The most Powerful Paradoxes of Life

I loved this twitter thread from Sahil Bloom on life’s great paradoxes. I believe that developing the mental ability to deal with the existence of paradox is an important part of becoming wise.

Sahil’s initial tweet…

What is a Paradox?

A paradox is two seemingly opposite things that seem impossible but are actually both true.

I’ve been interested in paradoxes for the last decade. In 2008 things fell apart for me and I needed to change my mental approach to life. Not everything is in my control. Paradoxes have something of the zen koan idea to them. The harder you think about them the more lost you get – you can only approach these ideas through intuition or acceptance. Part of a mature, wise approach to life is acceptance that I control very little in life, but I that cannot let that sense of powerlessness lead me to apathy.

Sahil’s List of Life’s Paradoxes

The most powerful paradoxes of life:

1. The Persuasion Paradox

Have you noticed that the most argumentative people rarely persuade anyone?

The most persuasive people don’t argue—they observe, listen, and ask questions.

Argue less, persuade more.

Persuasion is an art that requires a paintbrush, not a sledgehammer.

2. The Effort Paradox

You have to put in more effort to make something appear effortless.

Effortless, elegant performances are often the result of a large volume of effortful, gritty practice.

Small things become big things. Simple is not simple.

3. The Wisdom Paradox

“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

Albert Einstein

The more you learn, the more you are exposed to the immense unknown.

This should be empowering, not frightening.

Embrace your own ignorance. Embrace lifelong learning.

4. The Growth Paradox

Growth takes a much longer time coming than you think, and then it happens much faster than you ever would have thought.

Growth happens gradually, then suddenly.

When you realize this, you start to do things differently.

5. The Productivity Paradox

Work longer, get less done.

Parkinson’s Law says that work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

When you establish fixed hours to your work, you find unproductive ways to fill it.

Work like a lion instead—sprint, rest, repeat.

6. The Speed Paradox

You have to slow down to speed up.

Slowing down gives you the time to be deliberate with your actions.

You can focus, gather energy, and deploy your resources more efficiently.

It allows you to focus on leverage and ROI, not effort.

Move slow to move fast.

7. The Money Paradox

You have to lose money in order to make money.

Every successful investor & builder has stories of the invaluable lessons learned from a terrible loss in their career.

Sometimes you have to pay to learn.

Put skin in the game. Scared money don’t make money!

8. The News Paradox

The more news you consume, the less well-informed you are.

The Taleb noise bottleneck: More data leads to a higher noise-to-signal ratio, so you end up knowing less about what is actually going on.

Want to know more about the world? Turn off the news.

9. The Icarus Paradox

Icarus crafted wings—but flew too close to the sun, so they melted and he fell to his death.

What makes you successful can lead to your downfall.

An incumbent achieves success with one thing, but overconfidence blinds them to coming disruption.

Beware!

10. The Failure Paradox

You have to fail more to succeed more.

Our greatest moments of growth often stem directly from our greatest failures.

Don’t fear failure, just learn to fail smart and fast.

Getting punched in the face builds a strong jaw.

11. The Hamlet Paradox

“I must be cruel only to be kind.”

Hamlet

In Hamlet, the protagonist is forced to take a seemingly cruel action in order to prevent a much larger harm.

Life is so complex.

The long-term righteous course may be the one that appears short-term anything but.

12. The “Tony Robbins” Paradox

In investing, the willingness to admit you have no competitive advantage can be the ultimate competitive advantage.

Strong self-awareness breeds high-quality decision-making. Foolish self-confidence breeds nothing of use.

Be self-aware—act accordingly.

13. The Shrinking Paradox

In order to grow, sometimes you need to shrink.

Growth is never linear.

Shedding deadweight may feel like a step back, but it is a necessity for long-term growth.

One step back, two steps forward is a recipe for consistent, long-term success.

14. The Death Paradox

Know your death in order to truly live your life.

Memento Mori is a Stoic reminder of the certainty and inescapability of death.

It is not intended to be morbid; rather, to clarify, illuminate, and inspire.

Death is inevitable. Live while you’re alive.

15. The Say No Paradox

Take on less, accomplish more.

Success doesn’t come from taking on everything that comes your way.

It comes from focus—deep focus on the tasks that really matter.

Say yes to what matters, say no to what doesn’t.

Protect your time as a gift to be cherished.

16. The Talking Paradox

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

Epictetus

If you want your words and ideas to be heard, start by talking less and listening more.

You’ll find more power in your words.

Talk less to be heard more.

17. The Connectedness Paradox

More connectedness, less connected.

We’re constantly connected, bombarded by notifications and dopamine hits.

But while we have more connectedness, we feel less connected.

Put down the phone. Look someone in the eye. Have a conversation. Breathe.

18. The Taleb Surgeon Paradox

Looking the part is sometimes the worst indicator of competency.

The one who doesn’t look the part has had to overcome much more to achieve its status than the one from central casting.

If forced to choose, choose the one that doesn’t look the part.

19. The Looking Paradox

You may have to stop looking in order to find what you are looking for.

Have you noticed that when you are looking for something, you rarely find it?

Stop looking—what you’re looking for may just find you.

Applies to love, business, investing, or life…

20. The Constant Change Paradox

“When you are finished changing, you are finished.”

Benjamin Franklin

The only constant in life is change.

Entropy is reality.

It’s the one thing you can always count on—the only constant.

Embrace it—be dynamic, be adaptable.

21. The Control Paradox

More controlling, less control.

We have all seen or experienced this as children, partners, or parents.

The most controlling often end up with the least control.

Humans are wired for independence—any attempts to counter this will be met with resistance.

22. The Fear Paradox

The thing we fear the most is often the thing we most need to do.

Fears—when avoided—become limiters on our growth and life.

Make a habit of getting closer to your fears.

Then take the leap (metaphorically!)—you may just find growth on the other side.

More from Sahil’s blog:

  1. The Power Business Writing Guide: His most viewed article of 2021. A guide to writing more effectively at work.
  2. The Cold Email Guide: One cold email can change your life. A guide to sending better cold emails.
  3. Principles of Effective Storytelling: Storytelling is a powerful, underrated business and life skill. A piece on how to do it better.
  4. Principles of Life: An honest, open reflection on the core principles I want to teach my son as he grows up.
  5. How to Win (without talent or luck): A playbook for winning at life.

Follow @SahilBloom for more threads on growth, business, and decision-making.

If you liked this post, you will also like Finding Balance between Ambition and Peace of Mind, External vs Internal Success and Agonizing over Decisions.

Author: Conor Neill

Hi, I’m Conor Neill, an Entrepreneur and Teacher at IESE Business School. I speak about Moving People to Action.