Sunday, October 18, 2020

Three Ways to Have a More Fulfilled Life

 

  1. Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.  - Harvey Mackay

life fulfillment Archives - Reynolds Defense Firm

          A week ago I had a mini existential crisis. After having finished my novel a month ago (Yay!), being adjusted to working my first Mon-Fri 8-5 job (bleh), and using my weekends to wind down and relax (meh), something major hit me. I am currently not living for myself, others, or God.

            I’m not living for myself, because my job is just something I’m doing to get by. It gives me no pleasure or meaning, but it pays the bills. I also stopped writing after finishing my novel to give myself a much deserved break. So aside from a lot of relaxing, I haven't been doing anything for myself lately.

            I’m not living for others because my job doesn’t involve helping people, and I stopped blogging months ago. I consider my blogs one of the ways I try to help others.

            And I’m not living for God, because ever since my church services moved to online, I slowly stopped watching. My church group also took a long summer break, so we didn’t meet for a few months. And I also believe helping others is part of living for God.

            So basically, I was failing at living my life the way I want to.

            To add to my mini existential crisis, ever since I attended a work orientation where they told us how many hours they ask of our time, I was as the youth say – shook. They said that out of 168 hours a week, they only ask for 40, and we can do whatever we want with the other 128 hours.

            That sounds completely reasonable, until I broke it down some more. They actually ask for 45 hours a week, because really what am I going to do with my lunch break besides eat? Then there’s commuting to and from work – let’s say that’s another hour a day, which brings us to 50 hours a week they ask of us, which leaves us with 118 hours to ourselves each week.

            Okay, but follow me, what about sleep? Those hours don’t count. Let’s say the average adult gets 6-7 hours of sleep a night. We’ll just stick with 6. So now we have 76 hours left. And what about getting ready for work? Dinner? Traffic?

            I did the math for my own schedule and realized that out of a 168 hour week, I have 66.5 hours for myself. That’s about half of what the woman at my work orientation told me.

            For those of you who have lived that full-time work life for forever now, you’re probably telling me to stop complaining right about now. But 1) this is my first full-time job; and 2) having spent so much of my life and time living for myself, others, and God – this is the first time most of my time is going to neither of those.

            The whole “40 hour” work week was a real adjustment and truly depressing for a time. But now that I have adjusted, I’ve decided to make the most of the limited free time I do have. I’ve also figured out that I can’t spend the rest of my life with this kind of schedule unless it’s dedicated to something I either absolutely love or believe in. Maybe there are people who are perfectly fine with being able to pay the bills and going home to watch TV, but that’s not me. I’ve always needed more.

            For those of you who also need more, here’s my outline for living a more full life with whatever time you do have:

1)    Live for You:

            I don’t mean this selfishly. I mean that this is your life. This is your time to be doing what you love, or at least figuring out what that is. Whether it’s professionally or during your free time, do the things that fill you up. Do whatever it is that leaves you satisfied and happy at the end of the day.

            For me, it’s reading and writing (and currently watching every episode of Full House #SteveandDJforever). In Stephen King’s book On Writing, he says if you’re a writer, write every day. If you’re not writing then read, and when you’re not reading then write. These are two things I’ve always loved and my life would be less full without either of them. Since I finished my novel, I’ve been reading a lot more. I filled the empty void of having no big project to work on by diving into reading about my culture.

            Which brings me to my other point – learn something new. Since the beginning of covid, I’ve been improving my Spanish with an app. I use it nearly daily. Lately, I’ve also taken to watching documentaries and reading about my Latin heritage. I’m obsessed with knowledge, and if I had an infinite time on this earth, I’d spend it learning about everything that interests me.

            Have a hobby or project to work on. I have multiple that I can pick up and put down whenever. I spent the summer scrapbooking and the end result is this huge beautiful scrapbook that’s too big to close properly. It makes me so happy.

            Practice self-care – though I’m sure we’re all a little sick of hearing that. It’s still important. Just this past weekend I took a nice bubble bath with some bath salts. I completely pampered myself and it was wonderful.

            Be active. Even if you can’t go to the gym, find ways to simply mobilize your body. Go for a walk. Follow a Youtube workout channel. Practice yoga. Go for a bike ride. Just move.

