People like to profess the virtue of ideas that are incompatible with each other. “Look before you leap,” yet, “he who hesitates is lost.”
Sometimes these contradictions contain a more nuanced explanation. I believe that learning things spaced over time results in greater retention, yet I do short-term learning projects. But I follow those fast projects with slow habits, so it’s not as contradictory as it seems.
Other times the contradiction has no resolution because the aphorisms were poorly thought out in the first place. Here are two popular ones:
Personal growth and change is important.
Consistency is important.
Normally these two thoughts aren’t placed side-by-side, but it seems evident to me that they contradict. How can you claim the virtues of being a consistent person, while also claim the virtues of being a changing one?
Choosing Growth or Consistency
I bring up this contradiction out of many possible ones (much of half-baked philosophy is self-contradictory) because it’s been very important for me.
The social allure of consistency is strong. People want and expect you to be the same person, with the same beliefs, attitudes, dispositions and behaviors that you always have. When you change, regardless of whether you deem the change a positive one or a negative one, people will resist that.
If you’ve always been the shy person, and you start going out more, trying to socialize and meet new friends, your existing friends will resist that. “You’re going out too much.” “You’re neglecting your existing friends.” “You’re becoming loud and obnoxious.”
If you’ve always been the party animal, and you stop drinking, people resist. “You’re no fun anymore.” “You’ve settled down and become boring.”
If you’re overweight and start getting in shape, your friends comment that you look gaunt and need to eat more. If you dress shabbily and start wearing nicer clothes, people gawk at your new wardrobe, “What are you dressed up for?”
People want consistency in their friends and associates. That’s not a sign of weakness, just a sign that they’re human. If I have friends who make abrupt changes, I react the same way as anyone else—with suspicion and unease. I associated with them because of certain qualities, and now those qualities are changing. The instinctual reaction is to resist.
But inconsistency is often a small price to pay for improving your life. Staying out of shape because your friends look at you funny when you start eating salads seems like a pretty trivial excuse, but it is a powerful one.
I’ve always leaned heavily in favor of choosing growth in my own life. Part of that reflects my age. Young people should almost always choose growth over consistency because their relationships are more fluid, inconsistency is more easily excused when you’re young and there is enormous potential that can possibly be wasted.
But youth isn’t a requirement. I’ve had the pleasure of receiving emails from thousands of people in their 40s, 50s and 70s who see how consistency has held them back. Expectations for who they are calcified decades ago, and now they recognize that it’s not who they want to be. Choosing growth is hard.
Yet, choosing growth is a muscle. As you flex, you become stronger. If you regularly change, the people around you come to expect it. Those who can’t handle it leave.
But remember it is always a choice.