(originally posted in LinkedIn Pulse)
Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. – Stephen Hawking
The last 1.5 years for me have been about change: leaving corporate America, starting up my own company, witnessing its growth through hard work, experimentation, taking risks, and a little luck. Then, amid it all, I accepted a full-time associate professor role, which led to a permanent position. It was a chapter of incredible growth, humility, hard work, adaptability, and perseverance. If you have ever stood in front of a classroom, you are aware of the vigor you put forth each day. To be effective and engage students, I had to adapt daily, shifting gears to offer support and encouragement, while trying to cover the curriculum, and managing the law and order of overseeing 180 students each semester. Teaching required a blend of agility, grace under pressure, and constant motion; a combination which came to be my go-to formula for navigating change.
When I decided to accept my next career challenge – a return to corporate in a new city and state – my confidantes were shocked. But I believe that we grow by having one foot on the ground, and the other suspended midair. We take risks, we say yes to new opportunities, plunge in, and figure it out. I have learned this first-hand during the dozens of ultramarathon races I have participated in over the last six years. I have endured some of the most physically and mentally stressful challenges of my life—a 135 mile run through scorching Death Valley in July, or a 135-mile trek on the mountainous Camino De Fe in Brazil—by reminding myself to breathe, focus, and no matter how bad the going gets, to practice gratitude as I put one foot in front of the other. We’ve heard the phrase the only way out is through countless times, and it’s valid. We develop strength, grit, empathy, and agility by tackling and trudging through adversity. Furthermore, if we can train ourselves to use our critical thinking skills to help us to draw parallels amongst our experiences, we are likely to become more adept problem solvers both on the job and in our personal lives.
Along with the change in address and career I opted to implement, came stress. Uprooting is hard! Packing up for a move—not to mention unpacking—is enough to make even the calmest person unhinged. In his new book, The Longevity Plan, Dr. John Day notes that those who embrace stress live 17% longer. So, if you think that the key to living longer is a stress-free life, you may be a bit off the mark. When it comes to stress, how we react not only teaches us how we are wired, but acts as a guide to the type of person we aspire to. Our reactions enable us to reflect and subsequently re-align to find symmetry with our higher selves. Stress is a part of life, and it’s inherent when it comes to big and small changes alike, so finding a way to move through stressful situations with grace, and glean positive experiences from them just may be the key to emotional and physical well-being.
If you’re assiduous, it’s likely people tell you to slow down, take a break, don’t work so hard, and so forth. But if you are engaged in your life, constant motion is natural and empowering. In fact, according to Dr. John Day’s exploration in a small rural village in China with centenarians—people who live beyond 100 years old—most attribute their long lives to a sense of community and constant motion, which often consists of working out in the fields and being immersed in strenuous labor well into their 90’s. When we are constantly moving, thinking, feeling, adapting, we are open to all that the world tosses our way, and agile enough to pick ourselves up if we fall—both literally and figuratively. Constant motion is not to be confused with running away from people or things; rather, it is about keeping ourselves engaged with the world around us, our interests, people, our ideas, and feelings. Constant motion means we don’t cling to what was, or long for what can be, but instead live every day of our lives according to their own unique rhythms.
Embracing change is about accepting there may be another door out there waiting for you to open, and that behind it, you may uncover a whole new exciting chapter. Sure, change is stressful, and it forces us to recreate the story of our lives we grew comfortable with, but it also enables us to reprogram, start anew, and take a leap that just may lead us to our next best chapter.