            Cultivate your relationships. We’ve all had a lot more time this year to spend with those closest to us. Probably too much time. And we’ve also had to spend time together in different ways. For the past six years, I’ve met with my writing buddy every Wednesday night. This pandemic has not changed that. Now we have a virtual chat every Wednesday night, and even occasionally meet with a small book club group in person. It’s a small way we can still feel connected and be able to support each other.

2) Live for Others:

            Cultivating those relationships isn’t just good for you, it’s good for others too. This year has been hard on everyone in so many ways. I think the main thing I’ve been feeling (which I’m sure most can relate to) is exhausted. I’m exhausted of politics, fires from living in Southern California, too many heavy discussions, and of course covid. It’s been an exhausting hell of a year, and we’re still not done with it.

            Yet one of the best things to do when you're feeling exhausted, or down or everything else, is to check in on someone else. I wouldn’t have gotten through this year sanely without being able to still talk to my friend every Wednesday night, as well as checking in with many other friends. We all need support right now. So check in with someone who might need yours.

            Volunteer. Helping others is one of the most fulfilling things you could do with your time. Today, I volunteered at a food bank, and though it was more tiring than fulfilling, I was still glad that I was doing something to help.

            Though it’s completely important to take care of yourself and live your life doing the things you love, it’s even more important to live your life helping others. No one can get through life without help, and there are plenty of people right now who could use yours.

3)    Live for God:

            Even if you’re not religious, finding something outside of yourself is a very important need. My agnostic friend lives to spread goodness into the universe. Some of my other non-religious friends try to seek some kind of truth.

            As for me, a Christian, it’s important to live for God. When there are so many needs in this world, and when I don’t have the capacity to take care of myself, the only thing I know that will stay good and constant is God.

            I’m not the best Christian. I’m a bad church-goer, not consistent with reading my Bible, and am probably the most skeptical one in my church group when it comes to all things religious. Yet, I know that when I’m living for God, I’ll be okay. Living for myself brings me satisfaction. Living for others brings me happiness. But living for God brings me peace. And I think He’s the only one that can give me that.

            And maybe at the end of the day, that’s why this is possibly the most important thing to live for. Living for yourself and others can be hard and exhausting. But living for something greater than yourself helps make the world more bearable. It’s why so many people turn to religion. It gives us hope. It gives us direction. It gives us what we need, while also strengthening us enough to continue to give to ourselves and others.

 ...

            I understand that we don’t always the time to live for either of these things. The reason I stopped blogging for these past few months was because work left me too exhausted. After working for five days, and knowing I only had two days to myself, I didn’t feel like I had the energy for an extra day of what felt like work. I sometimes spend a few hours to a full day on my blog depending on the topic and research. I wanted to relax by the time the weekend came, not have one less day to myself.

            I say this knowing full well that I’m neither married nor have kids. I can’t imagine what this year has been like for parents or couples. Because then your time is not just yours, it becomes someone else’s too. And those 66.5 hours in the week can be even less. Or maybe you use those hours to practice living for others a lot. Or maybe your entire life is already living for others and you need to find more time and ways to live for yourself.

67 Tips on Happiness, Fulfillment & Life

            It can be hard. I get it. Sometimes you’re too exhausted, or too stressed, or too depressed, or work too much, or work and go to school, or too [whatever it is].

            All I can say is that is this life is yours, and we should also ask ourselves at some point: “What am I living for?” “What does my life center around?” “Who or what does all my time go to?”

            If you’re not happy with the answer, then maybe it’s time to refocus and try to live your life more for yourself, others, and/or God.

            You have 24 hours a day and 168 hours a week. What do you want to be doing with it?


Saturday, July 4, 2020

A Personal and Not so Personal History of Race in America


 "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana


            I’m a 27 year-old Mexican female with a lighter complexion. Though I didn’t think it at the time, I grew up in poverty, but my parents and their parents grew up in far worse conditions. My parents lived among gangs and gang violence. They had to learn to survive in an environment that was unjust towards them, and they spent years scraping their way out.

            Today, my dad is a small business owner and my mom received her Master’s degree to become a therapist for the homeless community after rising from homelessness herself.

            As a sociology minor in undergrad, I learned that it takes three generations for a family to escape the conditions they were born into. My mom’s mom spent most of her life in poverty, is an immigrant, and today proudly works for Costco. She does not own her home, nor has she received any higher form of education. My dad has owned a home twice – the first time with two of his brothers, and the second with his wife which he lost during the 2008 recession. My mom is currently working on buying her first home. My dad has never received higher education, while my mom accomplished hers later in her life.

