The Most Powerful Paradoxes of Life
Today at a Glance
- The world is not black and white. Many of life's most important truths appear contradictory on the surface.
- A paradox is defined as a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement that, when investigated or explained, may prove to be true.
- This piece shares 20 of the most powerful paradoxes of life.
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It's tempting to view the world as black and white. It's much safer and easier to assume that everything is static. That you live in a world that can be predicted with ease. That what you see is what you get.
Unfortunately, the world is much more complex than that.
In fact, many of life's most important truths appear contradictory on the surface.
A paradox is defined as a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement that, when investigated or explained, may prove to be true.
Over the years, I have compiled a list of these paradoxes—the important truths that govern our lives and defy our desire for static safety.
Here are 20 of the most powerful paradoxes of life...
The Growth Paradox
Growth takes a much longer time coming than you think, but then happens much faster than you ever thought possible.
Growth happens gradually, then suddenly.
The best things in life come from allowing compounding to work its magic.
Slowly, then all at once.
The Persuasion Paradox
Have you ever noticed that the most argumentative people rarely persuade anyone of anything?
Persuasive people don't argue—they observe, listen, and ask thoughtful questions.
Argue less, persuade more.
Persuasion is an art that requires a paintbrush, not a sledgehammer.
The Productivity Paradox
Work longer, get less done.
Parkinson's Law says that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. When you establish fixed hours to your work, you find unproductive ways to fill it.
Work like a lion instead—sprint, rest, repeat.
The Fear Paradox
The thing you fear the most is often the thing you most need to do.
Fears, when avoided, become limiters on our progress.
The most successful people in the world have all made a habit of running towards the thing the scares the hell out of them.
Make a habit of getting closer to your fears—treat them as magnets for your energy and you'll find growth on the other side.
The Intelligence Paradox
Intelligence can lead to stupidity.
Highly intelligent people are more likely to fall victim to stupidity by convincing themselves they are smarter than the system. They create complexity vs. doing the boring, easy thing that works.
Never outsmart yourself.
The Advice Paradox
Taking more advice can leave you less well-prepared.
Harsh Truth: Most advice sucks. It's well-intentioned, but it's dangerous to use someone else's map of reality to navigate yours.
Winners develop filters and selectively implement advice—take the signal, skip the noise.
The Effort Paradox
Effortless, elegant performances are simply the result of a large volume of effortful, gritty practice.
You have to put in more effort to make something appear effortless.
Small things become big things, simple is not simple.
The Wisdom Paradox
"The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know." - Albert Einstein
The more you learn, the more you are exposed to the immense unknown. This should be empowering, not frightening.
Embrace your own ignorance. Embrace lifelong learning.
The Opportunity Paradox
Take on less to accomplish more.
Success doesn't come from taking on everything that comes your way. It comes from focus—deep focus on the projects that really matter.
Say yes to what matters, say no to everything else. Your time is an asset to be cherished.
The Boredom Paradox
The most creative, captivating ideas stem directly from periods of intense boredom.
You're bored, your mind wanders, your thoughts mingle—creative insight strikes.
Boredom sparks creativity. Schedule more of it into your weeks.
The Social Media Paradox
More connectedness, less connected.
Social media has created more connectedness than ever before, but we feel less connected to those around us.
Schedule time to disconnect and you will feel more connection.
The Failure Paradox
You have to fail more to succeed more.
Our transformative moments of growth often stem directly from our toughest moments of failure.
Don't fear failure—learn to fail smart and fast. Never fail the same way twice.
Always put yourself in the arena.
The Talking Paradox
"We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." - Epictetus
Talk less to say more.
If you want your words and ideas to be heard, start by talking less and listening more. You'll find more power in your words.
The Speed Paradox
You have to slow down to speed up.
Slowing down allows you to restore your energy, notice things you previously missed, be more deliberate with your actions, and focus on the highest leverage opportunities.
Move slow to move fast.
The Looking Paradox
Stop looking in order to find what you're looking for.
Ever notice that when you're looking for something, you rarely find it? Stop looking—what you're looking for may find you.
Applies equally to love, business, happiness, and life.
The Icarus Paradox
Icarus crafted wings and took off in flight. He became emboldened by his success and flew too close to the sun, which melted the wings and sent Icarus falling to his death.
An incumbent achieves success with one thing, but overconfidence blinds them to coming disruption.
What makes you successful can sow the seeds of your downfall.
The Shrinking Paradox
You may need to shrink before you can grow.
Growth is never constant and linear. Subtraction may feel like a step back, but it's a necessity for long-term growth.
We all need to embrace the mantra of "less, but better."
One step back, two steps forward is a recipe for consistent, long-term success.
The Money Paradox
You have to lose money to make money.
Every successful investor and builder has stories of the invaluable lessons learned from a terrible loss in their career.
Sometimes you have to pay to learn. Always put skin in the game.
The News Paradox
The more news you consume, the less well-informed you become.
Nassim Taleb's "noise bottleneck" concept suggests that more data leads to a higher ratio of noise-to-signal, so by consuming more, you end up knowing less about what's actually going on.
Want to know more about the world? Turn off the news and go spend time in it.
The Death Paradox
You have to know your death to truly live your life.
Memento Mori is a Stoic reminder of the certainty and inescapability of death. It's not intended to be morbid—but to clarify, illuminate, and inspire.
By accepting our time as finite, we are able to appreciate its precious nature.
Those are 20 of the most powerful paradoxes of life.
Fall in love with the beauty in the dynamic complexity all around us. Study the contradictions, know the pitfalls, and embrace the little bits of chaos. This is the recipe for a life well lived.
What would you add to the list? What important truths of your life often appear contradictory on the surface?