My friend R. is a brilliant guitarist who spends a lot of time on the road. Road trips and trans-Atlantic flights can get long, and musicians tend to be a pretty funny bunch, which is, I suspect, how R.’s “North Pole, South Pole” game came into existence. The game goes something like this:
“Hey, Hil. North Pole, South Pole. Would you rather live in a remote village in Papua New Guinea with all your favorite records OR in New York City, but you’d never be able to hear music again?”
“Okay, North Pole, South Pole. Would you rather write ‘jazz is dead’ 5000 times on a chalkboard OR be forced to transcribe every note of a Shooby Taylor solo?”
And so on.
Now, it’s fun to play “North Pole, South Pole” on an endless road trip or after a couple of beers, but we engage in real-life “North Pole, South Pole” thinking at our own psychological peril. Regarding our life choices as binary, “either/or” propositions can actually leave us with some pretty miserable options:
“I can be an artist and live in abject poverty, OR I can give up my creativity and be financially stable.”
“I can have independence and a strong sense of self, OR I can sublimate my identity and be in a relationship with someone.”
“I can be liked OR I can say what I think.”
“I can have a career OR a family.”
At times, I’ve bought into every single one of the “North Pole, South Pole” scenarios listed above. But, invariably, whenever I start to paint the world in black-and-white, Life comes along and throws a bunch of gray onto the canvas. Free from “North Pole, South Pole” thinking, our choices, our challenges, become about balance. How can we:
…pursue our creative potential while maintaining financial solvency?
…connect wholeheartedly to our partners without losing our connection to our individuated Selves?
…articulate our own needs and ideas with the right blend of assertiveness and compassion?
…navigate the distance between our home life and our life’s work?
Not surprisingly, the answers to our biggest, most pressing questions can’t be found in a game of “North Pole, South Pole.” Truth, like people, tends to live somewhere in the middle.