            I am lucky and I am privileged because of their struggles.

            I was born a citizen. My mom was not.

            Because I have their support, in many ways that go beyond financial, I have been able to rent my own apartment for the past few years. Whenever I struggle financially, I am able to get their help, whereas my parents spent their lives also supporting their parents.

            I received a Master’s degree and have been to two private schools, even though I have a lot of loan debt now. My parent’s emphasis on education my entire life, while they worked hard to support me, laid down the path for me to achieve higher education degrees. My mom’s mom was trying to survive, so she emphasized work to her children and didn’t understand the benefit of education. My dad’s parents were unable to support him financially, so he had to start working at a young age to survive.

            Now that my mom has been in a better place financially, she bought and fully paid off a brand new car for me four years ago, so I have reliable transportation. She is working on buying her first house and intends to put it in my name, so I will have always property and stability.

            I have never been to jail. Nearly everyone on both sides of my family have been to jail more than once. Both sides of my family grew up in bad neighborhoods. When my parents were able, they made sure I grew up in a good neighborhood.

            I went to a good school. Most of my family members did not, and many among my generation didn't either.

            I have never been stopped by the cops. I owned a beat-up red 2000 Honda Civic for a while, which was then sold to my mom’s mixed Hispanic boyfriend who’s bald. He was stopped multiple times. Then one of my male friends owned the car for a time. He is not bald, but is also mixed Hispanic and has darker skin than me. He was stopped multiple times.

            I have two parents. My mom mostly only had her mom growing up. My dad didn’t really have either of his parents for different reasons.

            Despite these privileges, there also ones I don’t have.

            Though I have two parents, my parents are separated. During critical years of my preteen to teen years, my mom was homeless, and then we moved around constantly. I did not grow up in a single stable home.

            I am one of the first in my family to receive higher education degrees, which means that I lack role models in my family. There is not a path set for me where I can benefit from the successes of others. I’m limited in who I can learn from on how to succeed in life. Only in the past few years have my parents been fulfilling this role.

            This also ties into the limited connections and networks I have. The few I have gained have come from school.

            I have inherited nothing. My parents were at a greater disadvantage, because not only did they not inherit anything, they had to work to support their parents. Since all of my grandparents are immigrants, they didn’t come here owning land, which means my parents had no land or property to inherit, which means neither do I. My mom is currently working on that.

            I don’t see people of my race widely represented in media.


            I aspire to be an author, yet only 7% of American authors are a person of color.

            I don’t often see people of my race in high positions in America.


            I write all this to point out that I am starting at the level playing field three generations after my grandparents came here. All of my cousins benefit from the struggles of our parents and their parents. My parents started behind everyone else, and their parents even further back.

            A system in America has disadvantaged my entire family, thus disadvantaging me.

            I write this to show my own history in America, which is reflective of a greater American history regarding race.

Here’s a timeline of race and inequality in America:

- 1700 & 1800s: Alien Land Laws only allowed whites to own farmland.

- 1790: Naturalization Act allowed only “free white persons,” which included European settlers, to become naturalized citizens. California law eventually comes to classify Mexicans as White, and thus able to be naturalized.

- 1830: The 1830 Indian Removal Act forcibly relocated American Indians to go west of the Mississippi River in order to make room for white settlers.

- 1848: At the end of the Mexican- American War, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo annexed 55% of Mexico, parts of present-day Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah. Any Mexicans choosing to remain in those territories were given citizenship.

- 1854: In the case of People v. Hall, the California Supreme Court chose to deny Chinese, alongside Native and African Americans, the status to testify in courts against whites.

- 1862: The Homestead Act gave away 270 million acres of what had been Indian Territory to overwhelmingly white settlers.

- 1863: Slavery is abolished, yet many freed slaves went back to work for their previous masters because of lack of opportunities available to them.

- 1865: Lincoln signed an initiative for 40 acres of tillable land to be given to freed slaves. After Lincoln’s murder, Andrew Johnson responds to white backlash, and within a year of thousands of freed slaves receiving land, they were evicted. Ex-slave owners were given $300 compensation for their loss of property (their slaves were their property), the compensation that was supposed to go to freed slaves.

- 1870: The Naturalization Act of 1870 allowed naturalization to aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent, but denied naturalization to other non-white groups, particularly Asian.

- 1877: Jim Crow laws were enacted in the South to enforce racial segregation. “Black Codes” were established to fine or arrest Blacks for working in any occupation that wasn’t farming or domestic servitude.

