Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Benefits of Being Flexible

I was reading a comment from a reader about the last post and had to agree that when people are under pressure (like from the current economic problems we are facing) they can tend to flip out at the least little thing (which for them may be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back). This is where the ability to be flexible--in thinking, in expectations, in creativity, in compassion for others, in all other facets of your life--comes into play.
People can become pretty set in their ways, especially as we get older and/or live life in a very vacuum-like setting. A couple hundred years ago, change came slowly and the pace of life was pretty much the same for most people, their kids, their parents, and everyone else they knew. Fast forward to today when change is happening nearly at the speed of light. One day you are messing around on your computer and a few days later your little creation is getting bought by Google for millions of dollars.
The opposite can also be true--one day you are mowing the lawn around your suburban home, thinking about the day you just had at work, and wondering how you are going to pay for junior's college (because after all your parents mowed the yard around their home, dad's job kept the family in clothes and paid for enough food so that no one went hungry, and they somehow managed to send you to college, just like everyone else you knew--see how the expectation becomes set?). Within a few days you find out that your job is history, your adjustable rate mortgage went through the roof, and junior's SAT scores will barely qualify him for community college--and there are no scholarships in sight. That kind of thing can send people over the edge, especially if they have followed all of the "rules", tried to be good, productive members of their community, and paid their tithe in church each week. Sudden change, especially when it is the negative variety, can have a dramatically bad effect on people who have certain expectations about the way things are "supposed to be."
This is where having the ability (and skills) to be flexible comes into play. Here's a handful of my rules about being flexible:
  • I have two priorities in life, the spouse/kids and the rest of the family. If I have nothing else but these people around me, I will be a happy camper because I can be content with these people and it won't matter if I am eating "rice and fishheads" as one friend puts it, if I am wearing a suit or a clearance outfit from Walmart, or if I live in a tent or a big house.
  • I love a new adventure. From my point of view, the more situations change, the more opportunities there are.
  • I don't need much stuff to live. Read Waldon Pond or blogs from the many other minimalists out there. Try backpacking for a couple of weeks or traveling overseas with only what you can put in a carry-on bag and you will see how very little you actually need to survive.
  • Get rid of any preconceived notions about how things "are supposed to be." Preconceived notions can often be wrong. When I had the opportunity to be an exchange student in Japan, Granddad was partially horrified--he said the "Japs" were going to get me. From his experiences in WWII, he had one idea about how Japanese people were and that was as far as his mind would allow him to think. Fortunately I didn't let his preconceived notions slow me down and I went on to experience many amazing things it what is a pretty wonderful (albeit different) country. Different from what you are used to is not necessarily bad.
  • Keep a positive attitude. Grandma was the most positive person I know and she had every right not to be. She lived through Prohibition, the Depression, getting married at 16, having her husband shot and killed at 17, moving across the country to start a new life... Bad things happen to everyone at one time or another--sometimes what seems like a lifetime of bad experiences all seem to hit within the same couple of months--but with a positive attitude, things tend to work out well in the end.
  • Think about things from all angles, and do your due diligence research, before you make a judgement. It's easy to lump all things, and in many cases all people, together and judge them as a whole. Over the course of my life I have learned that #1--You need to judge people individually--most are good, a few are bad, and you often can't tell this just by looking at a person. #2--The economy goes in waves. Remember the 70s? It was similar to what was going on now with a couple of differences. For instance, I can't believe so many people took out adjustable rate mortgages on their homes then were shocked when they adjusted astronomically, but then again, I saw this happen in the 70s so I wasn't surprised when such a thing happened but others who weren't around then were. #3--There are two sides to every issue. Am I thrilled with 'Obamacare'? No, but then again I already have pretty comprehensive (basically free) health insurance. If I just had a child born with a major medical problem and I had no insurance at all I would probably be singing a different tune. #4--That it is easy to jump on the bandwagon with the media and other talking heads goading you so you have to be aware of such a possibility and think for yourself. The immigration opponents want to "send all of the illegals back to Mexico". Never mind that the cost to deport 12 million people would be unfathomable, illegal immigrants are hardly all Mexicans (they can be white, black, and all colors in between), and the small fact that if I lived in a dangerous and horribly poor country that was just a walk away from a rich, first world country I would probably be walking over here myself.

Being flexible is a mental skill, an attitude really, that can either carry you to wonderful experiences and great success in life or bury you under a pile of unmet expectations. Which one will you choose?


  1. In the interest of being flexible, I'd like to hear you argue the opposite point of view. Those who call themselves "flexible" often have the spine of Gumby. They "go along, to get along". They stand for nothing and fall for everything. Being Flexible, sound great, as does having an "open mind" I often find such "free thinkers" just as rigid in their beliefs as those they criticize.

  2. Good point Anon. I guess it is up to each person to determine what flexible means to them. Although "bend don't break" seems to make sense...