Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been. When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day. What follows is one piece of that advice. I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.
The really happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery when on a detour.
When I was in graduate school, a professor gave me a criticism which I took to be a backhanded compliment. “The problem with you, young man,” he said, “is that you’re always trying to change the rules to suit you.”
Obviously, we can’t always change the rules to our liking. The fact that we don’t agree with something doesn’t mean we can ignore it. You may think the speed limit is unreasonably low on a certain road, but if you speed on that road, you’ll still get a ticket. Many, many circumstances are totally beyond your ability to direct. Your success or failure under those circumstances will depend largely on your response to them—in other words, you have to adapt.
Here are a few examples. Let’s say you want a particular job, but it goes to the boss’s nephew instead. Maybe you’re in love with someone and want to marry him or her, but for whatever reason it doesn’t work out. Perhaps the company you work for goes out of business, and you lose your job. A loved one dies. You’re injured in an auto accident or suffer a serious disease. The list of possible scenarios is endless.
These are the proverbial cards that you have been dealt. You can’t trade them in for another hand; you must play the cards you have right now. Now is when you must adapt. Recognize the reality and respond accordingly.
George Washington is one of my favorite historical figures. Perhaps his greatest trait was his ability to see a situation as it really was, not as he wished it to be. His actions were guided largely by the situation itself: he planned his moves to make the best possible use of the circumstances, and wherever possible, he tried to turn those circumstances to his advantage.
You can do the same thing. It’s a two-step process. First, view every situation through realistic eyes. Don’t kid yourself. Second, shape your response to make the most of the circumstances.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should give up your personal autonomy or allow yourself to be tossed and turned like a boat without a rudder. No sailor can control the wind, but a good sailor uses the existing wind to sail to the destination of his own choosing.