- 1882: The Chinese Exclusion Act, a law set to last ten years, severely limits Chinese immigration to America by excluding specifically Chinese laborers, and prevent any Chinese person from becoming a citizen. It’s a law based on class and race. This is the first time the U.S. restricts immigration.

- 1896: In Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court rules for “separate but equal,” thus further endorsing segregation.  

- 1904: The Extension of the Chinese Exclusion Act continues restricting Chinese Immigration, but this time without an end date.

- 1914: First World War begins

- 1917: In an effort to reduce immigration, the Immigration Act of 1917 barred anyone from the Middle East to Southeast Asia from entering the country. European immigration was allowed for those who could pass a literacy test (which took two decades to make), and who were fleeing persecution. Certain classes of immigrants were still allowed entry.

- 1918: First World War Ends

- 1921: Tulsa, a black affluent neighborhood known as “Black Wallstreet,” is looted and burned to the ground by whites.

- 1924: The Immigration Act of 1924 capped quotas of entry based on the nation’s 1890 census. Only those nationalities who were present in 1890 would be allowed entry, which particularly excluded Chinese immigrants, but also affected Eastern and Southern Europeans.

- 1929: The Undesirable Aliens Act of 1929 criminalized crossing the border outside an official port of entry, and was primarily designed to restrict Mexican immigration.

-1930: 9 % percent of Mexican men, 60% of southern and eastern Europeans, 80% of northern and western Europeans had naturalized.

- 1934: Under the New Deal, the Federal Housing Administration allows mortgage credit, which enables many to become homeowners for the first time. Redlining came into effect, which excluded black and integrated communities, who were considered high risk, and thus ineligible for home loans.
“Between 1934 and 1962, the federal government backed $120 billion of home loans. More than 98% went to whites. Of the 350,000 new homes built with federal support in northern California between 1946 and 1960, fewer than 100 went to African Americans.”

- 1935: 
            The Social Security Act was established and guaranteed millions of workers an income after retirement. However, it specifically excluded agricultural workers and domestic servants, who were predominately African American, Mexican, and Asian.

            The 1935 Wagner Act gave protections to workers by creating unions that allowed them to bargain with their employers and gave them certain rights, thus allowing many to move up into the middle class. Agricultural and domestic service jobs were excluded. This act permitted unions to exclude non-whites and deny them access to better paid jobs, union protections, and benefits such as health care, job security, and pensions.

- 1938: The New Deal’s Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) introduced a 40-hour work week, banned child labor, and established a federal minimum wage and overtime requirements. It excluded domestic, agricultural, and service occupations, primarily held by African Americans and other non-whites.

-1939: Second World War Begins

- 1942: The Bracero Agreement, lasting from 1942-1964, recruited men from Mexico to come work on farms and other war industries.

- 1942: President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized Japanese internment camps for Japanese Americans living within 100 miles of the west coast.

- 1943: The Zoot Suits riots take over Los Angeles, and eventually extend to other cities. Zoot suits were associated with Mexicans, and anyone wearing one was brutally attacked by U.S. servicemen and stripped of their clothing. Blacks and Filipinos, even those not wearing zoot suits, were also attacked.

- 1945: Second World War Ends.

            Japanese internment camps ends.

- 1952: The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 eliminated racial exclusions to naturalization.

- 1954: Jim Crow laws ended.

- 1964: Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in the areas of employment, education, voting, and public accommodations.

- 1965: 
            Affirmative Action is initiated to improve opportunities for African American students who had been previously been discriminated against for entry into higher education.

            The Hart-Cellar Act for immigration replaces the highly discriminatory “national origins system” to allow each country to receive the same annual cap for immigrants. The new system implemented prioritizes family reunification (75 %), employment (20 %), and refugee status (5 %), which led to unprecedented numbers of non-European immigration. The system favored highly-educated workers who came seeking employment opportunities, but the law excluded “unskilled” workers seeking employment in agriculture, construction, and domestic service. This has fostered a growing population of illegal immigrants who gain employments in those fields, but lack the legal means to immigrate.

- 1968: The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin or sex, thus making redlining illegal.

- 1971: War on drugs begins, which sets tough-on-crime policies. Communities of color are disproportionately targeted.

- 1978: In Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that quotas in colleges may not be used to reserve spots for minorities, but race can still be a decision for college acceptance to produce a diverse student body.

