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Psychobabble: The Advantages Of Flexibility


All of us face challenges in life – big ones, small ones, and challenges in between.  In fact, there are days when life can seem like a constant struggle to keep all the juggling balls in the air before they come crashing down. 

After years of weathering those challenges, Lake Effect essayist Linda Benjamin says she’s learned a few things.

I was trying to think of the most important qualities people could have in life.

And, I thought about how I’d survived the many changes that life always provides. I’d often thought of myself as the punch-clown toy I remember from my kids’ growing up years. You could punch it down, but it would always come back up again.

I thought of myself as a survivor. However, being a survivor didn’t spare me the human emotions we all endure from time to time: anger, disappointment, sadness, confusion---And, like most people, I wasn’t so positive I would survive during the challenging moments in my life. I realized that I’ve moved nineteen times since I left home after college, I’ve been married and divorced and I’ve brought up children. Sometimes, I wasn’t sure how I would get through being a single-parent or moving to different apartments for one reason or another or helping my kids get through their own life-crises.

But, like it or not, life is always changing. Often it changes so gradually we don’t even notice that anything has changed. Recently, at my high school class reunion, if we hadn’t worn id-badges with our high school picture and name on them, few of us would have recognized one another. But the people who saw one another frequently felt as if their friends hadn’t changed much at all.

Almost all of us, now in our sixties, had come through certain losses, some were dealing with caregiving or health issues, most of us had lost our parents and many had sustained unexpected financial losses - Never easy, but especially challenging in our older years.

Attitude is important, but attitude is about how we think. Support systems of partners and family and friends are keys to adjustment, as well. But, I think it’s having flexibility that matters most, particularly in one’s older years.

And the only way to develop flexibility is to practice. Because I had to practice as a single mom, as a woman who needed to move rather often— I had to make changesbe flexible. Yes, I could move from a big house to a tiny apartment, move from one state to another, change my job if need be.

And it was in my sixties that I profited from all that flexibility practice— It's not that I wasn't afraid, but my earlier experiences taught me that something unexpected and good seemed to come my way, just to show me that if I could be flexible, life would do its part — an apartment opening in a friend's building, a new job when I needed to move, old friends and new ones when I most needed them. All of these came just in the nick of time, as if I had placed an order with my Guardian Angels.

Like any fear in life, if we avoid the object of our fear: whether it's driving or flying or moving or being alone — the fear gets worse.

I think of Frances who surprised her family, once Phil, her husband died. Both of them were in their late-sixties, then. But, Frances began to find she could do many things she never believed she could, as Phil always did them. Of course she missed Phil, but she found new ways to enjoy her life—and she seemed happy right up to her death at ninety-something.

What are our choices? We may not like the adjustments we have to make in life and they may not be decisions we would have chosen if we’d be given the choice. Problems: Everybody's got 'em. As the saying goes: "Let go or be dragged." I might add—be patient with yourself—even if you are flexible, integrating change takes time.

Lake Effect essayist Linda Benjamin calls her series of essays Psychobabble.  She’s a Clinical Social Worker in private practice in Milwaukee.​