Virtues are amazing psychological assets that we can have, and every effort to develop them pays rich dividends. Yet, it is also true that every virtue casts a shadow. Our greatest strengths, when not balanced, are often the source of our greatest weaknesses.
Every virtue is a tool, and we need different tools for different jobs. To use a well-known metaphor: if all you have is a hammer, you will treat everything as a nail. The problem is that not everything is a nail. Therefore, you need to develop yourself holistically, and pay special attention to developing virtues that are opposite to the ones you already have. I call this principle balancing your virtues.
Here are some examples of virtues and opposing virtues.
The virtue of ownership is taking responsibility for everything in your life and focusing on what you can control. When you overplay this virtue and don’t balance it with the opposite virtue (letting go), then you become too hard on yourself, and may end up taking responsibility for things that you are not really responsible for.
The virtue of self-belief is having complete trust and faith in yourself, and being confident that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. When you overplay this virtue and don’t balance it with the opposite virtue (humility), you may tend to become arrogant, defensive, conceited, and reckless.
The virtue of perseverance is not giving up; it is continuing on your path despite challenges. When you overplay this virtue and don’t balance it with the opposite virtue (acceptance), you can stay far too long on a path that is no longer meaningful for you, or with a strategy that doesn’t really work anymore. You may become too stubborn, inflexible, and even blind to new input.
The virtue of sacrifice is making an offering and letting go of something you value in the present for the purpose of getting a greater reward in the future. When you overplay this virtue and don’t balance it with the opposite virtue (healthy enjoyment), you tend to be too future-focused, feel that you are not good enough, and have indulgence guilt.
This applies to all virtues. You need to balance kindness with boundaries, motivation with patience, consistency with adaptability, optimism with prudence, idealism with pragmatism. Each pair of opposing virtues gets balanced in a different way, and it’s not possible to cover them all here. The point of balance also varies from person to person, depending on your personality, lifestyle, and goals.
Keep this concept of opposing virtues as a general principle for yourself, and the how of it will emerge little by little in your life, as you strive to live with greater awareness and discipline.