- 1986: Immigration Reform and Control Act provides amnesty for 2.7 million long-term residents to receive legal permanent status.

- 1990: Black and Latino mortgage applicants are 60% more likely than whites to be turned down for a loan, even after controlling for employment, financial, and neighborhood factors.

- 1993: 
            White neighborhoods are the most segregated with 86% of suburban whites living in neighborhoods with a black population of less than 1%.

            College enrollment stats by race:
            22% of Hispanics
            25% of Blacks
            37% of whites

- 1995: 
            Subprime loans for housing, which start cheap but acquire substantial interest, targeted African Americans, who made up 52%, while whites made up 26.1%.

            In Adarand Constructors v. Pena, the Supreme Court ruled that federal affirmative action programs were unconstitutional unless they fulfilled a “compelling governmental interest.”

- 2001: New York City adopts “stop and frisk,” which allowed police to stop and search anyone in public.

- 2003: 
            Affirmative Action did not allow schools to have quotas, so students of certain races were given bonus points to be considered for schools. The Supreme Court says this is no longer allowed.

            Data for stop and frisk based on risk began being recorded. 160,851 NYPD stops were recorded:
            140,442 were innocent (87 %)
            77,704 were Black (54 %)
            44,581 were Latinx (31 %)
            17,623 were white (12 %)
            83,499 were aged 14-24 (55 %)

- 2008: During the 2008 recession and the housing collapse, spurred on by giving out subprime loans that acquired higher interest over time, Blacks lost 53 % of their wealth as opposed to whites who lost 16 %.

- 2011: At the height of stop and frisk, 685,724 NYPD stops were recorded:
            605,328 were innocent (88 %)
            350,743 were Black (53 %)
            223,740 were Latinx (34 %)
            61,805 were white (9 %)
            341,581 were aged 14-24 (51 %)

- 2014: College enrollment rates for ages 18-24:
            35% of Hispanics
            33% of Blacks
            42% of whites
            64% of Asians

            Stats by race for those who hold a Bachelor’s degree:
            15% of Hispanics
            22% of Blacks
            41% of whites
            63% of Asians

- 2015: The effects of the War on Drugs are still felt strongly.

            Blacks are four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana charges.

            Blacks make up nearly 30% of all drug-related arrests, despite accounting for only 12.5% of all substance users.

            Blacks are nearly six times more likely to be incarcerated for drug-related offenses than whites, despite equal substance usage rates.

            Almost 80% percent of people serving time for a federal drug offense are Black or Latino. In state prisons, people of color make up 60% of those serving time for drug charges.

            In the federal system, the average black defendant convicted of a drug offense will serve nearly the same amount of time (58.7 months) as a white defendant would for a violent crime (61.7 months).

- 2016: Median White household wealth ($171,00). Median Black household wealth ($17,600)

- 2017: A study finds that since 1989, when applying for jobs, whites receive on average 36% more callbacks than Blacks, and 24% more callbacks than Latinos. The percentage of callbacks has not changed for Blacks, but it has risen for Latinos.

- 2018: 
            Though redlining has been banned for 50 years, the effects are still felt today. Nearly two-thirds of neighborhoods deemed “hazardous” in the 1930s are still inhabited by mostly Blacks and Latinos. These neighborhoods have greater economic inequality. In contrast, 91% of neighborhoods that were classified as “best” remain middle to upper class, and 85% of those residents are white.

            A study from 2011-2018 found that police commit more traffic stops against Blacks than whites. There was less discrepancy between races at night when the identity of the driver is obscured, giving evidence to the fact that racial bias in traffic stops exists.

            Black poverty rate is 20.7 %, versus white poverty rate at 8.1%. Median household income for whites is $70.6K, versus for Blacks it’s $41.7K

            Denial rates of homeownership loans by race:
            18% Blacks
            14% Hispanic
            10% Asian
            8% White

- 2019: A 2019 study looked at the CEOs of Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies and found only 8.7% of the 675 companies in the study had CEOs of color. Of that 8.7%, Middle Easterns and Asians made the majority, then Hispanics, and lastly Blacks.

- 2020: Today,
            Unemployment still remains higher for Blacks than whites, with Covid still showing those disparities at 16.8 % for Blacks and 12.4 % for whites.

            Only four Fortune 500 companies have Black CEOs.

            The 116th Congress, which came into session after the 2018 midterm elections, is the most diverse ever with only 57 Blacks of the current 535 voting members.

