I had the good fortune of securing my first job out of graduate school midway through the second and final year. Receiving and accepting the offer was a huge relief and cause for celebration. I had been married for a year, was close to finishing school and had a great job lined up… my life plan was on track. A couple months before graduation (and starting my new job) my wife told me she was pregnant. It would be an understatement to say that I was stunned, because I thought we had taken preventative measures. After purchasing every brand of pregnancy test at the local convenience store and my wife patiently taking each one, always with the same result, I realized the plan for my life had changed.
We definitely wanted to have kids, but we hadn’t finalized our desired timing for doing so. Needless to say, the law of cause and effect took control, and our first daughter was born 9 months later. Once the reality sunk in that this was happening, we shifted our outlook and focus to “getting ready” for the baby. That was both exciting and scary, as I imagine it is for nearly all new parents. I’m not sure anyone can actually be fully prepared for what a first child means or consumes (love, time, food, sleep, attention, money, etc), regardless of how much we try. Once our daughter was born we made the decision to have a second child, spacing them about two years apart. Looking back, I’m thrilled that we had our daughters when we did, even though it wasn’t exactly to plan.
In my experience, the ability to adapt is a differentiator throughout life. We adapted, adjusting course bigtime when we learned of this life-changing event. Thankfully, we had the benefit of months to attempt to prepare and the support of family and friends. Many times though, we don’t have the luxury of time to adapt to changes. Adapting successfully is a skill that must be learned. Additionally, there’s a difference between how we adapt inwardly and how we adapt outwardly.
Inwardly there likely wasn’t much difference in my reaction to the unexpected news of a first child than there was outwardly, at least to my wife to whom I’m pretty transparent. However, I’ve been in other scenarios where it was important that my inward adaptation was different from my outward adaptation. For example, when unexpected success happens to me and I’m around others who haven’t or won’t benefit from that success but expected to, I’ve learned to control my reactions out of respect even though I may be celebrating wildly internally. On the flipside, when unexpected success happens to others and I don’t benefit from it but was expecting to, I’ve learned to control my reactions of disappointment in light of someone else’s success. It’s this ability to control reactions and move forward that is the act of adaptation in these instances.
Our outward adaptations are almost always visible to others. What do you do when something good happens to you? What do you do when something bad happens to you? Our outward adaptation ability drives how we are perceived by others. When good news hits, do we gloat and take all the credit ourselves or are we humble and gracious in success, looking to those who may also have contributed to it and share the glory. When bad news hits, do we shut others out and fall into a downward spiral of self-pity, failure and shame or do we acknowledge the lessons learned and move forward. There will rarely be situations where it’s as clear cut as in these previous two sentences, but the sentiment is what’s important.
Adaptation is a choice and a skill. My observation is that each of us adapts to things daily, however the degree to which we do it well differs significantly. The definition of ‘adapting well’ is subjective and therefore driven by social norms and social acceptance at the time. Those who do it well may find navigating life to be a little easier and enjoyable than those who don’t.