One of the biggest lies of my life was this one: if you do your job constantly, if you listen to your folks obediently, nothing bad will happen to you. All you have to do in order to live a happy life is to play by the rules and everyone around you will do the same. If you listen to life, life will listen to you and will reward you back big time.
Well, guess what, it didn’t actually happen like this. I mean, I did my best to be obedient, to follow the rules, to do my job and not to harm anyone else, and yet, out of the blue, I got kicked straight in my ass. And not only once.
I’m sure you’ve been there too. And not only once. You did your job too, minding your own business, fulfilling your roles as a friend, employee or husband and then, kaboom, life hits you right in the groin, not only filling your entire being with unbearable pain, but also leaving you breathless, confused and defeated. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about business, about relationships or friendships or you name it. Sometimes you just get hit. At some point, if you’re a business man, competition will play dirty. Or employees will let you down. In your personal life, the persons you trust (or care for) the most will lie to you or dump you. In your casual circle, a friend will suddenly betray you. It will happen.
For a long time, I thought I didn’t do the right thing… you know, righteously enough. I thought I didn’t follow all the rules, or that I somehow misunderstood something. I thought it was my fault. This is what they teach you, anyways. If what you do doesn’t solve the problem, just use a bigger hammer. So I strived even harder. But surprise. Nothing changed.
As life unfolded, the tiny little crack I was just glimpsed at, became larger and larger. It looked like no matter what I did, the gap between what I expected and what I actually got grew bigger and bigger. It became obvious there wasn’t a direct link, or any causality whatsoever, between my obedience to the rules and the bad things that were happening to me.
To make a long story short, it took me a ginormous amount of time to realize that life really is random. That you can’t control it. That you can’t influence events. They will always happen somewhere outside you.
Oh, my god, stop it right here! Blasphemy!
How can someone who writes about goals, living a better life and improving your skills can come up with such an enormity? You can’t do anything about events? You just have to sit there and endure whatever comes in your face?
Well, not so fast, Jose, not so fast.
I didn’t say anything about what YOU have to do. I said something about events. About things that are happening to you. Those things, believe it or not, you aren’t able to control.
You can’t control the stock market. But you can see how she moves and take advantage of some opportunities.
You can’t control the weather (not unless you can detonate a huge atomic bomb, or generate a volcano eruption, that is). But you can assess the changes, evaluate them and then act on them. Put on lighter clothes if it’s getting warmer or take an umbrella if it’s going to rain.
You can’t control the behavior of your clients, if you run a business, not to mention competition. But you can observe the competition moves, read your customer feedbacks and then do whatever you have to do advance.
Are you with me now?
Truth is we have a very limited sphere of direct influence in this world. If you really look at it, it’s just a tiny bubble around us. You can control your body, your clothes, your moves. You can control your balance and your visual sensors as you walk outside of a building, for instance, but you can’t control a potential brick that may fall right into your head from the top of that building. You can observe it, of course, and avoid it. But the brick will be outside of your control zone.
The Randomness Of Life
We get a lot of “bricks form the top of the building” in our lives. We can spot some of them and timely avoid the impact. But some of them are invisible and we just get hit.
In the beginning, I was shocked by this discovery. The randomness of life seemed frightening. I thought I was helpless. I suddenly went to the other side and started to believe that no matter what I do, a brick will always fall down from the sky and ruin it. Of course it didn’t. So it took me a while to understand the meaning of the term “randomness” and also to adjust my position towards it.
And that’s how I started to study the “long lost art of adaptation”. Of course I don’t know if there is such an art, I just made it up. It made you click on the title, didn’t it?
Anyway, back to our story: art or science, adaptation is not only key to survival (as any serious biologist will confirm it for you) but it’s also important if you want to make the best of what you get. It’s at least a key skill and, as such, I firmly believe that it can be taught.
Without further ado, here’s a (crash) course on how to enhance your adaptability skills:
1. If Something Feels Like (Or Really Is) Wrong, Accept It First
Don’t fight evidence. If you get hit by a crisis, please admit that you are hit by a crisis and this is exactly what is happening to you. Don’t treat like an injustice. Don’t even think in terms of luck or bad luck. From a tiny point of view, at the exact moment of that event, it may feel like an injustice, but on a larger scale, it’s just another event in your life. So, instead of whining, crying and complaining about how bad life is treating you, just accept it. It’s another part of your life. It may be painful now, but it’s still your life.
2. Always Assess
After accepting it, start looking around and see what can really happen. Evaluate the harm done (or potential). Try to predict. Try to see what might go wrong. Or good. I can’t really remember any event in my life which was entirely good. Or bad. A wedding can be a good event, but if there’s a divorce 5 years later, well, I don’t know… Losing all your money may seem like a terrible thing to happen, but if you look at how this forced you to change your way of life, it may be something to ponder there…
3. Unfold Plausible Scenarios
After assessing, try to understand what you can do in the newly unfolded circumstances. But don’t limit yourself to just one thing. Don’t try to find the perfect solution. Make a few scenarios. Even better, try to develop a way of thinking in scenarios, whether you’re in a crisis or not. It will make miracles for your morale, believe me. Just try to project as many variables as you can. Don’t let anything out. Don’t believe in “this will never happen to me”. Everything you can imagine, can actually become an event.
4. Act, Don’t React
Accepting the catastrophe, assessing the damage, creating a few plausible scenarios, well, it’s not enough. You gotta act. Acceptance in itself will do nothing. Assessing in itself will do nothing as well. Those possible scenarios, as detailed and complete as they may be, won’t mean nothing. It’s action that changes things. So, just go ahead and make your best pick out of those scenarios. Just play your hand.
5. Rinse And Repeat
Once you acted, you’re already in a new context. Enjoy it. Be there, watch the surroundings and be ready for anything. It may be that the scenario wasn’t as good as you thought it may be. Ok, back to square number one. Try plan B. Or it may be that the plan really worked and now you’re out of the dangerous zone. Just be there and be alert. Enjoy what you have and live the best life you can live.
For it may fall apart again in a split of a second.