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Life's Harmonic Dissonance

Life's harmony is wonderful, especially when all of the competitive demands on your time and energy are in a state of zen. "Life is good" is a phrase that comes to mind when things are working well. But the harmony can be disrupted, so it is important to expect those disruptions. After all, life's disruptions are what allow us to better understand ourselves and those around us. Through these experiences we test our limits, learn from our failings and create personal growth.

When Balance is Inharmonious 

Recently, a friend came to me with a confession that with a young family and a full-time job, the demands of attending college were simply more than the friend wanted to undertake. They felt like they were balancing three full-time endeavors. I listened, then provided my advice. The balancing of the three roles was creating undue stress and eventually will create resentment. I suggested that my friend take the summer and think about why they want to earn their degree. Is the reason intrinsic or extrinsic? Is this a journey toward an accomplishment, or the drudgery of yet another assignment/paper/test? Is there a belief that attaining a degree will help them in future endeavors and quench a thirst for knowledge, or is it resume fodder?

The harmonic dissonance of life is present whenever the value of the endeavor cannot harmonize with the sacrifice needed to achieve a goal. 

In the situation with my friend, it became obvious they were focused on the balance of family/work/education instead of the harmony of the activities. This is important, because family cannot be ignored, nor can the job that puts food on the table. The language used in the conversation was about time taken away from the family, and the idea that another degree will not have much of a return on investment at this point in their career

As I listened, I thought of a conversation I recently had with a few people in my residency class. It started with the question, "What are you going to give up to attain your doctorate degree?" My response was simple: It is not what is being given up, but what needs to reduce while emphasis on education increases. All of the other aspects of my life are still present, but the emphasis changed.

Making Beautiful Music 

In the metaphor of music, there are periods in the music when one sound will be emphasized over others. There is no better example of this than in classical music. When the brass and percussion are muted, the reeds and strings take on the role of telling the story. Then, ever so slowly, the other instruments join back in and transport the listener to the next crescendo. The harmony and changing emphasis are what transports us through life's challenges.

The nature of intrinsic motivation is that it comes from within yourself, whereas extrinsic motivation comes from outside yourself. A burning desire to earn a degree is intrinsic, but the promise of a promotion or money once you earn your degree is extrinsic. Generally, the changing emphasis of life's harmony requires either intrinsic or extrinsic motivation to complete a large endeavor. But, someone who has a comfortable income and is satisfied with their station in life is not going to seek extrinsic motivation. Instead, the motivation needs to come intrinsically.

When I touched on this topic with my friend, it became apparent they were lacking the motivation, thus causing dissonance. I think the discussion was illuminating, as my friend could not identify motivation to move beyond their current harmonic sequence. "Life is good," but could it be better? Perhaps that is the motivation my friend should be considering this summer.

Related content:

What is the Price of Life?

The Harmony of Life

Time Management, Change, Family

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