The British physicist Stephen Hawking famously said intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. I’d like to take this one step further and posit that the ability to adapt to change is not just a sign of intelligence, but is also one of the most important characteristics of life as a successful adult human being.
The need to maintain the status quo of our lives can be almost pathological. Even those of us who say we relish change find it a supreme effort to actually make it happen. For to embrace something new often means chucking out something old and familiar.
A new haircut is considered a brave move because it’s so much easier to just stick with the familiar. There’s no risk involved. No risk of ridicule or bad bed hair or cold ears.
More seriously, ending a bad marriage, for example, is perhaps one of the most difficult changes to instigate, because you don’t know if what you’re giving up is better or worse that what lies in your future.
Starting a new career is full of unknowns and so it’s often easier to just stick with what you know, no matter how much you’ve come to despise it.
Sometimes change is not our choice and is foisted upon us by bad luck or circumstance or other people. This is when our ability to adapt to our new situation can be the making or breaking of us. If we’ve had to manage change in the course of our lives before now, then we are much more likely to have the experiences to draw on to get us through it. Having survived before, we not only have some of the skills that we might need, but we most likely will also have the confidence and hence the courage to continue.
So where do we generally get this experience? You guessed it – our childhoods.
As parents, we think it’s a given that we try our best to keep things as familiar and safe for our children as possible. Be consistent, we are told. Maintain routine – kids thrive on it. All true, but not necessarily all the time.
I’m not saying we should carry around a bag of spanners, waiting opportunistically to throw them into the works of our kids’ lives, but when something untoward does happen, let’s embrace it as an opportunity to flex ours and their lateral thinking muscles. The smaller hurts and hardships of life may end up being the making of them and you.
Changing schools, not getting into a sports team, having their BFF go to another class or high school, having a shitty teacher, coming last or even coming second! can all be perceived ostensibly as negatives, but the ability to make the best of the bad fist could make today’s challenge tomorrow’s strength.
My own father used to spend three hours every day sitting in heavy traffic to get to and from his job in the city. At one stage he suggested that we move in closer. We recoiled in horror. Change schools? Noooooooooo. Ever the egalitarian father, he listened to us and kept on driving. Weren’t we lucky to have dodged that bullet? Not so much.
A few years after that, circumstances changed and what would have been a move to another school with my two brothers became a move to another country without them. Dad tried to save us from a change we resisted, but it eventually led to a crisis for him and the first of five high schools for me.
As exhausting and scary as it was to change schools every year, it certainly didn’t kill me, and yes it did, as they say, make me stronger.
Now, as an adult, I try to run towards change rather than away from it, because I know first hand that it’s coming after all of us and we’d better be prepared.