We all like a certain amount of stability and predictability in our lives, yet too much certainty and routine lead to boredom. We all crave and need some novelty in our lives to spark our interest and wake us up. Would you prefer to watch a sports game Live, or on tape knowing the final score already?
I am a part-time professional musician. When less experienced, I needed to know exactly what we were playing, the chords, the sequence, as well as the musicians. Over time, I came to appreciate changes in speed, solos, and even to play gigs Live with musicians I just met. Improvisation became sought after and delightful, and now moving away from the original music pattern is the most fun of all, and usually leads to our best material. Where are you going? To freedom and creativity. Moving away from the usual can lead to anxiety, fear of chaos, and panic over the idea that you’ll be permanently lost, yet what if where you are now going for the first time leads to your new favorite location? Creativity requires that we include new material, or at least to put things together in fresh ways.
I recall working with a music teacher who loved Bach and Mozart, but was uncomfortable with jazz. He preferred the mathematical certainty of the classical cadence with limited key changes. His music preference reflected his avoidance to take chances and explore. As we worked together on overcoming his discomfort with novelty, he began to expand his musical taste, and could begin to appreciate jazz, and even enjoy it. It opened up his interpersonal style as well, and was more able to speak freely to others.
When my daughter was in her early teens, we were on a road trip where we had prepaid to stay at several Bed and Breakfast Inns, staying only two or three nights in each. She absolutely loved the first Inn, developed a sweet relationship with the owner, and didn’t want to leave when it was time to depart. Three days later, at the third Inn, they had unusual animals, and she declared that it was her favorite place. I reminded her that if had been entirely up to her, we never would have left the first Inn! It brings up a useful point. What factors lead us to decide to stay longer or leave, not only vacation spots, but also jobs, or even moving to another country? People leave countries due to war, famine, persecution, failing economy, hoping for a better life (even if the current one is satisfactory), adventure, and curiousity. What determines when an individual makes a decision to take the risk of someplace new? Certainly relevant are ones mood, timing, and context.
Sometimes detours are forced upon us. We have to leave what is comfortable or expected. Other times, we have a choice whether to remain with the usual, or shift. If we want to take risks, we want them to be moderate risks, with decent odds of a good outcome,yet sometimes we have to risk it all and be death-defying! As individuals, we have different capacity to tolerate uncertainty. Comedians have to risk the audience groaning or not responding at all, otherwise they could never be on stage. Salesmen have to tolerate hearing “no” from the majority of their potential customers (I recall a salesmen telling me that he hoped to be rejected by 90 people this month, because speaking to 100 people would lead to 10 sales). So, we have avoiders and dare-devils, with all that is in between.
Many have wrestled with job changes, both forced and chosen. I was counseling people who had lost jobs during a large company’s downsizing, and there was understandable apprehension about the future. Looking at surveys of other people who had lost their jobs, interestingly and reassuringly, one-third were earning the same at their next job, one-third were making more, and only one-third were making less. So, two thirds were making as much or more once they left their current job! Some would never have left on their own, but benefitted from being let go.
There is an experiment that tests problem solving in babies who crawl. Researchers put a clear plastic wall of only a few feet in length between a crawling baby and something shiny and attractive on the other side of the room. When the babies attempted to go to the item, they were frustrated by the inability to get there because of the wall. It was interesting to see which babies stayed there upset, versus those who ultimately learned that they could reach the desired item by crawling a few feet to the left or right to get around the wall. Note that in this case, the so-called “detour” was the only way to get to the object. Sadly, as adults we also are prone to feeling stuck when the direct path is blocked, and also do not see that “as the crow flies” is sometimes unavailable or impossible. I recall a charming, yet meaningful cartoon. The driver is on a pot-holed, curved, dirt road asking for directions from a man standing beside the car. Off in the distance, there is a straight, well-lit road with guard rails, yet the standing man says to the driver, “Take the dirt road, the other is a mirage”!
Think about the idea that “The path I almost missed was the best choice I ever made”. Strange isn’t it? I almost didn’t try that new flavor, almost didn’t get past my anxiety to ask my future wife her name, almost didn’t leave my last job for a better one, almost didn’t buy a Honda when I always had bought a Chevy, almost didn’t try writing a new song, almost didn’t try to play a new solo of a familiar tune, almost didn’t go to a new vacation spot because we had always gone to the beach, almost wasn’t faced with traveling a new direction because there was an accident ahead. Glad for the changes, and glad for the detours! Which “detours” have you taken, and which ones might you now try?
Harold Steinitz, PhD.
Crane Rehab Center
Jayson DeLeaumount, DPT