Stop Living an Either-Or Life and Learn the Art of Holding Both

by Alli Polin on March 15, 2016

art of holding both

My internet went down, again. This time, it was in the middle of my mastermind call. It felt like a sign, on top of an already crappy morning, to call it a day despite the fact that was only 10:00 AM.

You know, days like that.

Both kids up with nightmares and in our room by 3:00 AM. (In case you’re wondering, queen beds do not fit four people well). We had two sleeping kids and two very awake adults who held emotions that were both loving and bitter all wrapped up in a not-so-pretty bow.

I tried to put their comfort above my own and spent a few hours going in and out of sleep imagining their early childhood. They are two years apart, and when they were young we’d pick them up and carry them around; they loved it. Their favorite was when we would “hold both.”

We’d pick one child up and then they’d start saying, “hold both!” and we’d lift the other child onto the opposite hip. It got harder and harder the older and bigger they got until one day it was impossible.

Once straightforward how to hold both, we had to find a new way. Now, holding both is cuddling on the couch during a bedtime show or in the early morning hours before school – not up in the air, on my hips, where I alone was carrying all of the burden. I needed support, a foundation to continue holding both.

The Art of Holding Both

You too are learning how you can fully show up holding both this AND that in your life and leadership.

Passion for your career AND love for your family.
Desire to be fit AND need to veg out once in a while.
Hard charging professional AND compassionate leader.
Committed friend AND recharged through time spent alone.
Engaged employee AND running a side hustle.
Social media addict AND devoted to in-person relationships.
Fiercely independent AND in a long-term relationship.
And, and, and…

You are complex because you carry these dichotomies with you everywhere you go. They are both equally a part of you and drive all that you do.

You may wonder, if you’re honoring one, are you really holding both?


Because holding both is about embracing the choice you make at this moment, without pushing the other part of you out of your being.

Here’s an example:
You need to stay late at the office to crank out a deliverable, and you’ll miss the kid’s bedtime.

We both know that it’s impossible to be two places at once. So, what do you do? You call and give your partner a heads up, and you call the kiddos to say sweet dreams.

You use the tools at your disposal (phone) and your foundation (your partner) to meet your commitment to work without forgetting about that other part of you. In fact, when holding both, you actively create an opportunity to be home early on another day and spend meaningful time together.

If you’re doing it daily, you need to take a look at where your life may be overfilled with tasks and to-dos (or a coach I know can help you). Of course, that doesn’t lessen your need or desire to learn the art of holding both.

It’s not easy, and it may, like my two kiddos in our bed, keep you awake at night. How can learn to honor both parts of you – especially when you feel like you’re standing in the middle of a tug of war?

Here are three things you can do right now to begin holding both instead of living an either-or life:

1) Know your boundaries and honor them.

Boundaries are your line in the sand. If you’re consistently getting pushed over that line by other people in your life, it’s time to stand strong.

TIP: Be intentional about what you’re saying yes to and what you’re saying no to as well. Also, be aware of who is getting the yes and the no.

2) Invest in your foundation.

Just like I could not longer pick up my kids on my own, you too need a foundation or framework to enable you to hold both – you don’t need to do it on your own.

TIP: Ask for help when you need it and trust the other person and their capabilities to get things done.

3) Go all-in.

This may seem counterintuitive. If you’re all in on one side, aren’t you ignoring the other? The truth is, when you’re giving less than your all to everything, it all suffers.

TIP: Give it your all where you are. With friends? Be fully present. Taking a hike? Be all there – mind, body, and spirit. Split focus means missing out – who wants that?

Holding both is truly about living a robust life of your design and allowing yourself to create moments that make it meaningful. Will there be sacrifices? Heck, yeah. Will there be times you do a crappy job? Definitely. Will it be worth it? Absolutely.

Life does not have to be either-or. Life can be this AND that when you are willing to do the work to create a balance that works for you.

You can learn to hold both even when the burden feels heavy. You can, I promise.

How have you mastered “holding both” in your life and leadership? What have been your biggest lessons?


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™ March 15, 2016 at 8:14 am

LOVE this topic Alli. Either/or views of the world shut out so much. So often when I have felt a bit stuck, I ask myself what am I not seeing? What am I shutting out?

Balance and success come to us when we see that life is not binary.



