“I swear, getting this new car is going to kill me!” said the woman next to me as she sat down with her friend. “My wife is chomping at the bit to take a test drive, but I’m still on the fence.”
Have you ever felt like the woman above? Someone else is hitting the gas, racing ahead, while you’re frantically trying to tap the brakes? That’s the perfect time to find the sweet spot between “your way” and “my way.” That’s the practice we’ve been talking about in the March topic, The Third Way.
It was hard to ignore the next table over. The lady loudly detailed the push-pull that had gone on for weeks. On the one hand, their car was starting to spend more time at the shop than it was in their garage. Her spouse was off and running, thinking how much joy their new car would bring as they took it up and down the Pacific coast on Summer family trips.
Meanwhile, her wife was nervous about the numbers. Balancing a car payment with the money they were socking away into their teenagers’ college fund was going to be a stretch.
The couple were at odds, but in a sense, they were also in sync. Why? Because they were each playing to their strengths. The storyteller was the rudder of the family, understanding the effect of a big purchase, both on their daily checking account balance and in the long run. Her wife counter-balanced her as the outspoken cheerleader, optimist and good-natured instigator. For their family, each perspective was equally important.
Their story points out the tension we all face in finding the third way. Designing solutions that work for everyone rarely happens when you’re bickering over who is in charge or who has the better argument. The third way appears when you harmonize diverse ideas and balance them with tolerance.
This month, we’ve learned how to use the third way to step away from struggle. We’ve flipped the bit on the traditional thinking that compromise makes you weak. Instead, we’ve made it synonymous with “being practical,” “showing wisdom,” and “maturity.” When you redefine compromise in those terms, navigating differences of opinion becomes a natural part of daily life. For example:
- In Go Beyond a Black and White World, we saw how Elena’s career challenge was internal. She had to resolve day-to-day realities with the aspirational movie that had been playing in her head.
- In The Most Generous Thing, Jana understood that you vs. me always fails. She avoided a showdown with her contractor by replacing panic and micromanaging with patience.
- Resign as Know It All showed how Martha and Sheryl had completely opposite work styles. Whenever they were at an impasse, they stepped back and changed the focus to their single common goal.
Discovering the third way takes practice. But it’s essential because without it, the high-minded principles we aspire to every day go out the window the second we’re in conflict. Don’t let old patterns of falling into aggravation and offense become the boss of you. Let’s leave those habits in the past, and make this the year we perfect the art of finding solutions.