            Stats of children who earned a college degree whose parents only finished high school:
            9.2% American Indian/ Alaska Native
            15% Black
            18.2% Hispanic
            24.5% White
            48.9% Asian

            Homeownership by race:
            44% Black
            48.9% Hispanic
            56% Other
            73.7% White

            Fatal police shootings of race in proportion to racial population:
            30 deaths per million Blacks
            22 deaths per million Hispanics
            12 deaths per million Whites
            4 deaths per million Other

            Of the 352 instances where police fatally shot unarmed people:
            145 of those people were white
            123 were Black
            63 were Hispanic
            21 were designated "other" or "unknown."
            — that's a rate of 10.7 white deaths per 10 million, and 30.1 Black deaths per 10 million.


This is not nearly a comprehensive outline of every racial event, law, or study that has happened in America. It's a broad outline that shows where we've been and how we came to where we are today.

For the best resource on understanding where we are today, I recommend the first link in my sources below.


Sources:
25 simple charts to show friends and family who aren't convinced racism is still a problem in America
Zoot Suit Riots
Meta-analysis of field experiments shows no change in racial discrimination in hiring over time
Redlining was banned 50 years ago. It’s still hurting minorities today.
5 Facts About Latinos and Education
Affirmative Action
Fair Housing Act
Wagner Act
What Are Civil Rights
Naturalization Act of 1870
Jim Crow Law
RACE - The Power of an Illusion
Police: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Systematic Inequality and Economic Opportunity
Ending the War on Drugs: By the Numbers
Annual Stop-And-Frisk Numbers
How A Theory Of Crime And Policing Was Born, And Went Terribly Wrong
America's Long Overdue Awakening to Systemic Racism
If you don’t believe systemic racism is real, explain these statistics
A large-scale analysis of racial disparities in police stops across the United States
Making a Non-White America: Californians Coloring outside Ethnic Lines, 1925
Beyond “White by Law”: Explaining the Gulf in Citizenship Acquisition between Mexican and European Immigrants, 1930
Tulsa Race Massacre: Was 1921 the first aerial assault on U.S. soil?
Tulsa's 'Black Wall Street' Flourished as a Self-Contained Hub in Early 1900s
Explained: Racial Wealth Gap
How racial bias works - and how to disrupt it
What We Get Wrong About Affirmative Action
Immigration Laws and Enforcements
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

Monday, May 11, 2020

How Will You Adapt to This New World?

“It is not a failure to readjust my sails to fit the waters I find myself in.”― Mackenzi Lee, The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy


            A little over a week ago I got news about the job that I was supposed to start mid-March. The start date, which had been moved for the third time to May 18, was being moved to possibly July, but they couldn’t guarantee anything. Considering that I became depressed for a time because of my joblessness, this news was yet again depressing, but I was determined to be proactive.

            I outlined the plan for my life, scheduling writing time and siestas, as well as setting aside time to look for a new job. This was just another adjustment brought on by the coronavirus, but this time I planned to be prepared.

            Nearly a week went by as I accepted my new way of life when I got another call. I will in fact start May 18. Though incredibly grateful, my instant reaction was “I just figured out my life! Now I have to refigure it out!” I, like many people affected by this crisis, have been jobless for two months. Though it’s had its rough patches, I have for the most part flourished without a job. Now I must prepare to go to back to work.

            This rollercoaster of a week, along with seeing how adjusted my little sister is now, as well as others around me, got me to thinking how incredibly adaptive people are. Proof of our ability to adapt is the fact that a Dutch restaurant now serves customers in a glass cabin big enough for three people. Also, clubs have moved to online with live videos and people are able to join in. It’s amazing to me that though the world has seemed to come to a stop, we still find a way to keep living.

            Though humans find ways to be adaptive and resilient, our brains are hardwired to resist change. Santosh Kesari, MD, PhD, explains that when we’re born, “We’re figuring out positive and negative behaviors, what is good for survival and avoiding consequences that would cause even short-term pain.” Nicole Spector simplifies in her article, “How to train your brain to accept change, according to neuroscience,” that, “Essentially our brains learn what works and what doesn’t early on… the brain gets used to doing certain things in a certain way so that over time, introducing new behavioral modes becomes challenging.”

