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Are you an extremist? Try this modern virtue



Calah Alexander - published on 06/08/18

Extremism in many forms has overtaken our society -- here's how to reverse the trend.

Human nature has tended to extremes since Aristotle famously wrote about bending the stick, but it seems we’ve never been more extreme than now.

The problem is, we’re not just extreme about one thing — we’re extreme about everything. There’s no single area of life that doesn’t have some subset of extremism attached to it — from exercise and work to politics and parenting, we’re bending those sticks so far backward that they’re sure to snap.

I’m 100 percent guilty of this, too. I’ve always had an extreme personality and tended to go all in on the next new thing, so the social support for and tacit approval of extremism is doubly bad for me. When I attend a meeting or conference for my job and they say something like, “Go big or go home!” my gut reaction is to say, “Oh, I’ll go big all right! BIGGER THAN ANYONE HAS EVER GONE BEFORE!”

This is a terrible trait to have when you’re trying to balance the scales between full-time work and full-time parenting. My kids have been missing me a lot, and I’ve been missing them, too — but not as much as I should be, because I’ve bent that stick way too far.

So when I read this article in praise of extreme moderation, I was hooked. I love that phrase — “extreme moderation” — because the paradox is so appropriate. Moderation as a guiding principle is absolutely an extreme in our society — one that I need some help figuring out how to adopt. From the article:

How do you put balance into practice? … Come up with your own guiding principle and make your own list of life pillars. Now do two things:
  1. Review the balance of the past seven years. What ratio of your time did you invest in each?
  2. What balance would you like for the next seven years?
Different phases of life will have very different goals and balances. In my thirties, I spent more time parenting than exercising. In my late fifties, that needs to change. But I don’t need to become a triathlete. Instead, I do some yoga every week and walk the dog daily. I eat well but don’t fuss. I work hard but not overtime. I try to love consciously, every day. To give back and to spend some time helping others. Could I do more? Yes, undoubtedly and in every area.

I think the last line is my favorite. She accepts the fact that she could do more with such grace and peace that I’m almost jealous. The fact is, when I realize I could be doing more I immediately throw myself into it, trying to do “more” until I burn out and end up doing nothing.

What I’ve got to make my peace with is the fact that I could always be doing more, always. There’s always more work to be done, more laundry to be folded, more meals to be prepped, more homework to help with, more children to hug, more stories to tell. There’s always someone who feels left out and some area where I feel that I’m lagging or lacking.

But if I’ve worked hard today and done my best to fulfill my obligations to work and fill the rest of my days with my family, it’s okay that there’s still more left over. There always will be. I can learn to let it go, rest, and enjoy the life I’ve been blessed with instead of letting it pass by while my nose is stuck on the grindstone.

That would be the very best kind of extremism.

Read more:
The difficult art of being present

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