Most of us eagerly and enthusiastically look forward to the holidays throughout the other eleven months of the year. Joyful festivities and celebrations infiltrate the monotony of our daily routines.  I’ve witnessed even the most taciturn among us conspicuously whistle a few bars of Deck the Halls. We walk with a little added spring in our steps. But let’s face it, the holidays are also a time of jam-packed schedules.  An heroic balancing act between personal and professional obligations culminates in a mad dash to tie up every loose end and finish the year strong. Stress levels can quickly skyrocket.

Every year I make a promise that I will not allow myself to get swept away by my task-oriented nature and my desire to take care of everything and everyone.  I swear that I will allow myself to simply sit back and take some time to just be and enjoy the holidays. And every year I end up overwhelmed and waking up on January 1st wondering where the heck the holidays went.

But this year I have a secret weapon. And it’s one that you can use, too! This year, I’m going to harness the power of polarity wisdom.

The InnerWill team got an early Christmas gift from Beena Sharma, an InnerWill Advisory Board Member.  Beena serves as President of the Center for Leadership Maturity.  She flew from her home in sunny California to spend a day at our Richmond headquarters to share her experience and deep wisdom in polarity management.

Polarities are two seemingly opposing values that can complement each other when applied in a balanced way. Here’s how Barry Johnson, the thought-leader who first introduced polarity management defines polarities: “Polarities to manage are sets of opposites that can’t function well independently. Because the two sides of a polarity are interdependent, you cannot choose one as a “solution” and neglect the other. The objective of the polarity management perspective is to get the best of both opposites while avoiding the limits of each.”

We deal with them every day, sometimes well and sometimes not so well. Often, we mistake polarities for problems. A problem is something that can be overcome – a solution exists, and only one solution can be chosen. A polarity, on the other hand, is ongoing and indestructible; the ideal solution isn’t to choice either one value or the other, but to figure out how and when to pursue both. Basically, anytime you are dealing with things that seem at odds with each other or paradoxical, you’re dealing with a polarity and not a problem. Or as Beena put it, “not all problems can be solved, some problems are polarities to be managed.”

We learned that highly effective leaders are effective partially because of their ability to manage polarities. And that life doesn’t always have to be “either/or”. It’s this shift from “either/or” to “both/and” thinking that leads to sustainable and successful efforts.

Polarity Wisdom for Stress Free Holidays

So, let’s look at my personal example at the top. For a stress-free holiday season, the polarities I’m going to focus are rest and activity. Beena taught us how to use a polarity map to help visualize “both/and” thinking.  Here’s mine: 

The holidays are truly the most wonderful time of the year.  I hope you find a nugget of wisdom in this concept and keep all of your days merry and bright!


Betsey Fortlouis

Betsey Fortlouis

Betsey has dedicated over 15 years of her career to driving awareness, support, and funding to nonprofits of all sizes. She is passionate about relationship building and believes that scalability and sustainability are at the center of an organization’s success. As our Director of Development and Partnerships, she is responsible for building partnerships and fostering connections with individuals, foundations, and corporations to advance InnerWill’s mission.

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