Alli Polin March 15, 2016 at 7:24 pm

Well said, Kate! Life is not binary no matter how many times we think that if it were, things would be so much easier. In truth, life would also be so much less juicy too.


~ Alli


Terri Klass March 15, 2016 at 9:37 am

First let me congratulate you on living up to your dare! I am working on mine and have started exploring a particular collaboration.

I love your post as it describes so many of the challenges I have faced and still continue to face. So the lesson I have learned that has guided me about “holding both” is that we can do everything in our lives just not at the same time. We need to cut ourselves some slack when we can’t follow through as well on a particular area. It’s ok.

Thanks Alli for your insights as always and will share your words today!


Alli Polin March 15, 2016 at 7:26 pm

That’s advice we all need to tell ourselves over and over… we know from studies that our effectiveness goes down the more we try to multi-task. Why do we assume that doesn’t apply to these bigger things in our lives too? Focus creates stronger results every time but that doesn’t mean that we can’t shift our energy and focus where we need to the most in this moment.

Thanks, Terri!


LaRae Quy March 15, 2016 at 11:51 am

Well said, Alli! We actually limit ourselves when we opt for the “either/or” approach to life. Who said we can’t have it all? Maybe not in the doses we once thought, but I refuse to sacrifice—there are always options and the key is to have the grit to keep looking for the right balance.


Alli Polin March 15, 2016 at 7:27 pm

Grit! Yes! It truly isn’t easy and there will inevitably be many times that we get the balance wrong (and kick ourselves in the process). Love that you refuse to sacrifice – following your lead!

~ Alli


John Bennett March 15, 2016 at 5:20 pm

What a great topic and post!!! I’m thinking about this in terms of those situations where a decision is needed from a group (with the person in charge hopefully a leader and not a manager –> best alternative rather than the choice of the “most popular” or, even worse, the manager’s choice). It is presumed that, at the start, the options are what each person including you believe is best.

Again, the ‘boss’ could call the meeting knowing the choice was already set –> the boss’s way. Pretty much no difference between holding all or choosing one since all a sham.

Or it could be that all options are introduced and discussed –> with one option OR a compromise of two or more options is chosen. Some holding all if compromise is sought… BUT compromise is not a good option since those involved like will revert back to their chosen one, undermining the compromise…

And then there is the truly ‘all holding all’ option. Everyone of course will have their choice (or should have if the meeting purpose is made clear) as the meeting starts. All options, brought to the meeting or developed there, are introduced and discussed. NOW THE DIFFERENCE: every person holds all options with the discussion supporting finding the BETTER ALTERNATIVE – an option everyone at the meeting believes is better than any option brought to the meeting or developed early on in the meeting! This is not just another name for a compromise; a compromise doesn’t work to get everyone’s believing it to be better that their favorite. AND in developing the compromise, I would be shocked if everyone held all options.

If you don’t recognize this thinking, it is the “Third Alternative” approach championed by the late Stephen Covey. In fact, it was the subject of his last book!!! He used ‘third’ because he simplified to two options; I generalize to ‘better’ to suggest there are usually more than two options!

Love to expectations and the importance of ‘holding all’!!!


Alli Polin March 15, 2016 at 7:32 pm

Thanks for adding such a robust response, John! Yes, the third alternative, when arrived at through a powerful collaboration with open minds and a determination to co-create is powerful.

Fantastic reminder that when we empower team members to hold both, together they can create a stronger future!

~ Alli


Jon Mertz March 15, 2016 at 10:43 pm


Investing in your foundation supports current efforts while building for a future in which we can dance to the tempo that fills our lives with greater purpose. It does take an AND to make this happen!



Scott Mabry March 16, 2016 at 9:36 pm

Love this message, Alli. Also, love the personal story you shared. I remember those times. I call it living in the tension (holding both) and believe there is no better way to approach life. I sometimes admire people that seem so single-minded but I know that’s not for me. I think many people will appreciate this encouraging message.


Alli Polin March 16, 2016 at 9:55 pm

Thank you, Scott. It’s a beautiful way to put it – living in the tension. I’m with you too… It’s holding both and living in the tension that creates a robust life.

~ Alli


Cynthia Bazin March 18, 2016 at 7:02 am

Excellent article Alli! I love the tips you provide so that we don’t have to be ‘one or the other’. Beautifully put with your examples. Love this! THANK YOU!


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