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Is Binary Thinking Spoiling Your Beautiful Freedom?

By: Dana Poul-Graf, Founder & Strategic Thought Partner, Key&Spark

I feel a power in me that I must develop, a fire that I may not put out but must fan, although I don’t know to what outcome it will lead me.  

~ Vincent Van Gogh

Do you, like Van Gogh, feel a power, a fire, a spark that you can not put out but must fan and ignite?  

A close friend of mine held several prominent positions at large corporations. When he left his last role unexpectedly, he found himself seeking similar roles where he could continue to add the same value. 

It’s natural. Most humans prefer known outcomes, which leads us to tie our identity to one role or title.

  • I’m the VP of product.
  • I’m the CEO.
  • I’m the head of marketing.

But when we connect our identities to one role, we may find ourselves stuck in binary thinking, pursuing lateral moves or upward mobility when the role ends, whether due to layoff, firing, or even personal desire.

There’s nothing wrong with moving laterally or upwardly. But sometimes, people making such moves forget to look under the surface to find their fire and to see where it might lead them.

I see this frequently in my clients. Without understanding the fire inside, they get caught up in circumstances, looking for the next activity, the next project, the next role—the thing they hope will give them the same sense of accomplishment and value. 

Then comes doubt, which can lead them to step into a job or a salary they think should satisfy.  In a few months, after the ‘honeymooon’ phase is over, they find themselves feeling the opposite, surprised that even though they sacrificed and went for the right job, they still lack fulfillment.   

That’s when I ask: What lies underneath? What’s your authentic essence? How does it come to expression in your profession? In marketing lingo, what’s your unique selling point? 

If you don’t know your passion and unique capability, you can’t follow it, which allows a huge part of your intellectual capacity to be occupied by fear, worry, and comparisons. You find it hard to make good decisions. Rather than deciding based on your authentic fire, you decide based on a role or how much you should earn or, worse, based on fear and doubt. 

As my friend and I spoke, he began to see beyond traditional, binary thinking. He realized that it needn’t be this role or that, all or nothing. He soon realized his true value wasn’t in the obvious role—it was in what lay beneath the obvious, in his superpower or zone of genius. That understanding opened his mind to many more options. 

And then, as if a spark ignited his fire, he experienced a beautiful freedom.

His energy returned. His motivation increased. He found the courage to venture out of his comfort zone and experiment with a new way of being. He saw other options and began feeling playful, leaning in on mentoring, contracting opportunities, and board-level engagements, opportunities that, in turn, led to even more opportunities. 

By focusing on his unique way of adding value to the world, his life and work became more playful.   

Another friend of mine, a former colleague, has a habit of picking up a corporate role, saving as much money as he can, quitting and traveling, and then repeating the process: Another role, more savings, quit, more traveling.

To help him find his next role, I asked him a series of questions:

  • What are your unique skills?
  • What do you love about your work?
  • Where are you when your passion comes out and you forget about time?
  • How are you different from the 700 other candidates?

I asked because I wanted to speak to my network about more than just his skills; I wanted to share what’s unique in how he delivers his skills, where he’s most effective, what he’s passionate about, and where his fire lies.

When you don’t know these things about yourself, you might see the world in a binary way. It’s ones and zeros, this or nothing. And that sort of thinking limits your options.

But once you can express your zone of genius, superpower, or unique selling point, your spark ignites a fire. You gain freedom and dramatically increase your opportunities, concretely and abstractly—concretely, in that your network will know how to speak to your abilities; abstractly, in that your mind will be more open to receiving or uncovering opportunities you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. 

In this state of mind, you’re not looking for a specific role or environment where you can apply your current potential; now, you’re looking for further growth through people, places, and projects where you can add value by doing what you enjoy and gives you satisfaction.

If you see yourself in this post, caught in the trap of this-or-that binary thinking, let’s have a conversation. I’d love to help you uncover, spark, and unleash your fire.