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Contrast Leads to Clarity

Do any of you remember that show where you could stay over at a house that you were considering buying? I think it was called “Sleep on It.” The premise was that interested homebuyers had an opportunity to test out a home before making an offer. People get to experience the home, learn what they don’t like, and gain the clarity they are looking for to make a more informed buying decision. This is “contrast leads to clarity” in action.

Several years ago, I heard someone say this phrase. It really stuck with me. In four simple words, it explains something that can be so useful to anyone who is trying to understand how they want to engage in the world.

How do we know what we like? How do we know what we want to do? One way to figure this out is to understand what you don’t want to do! Contrast! And, yes, you got it … it leads to clarity!

I think this is one reason why, the older we get, the wiser we are and the more we know ourselves … because we’ve had many years to experience contrast. Let’s apply this to the job/career part of our lives.

I’ll use an example from my own life: being a lawyer.

When you are a lawyer, you are responsible for other people’s problems. In fact, you are hired to help solve them, litigate them, or settle them. At first, I thought I wanted a high-responsibility job. While I worked in BigLaw, I began to see how others (more senior than I) lived and how much responsibility they had on their plates. I slowly began to see that this may not be the life for me. Contrast.

I worked at a different law firm where I was not able (allowed to) completely disconnect during my scheduled vacations. I had to consistently check in with emails, put out fires, and deal with whatever was going on. Again, I slowly started to see that I did not want my time to always belong to someone else. More contrast.

I then shifted to a job where I recruited attorneys to do pro bono (free) legal work. It afforded me more of the freedom I desired and less responsibility. Or maybe I should say I was responsible for things in a different way. Another form of contrast. Here I learned that IF I am going to do legal work, I am going to provide direct client services, not direct and manage others to do the work.

There are many more examples of contrast that have led to clarity in my life. For efficiency, I’ll fast-forward to today. Because of the many experiences and contrasts in my life, I now have this clarity:

  • I prefer to work with people who are ultimately responsible for their own actions/results
  • I prefer a lower stakes/responsibility job that allows me to unplug during my downtime
    • Note: this doesn’t mean no responsibility. Different jobs come with different pressures.
  • I prefer jobs where I can have flexibility, including the freedom to be creative and do different things
  • I prefer a job that supports my overall lifestyle, not a job that is my entire life

A final thought on this idea. In order to experience the contrast that leads to the clarity, you have to EXPERIENCE things. Hopefully you noticed that I gave you examples from three different jobs with three different legal employers. This means that I applied for, worked at, and left at least three different jobs to gain this deeper level of understanding about what I want and how I want to spend my days. (And trust me, there have been more than three employers!)

Experience is a powerful teacher. In fact, I believe experience is the BEST teacher and the ONLY teacher that will allow you to gain meaningful wisdom. Why? Because it is through experience that we actually learn. It’s not enough to hear about an experience from someone else. You have to truly experience it for yourself. In yoga training, they say that the best way to learn how to teach is to be a student first. You do the posture before you teach it. You experience the meditation before you show it to others. You experience the thing–mind, body, soul–in order to see the contrast and gain the clarity you desire.

Today, go out there and experience something. Or, reflect back on past experiences. Notice the contrasts. Let the contrasts teach and guide you. And celebrate all the beautiful clarity gained.