Think Like an Angle: Seek Complementary, Not Congruent Relationships

Who knew that math could teach us so much about life? This week, my students started their unit on geometry, learning about the relationship(s) between two angles. There are two that stand out: congruent and complementary. Two angles are congruent when they are exactly the same, like in shape and size. On the other hand, two angles are complementary when they add up to a right angle of 90 degrees, sameness no matter.

If I was an angle, I spent most of my life seeking congruent relationships. At a house party or some social event? Connect with those individuals who like the same music, read the same books, and watch the same films as me. Picking which guy to date? Take the one who is most like me, the one who has checked off the same boxes in life.

These past few years, I have realized the error of my ways. When you spend your most important relationships with someone just like you, you stunt your own growth. How much can you learn from someone who does the same things you do? Congruent relationships are dangerously comfortable: they keep you in the status quo.

Knowing this truth, what does it mean? Psychologist Lee Vygotsky once said that the best kind of learning happens at the zone of proximal development, the area between where you are and where you want to be. To operate in the zone of proximal development, individuals must work alongside someone who pushes their limits, who inspires them to take on new challenges, and who helps them acquire new skills. Complementary relationships do exactly that.

A complementary partner is not a polar opposite, but is not an identical copy either. You share core values like career and family, but can differ on many other things, like hobbies, food, and music. He or she is aligned on the things that matter, yet different enough to teach you something new. We want compatibility, not conformity.

What is great about this knowledge is that it is applicable to every area of life involving social interaction, from work to dating. Want to recruit early hires for your startup? Find individuals compatible with your work culture, but who have different skills from your own. Want to explore new things in your social and physical life? Make friends with people who have their own and different ways of staying active. Seek out difference.

Entrepreneur Michael Hyatt, founder of BlueCat Networks, once famously said: "Work on your strengths, and hire your weaknesses." Wiser words have never been spoken.