Did you know that most physical injuries occur in part due to lack of flexibility? Even in elderly people, the reason for a high rate of injury often has less to do with brittle bones and more to do with a natural loss of flexibility as we age. That’s why even gigantic football players take ballet- it helps them learn how to quickly and safely shift their weight and increase their flexibility, which decreases rate of injury.
I think you could argue that lack of flexibility causes just as much pain in the emotional realm as in the physical, if not more. This is a good tie-in to the piece I wrote about getting rid of irrational anger. because I suspect that the root cause of a lot of irrational anger is actually lack of flexibility. First let’s explore an example of someone who was highly flexible:
One of my role models in life, for both her worldly achievements and her attitude, is Julia Child. I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone more flexible. She had the kind of life that many of us dream of, filled with adventure and travel and passion. When I read about someone whom I admire, I try to figure out their life strategy- and most of my role models were, above all else, flexible. Julia Child grew up in California, she was tall and not conventionally pretty. She was raised by highly conservative parents who wished for her to become a housewife and settle down into a calm life of cocktail parties and fundraising events.
Instead, Julia enlisted in the military during World War II working as a secretary of sorts. As a single woman in the 1940s she travelled to Sri Lanka and China, and many other places. In an era when most women married in their teens or early twenties, Julia married in her mid-thirties (to a man her parents did not approve of). She had aspirations of being a mother, but fertility issues made it impossible. Onward she continued.
She wrote that she never saw a point in dwelling on the past- she believed that one should always be moving forward. At 35 she learned to boil eggs- and of course we know now that she was only getting started.
She lived in drafty apartments in France and Germany (one was so cold she would sleep in clothing and her winter coat) where the standard sized beds were too short to accommodate her. Her home country was often determined by military assignment rather than choice, and even when she was collaborating with cookbook writers who were countries away (via snail mail, by the way)- she never lost hope.
She was adaptable, another great synonym for flexible. Well into her forties she decided to try her hand at television- a new and exciting field! It was her adaptability that made her achievements possible- and that most certainly made her life less stress-filled than it might have been.
Now let’s visit the opposite side of the adaptability spectrum. Since I don’t want to turn this into a personal critique, I’d like to use a television show as the basis for my bad example. Just go with me on this one. I have a bit of a penchant for ogling real estate, so I decided to try watching some house hunting and renovation related shows. If ever there were a platform for the inflexible- it is shows like these.
Most of the people on these shows are average income, non-famous individuals. Yet most of them take one look at completely decent homes and declare them absolutely unlivable, they even use the same language to describe their immediate distaste. If the countertops aren’t granite and all of the appliances aren’t stainless steel, they say that the kitchen needs “a lot of work” or “updating”. It doesn’t even matter if the appliances and counters are in good shape- if they aren’t exactly what happens to be trendy, they are totally unacceptable. I wonder what Julia would say about that, as far as I know she was able to write Mastering The Art Of French Cooking without a sub zero freezer and a six-burner stove.
If the floors are scratched, they have to be completely ripped out. If the “master bedroom” doesn’t have an attached bathroom with two sinks and a spa style bathtub- then it’s unacceptable. Anything that is even slightly out of date, or not trendy, is out of the question. The list of requirements goes on and on.
Of course, as a person who lives in 474 square feet of space this kind of attitude is a little hard to grasp. I realized that what bothers me so much about these shows is the total and utter lack of adaptability that it portrays. Seeing grown adults act as if they cannot suffer the indignity of an outdated backsplash is almost embarrassing- it’s a public display of a total lack of flexibility, which I find uncomfortable.
The truth of it is that most of these inflexible types would have a great deal of trouble living in my apartment (never mind the surprises they would discover living in my body). When you lack flexibility, it’s just like lacking any other skill that you have never developed- it’s a slot in your life-tools box that is empty, and it puts you at a disadvantage.
My fella and I have always felt really lucky:
We were lucky we didn’t mind having roommates for five years before getting our own place. We were also lucky that we didn’t mind moving all the time. We were lucky that we could live on a super tiny budget and still be happy. We were lucky we didn’t have much furniture to move! We were lucky that we were able to withstand a two year long-distance relationship.
We’re lucky now to be happy living in a small space. We’re lucky that we found each other, and we’re lucky that we feel like the good outweighs the bad. We’re lucky we don’t mind walking to get groceries, we’re lucky to have such great shopping carts!
The truth is we aren’t lucky at all, we’re flexible. Couples break up all the time over things that other couples are able to easily weather, and just like we explored in my irrational anger post- some people practically lose their minds over things that others hardly even notice.
Culturally, we are aware of the need to work on certain skills: getting good grades, participating in extracurricular activities, learning an instrument, putting in extra hours at work, getting promotions, or playing sports- all are things that we understand take time and skill to master. We see the inherent value in mastering these skills. But we rarely talk about emotional skills.
Being flexible and adaptable is a skill- and one that can change the quality of your life dramatically (much more dramatically than a raise or a good grade). Flexibility makes you one of those magical people who are easy to please. It makes you one of those odd, good-natured individuals who puts people at ease. It’s well within our control to change this about ourselves and become exactly the kind of person we admire.
What are the traits that you find most admirable in other people?