Listen to Your Emotions
They’re telling you what you need
“I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life.” - Sylvia Plath
In my last post, I shared a tension I've been feeling between two parts of my identity. One part of me wants the safety of a corporate path. Another part of me wants the passion of a non-traditional path. These competing priorities create friction. I feel torn and uncomfortable with what I call my “duality of self”.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve heard from many of my readers who tell me that they feel this same tension.
I found solace in hearing that so many of you also feel this internal conflict and that we’re not alone in our pursuit of contending desires. While I’m not here to make this tension go away, I recently learned a concept that has been helping me make peace with it.
My good friend Mark Koslow from The Middle Path introduced me to a framework called Parts Work, also known as Internal Family Systems, that has helped me to reframe the tension I’m feeling. The idea is that we should continue to ask ourselves “why” when we come across two contradictory desires or emotions within ourselves. In his words:
“The core idea is that each individual has a variety of sub-personalities, or “parts,” and each of these parts has its own job or function. For example, I have one part that wants me to speed up and achieve more in my life. And I have another part that wants me to slow down and enjoy my life. This creates tension, as if I’m pressing on both the accelerator and the break at the same time. Parts Work helps resolve these conflicts by addressing the underlying “agendas” of these different parts.
The first step in resolving these conflicts is to identify the parts that are motivating our competing desires. Then, we can learn more about each part by asking it ‘what do you want for me?’.
Sometimes, we’ll learn that our competing parts actually share the same core desire, but have different strategies for getting it.”
Parts Work in Practice
When I’ve done this exercise for myself, I’ve come to learn that the root of my own contending desires between a corporate and non-traditional path is freedom.
Here’s how I landed on this understanding:
I ask myself, “what are the two things that are causing you to feel conflicted?”
It’s the back and forth pull of the question - should I continue pursuing a corporate path or a non-traditional one?
From there, I ask each of these competing pieces, “what do you want for me?”
My corporate path self says it desires security, while my non-traditional path self says it desires a sense of adventure.
“Well, why? What does security want for me vs. adventure?”
Security sees a clear path to success, measured by power and wealth. Adventure also sees a path to success. It allows me to define success in a different way, though. On my own terms where I optimize for happiness and play.
This is where the value of Parts Work begins to reveal itself. I start to see that these contending desires are actually more related than they seem. At face value, a corporate path and a non-traditional path are polar opposites. They make me feel like I have to pick one. That I can either be this or that. But I identify with both. Is that even allowed? Well of course, but it’s hard to accept until I realize that they both have something in common: success. Let’s keep going to see if there is greater similarity.
“If I had success, through either means, what would success want for me? Why is that important in the first place?”
In the corporate path, success means making sure I can minimize future regret. This looks like financial security, sure, but also security in knowing that there is a clear path forward. That I won’t have to carve my own way towards that security or be left asking “what if I had just climbed the ladder?”.
The non-traditional version of success also wants to minimize future regret. To really take in all that the world has to offer and allow myself to be fully immersed in my experiences. To not be left asking, “what if you had written out that script idea?”.
In both scenarios, I come to realize another common denominator: regret minimization. I crave a rich life full of exploring my interests. Regret minimization helps me to operate from a place of “If I didn’t do this at some point in my life, would I regret it?”.
From here, I’m able to see that the thing I’m really optimizing towards is freedom.
Freedom from regret.
Working through this framework has made the internal conflict that I’m feeling a bit easier to process. I’ve come to understand that the two contending desires I’m feeling both want one thing — freedom. That the parts of me that are seemingly in opposition with one another actually converge at their roots.
The point of asking ourselves the “why”and reflecting through these types of frameworks is to better understand different ways to process tension that exists within us all. To build up to the ability of holding two truths at once. To accept that our identities are not singular. Our stories, not linear.
I thought that passing this along has the potential to ease certain tension from the duality of self that you might be feeling as well. Through this lens, we’re able to gradually accept that the tension doesn’t ever go away, really. But that’s not the point, now is it?
(All Parts That are) Shiv
Stories by Shiv is part of Wayfinder, a writer collective exploring questions that matter.