Learning to see things grey

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Moving abroad helped me learn a lot about myself. I never knew how binary I was in some of my behaviors and perspectives until my international work environment made me aware of it.

One of the key things I learned about myself was that too often, I would see situations as either black or white. Things were either going well or going badly. I was either moving ahead in my career or falling behind. A person would either like me or simply be uninterested. Once a friend jokingly said I would be a "man of extremes". At first it sounded like a nice comment – if not even a compliment – but over time I saw that thinking and acting in extremes was hurting me more than helping me succeed in life. Especially outside the workplace. 

Turns out that life is full of grey situations. Life is full of uncertainty. Full of situations that are neither "Yes" nor "No", but subject to one of the endless variables in that grey area between black and white. As humans, we are limited by our subjective perspectives (which I consider strongly influenced by our experience, education and our personality — aspects that evolve over time). Given this limitation, not everything can fit into one of our neat little boxes that we have in our minds and with which we would like to interpret all the situations we encounter in our lives. 

Most recently, I applied to several MBA programs in the US. I was extremely fortunate that my top school invited me to interviews. So three weeks later I was anxiously waiting to hear back whether I was accepted or rejected. That's all I was expecting in that moment .. it was either going to be a Yes or a No. I opened up the notification message just to find out that I was waitlisted. Wait.. what!? I had no idea what that even meant. The only boxes in my head were "In" or "Out". Out of a sudden, I was thrown at this vast area of uncertainty. Having to wait, having to accept that I had done my best and that the final outcome would not be in my control anymore.

These types of grey areas can be quite unpredictable, confusing and seem unfair. Also, they come in all shapes and forms – they won't be always as definite as "Yes", "No" or "Maybe". To illustrate what I mean, just take 3 real physical items that you'd call white. Put them next to each other. You will see that these three items have different shades of white. Same thing if you take three physical items that you'd consider black. 

There are areas in which the range of shades of grey is far too vast to comprehend easily with the minds we have. Relationships between two people being one of them. In the business world for example, you will often find linearity in relationships of cause and effect. Example: You do a marketing campaign and your sales numbers increase (A led to B). In relationships though, you see B but it's extremely difficult to pinpoint A. Very often, there is no such thing as A, but B was caused by a multitude of factors that you can't even think of. There is this huge grey area in between what happens and what caused that event.  

This is more what situations in the real world look like. There are different types of Yes. There are different types of No. And in between, there is a multitude of situations that only reflect reality and the uncertainty we have to embrace in life. The more complex our world becomes (which it does), the more important it will be to learn to see things grey and to deal with it. A situation can be "just ok". Your career might find itself in a phase of stagnation. And the person that likes you, that person might just not be ready yet. Put aside your black and white thinking and learn to see things in different shades of grey.