say you're shopping for a new computer and you have narrowed it down to two models in your price range. Once you've chosen which one to buy, the problem is over — end of the dilemma. Or maybe you want to go out to lunch near the office and there are only two possible choices close by: a Thai restaurant and a burger joint. Once you've chosen, the lunch dilemma is finished.
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The Unresolvable Dilemma
I call the second kind of dilemma an Unresolvable Dilemma. There's no single decision you can make that will solve the problem forever; there's no clear or easy way out. Since this kind of dilemma won't go away, you can only learn to manage them. When you learn to do this successfully, the Unresolvable Dilemma loses its power to disturb you.
Common Everyday Unresolvable Dilemmas
Following are ten common Unresolvable Dilemmas. They were all a part of Maggie's life, and they are most likely a part of yours as well.
- Desire for action and desire for passivity. For example, should you make the effort to hang up your clothes? Or can you just take a break and relax for awhile?
- Desire for connection and desire for separation. For example, on the one hand, you want to be with friends tonight. But on the other hand, you're tired and would like some solitude.
- Desire to trust and desire to doubt. For example, you have reservations about your abilities to succeed. Should you listen to them as truth, or should you question them?
- Desire to live a spiritual life and desire to live a comfortable material life. For example, one part of you wants to go to a meditation retreat. But another part wants to remodel the kitchen.
- Desire to be part of a team and desire to be independent. For example, should you put on that horrible shirt the bowling team voted to wear for team spirit, or should you be a rebellious individual by wearing a shirt that looks good on you?
- Desire for long-term gain and desire for short-term gain. For example, you want to eat right and be healthy. On the other hand, you want to splurge.
- Desire to control and desire to surrender. For example, you don't know whether you should take the lead over your project at work, or whether it's better to just follow your co-leader and do it his way.
- Desire to play it safe and desire to risk. For example, you have to get home quickly. Should you speed up, or stay at the speed limit?
- Desire to be authentic and desire to be politic. For example, on the one hand, you want to be honest with your boss — as well as your spouse and friends. But isn't being political the better choice?
- Desire to plan and desire to be spontaneous. For example, should you plan out your entire day so you know exactly what to do every minute, or should you live in the moment, be spontaneous, and just let things unfold?
Is Your Dilemma Unresolvable?
Here are four simple questions to help you determine whether your dilemma is resolvable or unresolvable — and thus must be managed. Think of a situation where you feel caught up in an either/or choice. Then ask yourself these questions:
- Can I feel the tug-of-war sensations in my body?
- Are the two options I have to choose between polar opposites?
- Does each opposite define itself by the absence of the other?
- Does my problem go away if I choose either pole and ignore the other?
Answering yes to questions 1-3 and no to question 4 means your pair of polar opposites is interdependent and, thus, an Unresolvable Dilemma. Seeing this means you can stop trying to fix it and start managing it.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Conari Press,
an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC. www.redwheelweiser.com.
©2000, 2011 by Gail McMeekin. All rights reserved.
This article was adapted with permission from the book:
Unflappable: 6 Steps to Staying Happy, Centered, and Peaceful No Matter What by Ragini Elizabeth Michaels.
Unflappable is a book that helps readers not only survive, but embrace the ups and downs of life. Drawing on the wisdom of the mystics and her NLP (neuro linguistic programming) training the author offers a six-step process for happiness and serenity regardless of how crazy life gets. Unflappable offers a unique route to a different brand of happiness--one that doesn't depend on outside circumstances, and incorporates a model for conscious living that leads to serenity.
About the Author
Ragini Elizabeth Michaels is an internationally acclaimed trainer of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and hypnosis, and an accomplished Behavioral Change Specialist. She has gained international recognition for her original and pioneering work, Facticity® and Paradox Management, a unique process for how to live with paradox. Also known for her reputation as a superb teacher, presenter, and compassionate human being, she has received invitations to share her work beyond the boundaries of the US to Canada, England, Scotland, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and India.