Is it really either-or?

I had a lovely lecturer called Desi Maxwell at Bible College, tasked with the unfortunate task of getting us awake and engaged at 9am on a Friday morning. Back then, I was NOT a morning person!

He used to effervesce across the front of the room, eyes twinkling as he told us repeatedly in his wonderfully sing-song Ballymena accent that ‘it’s not either-or, it’s both-and…’ His voice still echoes in my head when I’m in danger of reducing issues to simplistic conclusions of EITHER this OR, encouraging me to look for the overlooked BOTH- AND.

Let me give you an example:

A mindset gremlin tells you that you ‘ALWAYS’ get directions wrong.. so you’re either ALL good at directions or ALL bad with them.

Yet, in reality, the truth is more probably that You BOTH get directions right AND do sometimes get them wrong.

Top tip: As a human, we’re rarely so consistent as to be 100% anything, so LOOK FOR THE EXCEPTIONS!

Personal Example

I had the privilege of meeting up with my exceptionally talented bestie Karen Ann this morning, and I was reminded what a fantastic, wise woman she is. She’s one of my favourite humans on this planet.

Being friends for so long, we have candid conversations about all sorts of topics, including our different cultural, societal and general life experiences. Since Karen Ann has strong melanin and mine is vampirically poor, one of those topics cannot fail to be privilege related to the colour of each of our skin. On this, I am aware that I have privilege that this incredible friend of mine does not.

It might be tempting here to say that I am EITHER aware of my privilege OR blind to it. Yet, honestly?

I hold my hands up and own that:

I am BOTH aware of elements of privilege afforded me because of my whiteness, AND blind to other aspects of how that plays out in my favour and against her, on a daily basis. 

I do not know what it is like to be a person of richer colour than I am, and I don’t know what I don’t know. But I can do my damnedest to learn. And as I choose to become more aware of how that privilege plays out, my hope is that I can better lift others with me, rather than consciously benefit from it with nonchalance. That is my choice.

Top tip: While you have breath in your body, (and consciousness to do so), you can learn and grow. I double dog dare you to consider whether your worldview – framed by your experiences- could be enriched by learning from someone with a completely different background, culture or experience! It’s not always easy to hear, but my goodness it’s worth it.

Taking this to a different context

When I teach women how to work out where to start to launch into their own business, one of the things I hear often is that they feel they’re not ‘expert’ enough.

This comes back to an EITHER-OR dichotomy of thought: I have to know EVERYTHING before I can claim to know SOMETHING. Yet NONE of us know everything, we are ALL in process, so this is better thought of in terms of:

I BOTH know [your subject] AND am committed to keeping learning more.

Top tip: You don’t have to know everything to know something. Knowing the limits of your *current* knowledge is a valuable skill- not least because it can help you know when you need to point customers to further help, and it can inform what you need to learn next!

In conclusion

Although our insecurities and mindset gremlins often love to have us over-generalise and see things in simple EITHER- OR terms, I invite you to consider that this means ‘evidence’ of a BOTH-AND could be getting overlooked.

  • What does a gremlin gain in having you look at your life in simplistic terms?
  • Which EXCEPTIONS is it blinding you to?
  • What evidence of successes is the gremlin having you miss?
  • How might things be different if you were to find that there was a richer story of you than you’ve ever realised??

Over to you

What examples can you think of, when you’ve been tempted to fall into the EITHER-OR trap, where looking for the BOTH-AND would help you make a mental shift and move forward? Comment below!


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