            Our brains crave routine, mostly because it conserves energy that way. In “This is Your Brain OnChange,” Jordan Rickard says, “To help conserve energy, the brain has learned to hardwire repeated behaviors so they become automatic, rather than making the brain “work” to complete them, which would use up precious energy.” This is why learning new skills is a great brain workout, but is also very exhausting. Interesting enough, when we experience something new, the brain tries to assess if it is threat or not. To dissuade us from trying a new behavior, it releases noxious neurochemicals.

            To our brains, routine and what we already know is good and safe. Unpredictability and the unknown are bad and scary. I think that when this pandemic started, there was a lot more fear going around because we didn’t know how deadly it would be in our own communities, to ourselves, and how people would react to it. I remember when my dad heard about rioting and looting who knows where, he gave me a back-up plan to stay at my uncle’s for protection.

            Now that the dust has been settling, and we are slowly trying to get society moving again, people have been learning to adapt. Some better than others. In “Why 1in 3 People Adapt to Change More Successfully,” Nick Tasler gives an account of a twelve year study starting in the 1970’s that revolves around a dismantled phone company. The study followed hundreds of employees from before and after the dismantling. When the phone company split into several companies, half of the people the study followed was laid off while the other half stayed on.

            The study followed both groups for the next six years. They found, “The majority of people—whether they kept their jobs or lost their jobs—were brought to their knees by the change. There were divorces, strokes, cancers, suicides, kidney failures, heart attacks, alcoholism, drug addictions, and compulsive gambling.” However a third of the participants thrived.  Tasler says, “Those who stayed on at Illinois Bell became high-ranking leaders in the changed organization. Those who were laid off became shooting stars at their new companies.”

            The third of participants who thrived were no different than everyone else, except for this: “While everyone else tried to bounce back, the adaptive third took a step forward.” The ones who didn’t thrive felt lost and wanted to back track to the “good ‘ole days” when things made more sense to them. Tasler says, “When the researchers asked the employees about their plans for the future… their image of the future looked eerily similar to the past. They wanted to “bounce back” to a place that no longer existed.”

            When things have gone wrong, looking to the past is a very common experience. Roxane Cohen Silver “discovered that two out of three grieving widows, bereaved parents, and victims of terrorism, child abuse, and natural disasters, will instinctively look for meaning in the past. They try to find some explanation for their suffering.” However, multiple studies led her to discover that, “one out of three trauma victims will not search for a reason to explain why they are experiencing misfortune. And it is this one third who turn out to be the most well-adjusted—weeks, months, and years later.” In other words, the ones who look to the future instead of the past are the ones who thrive.

            With the study that followed the phone company employees, researchers learned that the one third who adapted well to the change also asked themselves what the change meant. The difference is that, “rather than trying to make sense of what they had done to deserve this experience, they tried to make sense of what they could do now that it had occurred.” Tasler says, “That might be the single greatest lesson of adaptation. Instead of asking why bad things happen to good people, adaptive people turn that timeless riddle on its head and ask what can good people do when bad things happen?”

            So then the next question becomes can you learn to adapt better to this new experience? But I think the question to answer first is how adaptable are you right now? The Center for Creative Leadership asks, “How do you respond when facing change? Do you:”
           Accept the change as positive?
           See the change as an opportunity?
           Adapt plans as necessary?
           Take into account other people’s concerns?
           Sort out your strengths and weaknesses fairly accurately?
           Admit personal mistakes, learn from them, and move on?
           Remain optimistic?

            F. Diane Barth L.C.S.W. explains in her article “How Well Adapted Are You?”, “Adaptability in its most basic form is “the ability to adjust to different conditions.”” She says the trick to adaptability is not to be fluid and ever changing to every new person and situation. “Adaptability does not mean giving up all that you hold dear. In fact, sometimes being overly flexible can create problems,” says Barth.

            Instead, the most important component of adaptability is, “the ability to change, when it would be useful, and to maintain a sense of stability about yourself at the same time.” I think that in today’s world, this is like a person who is into fitness finding creative ways to workout at home. Fitness is part of who they are, so an adaptable fit person wouldn’t let the closure of gyms keep them from their lifestyle. However, a person who is not good at adapting will either revolt against gym closures (seeking the old way of life), or stop working out.

            Barth says, “Adaptability, then, is not a matter of ignoring your own feelings, needs, beliefs, or thoughts and pushing through no matter what. It’s a process of interacting with changes – in your life, in the world around you, and even in yourself – with a mixture of compassion, understanding, and curiosity.”

            For my own situation, that start date for my new job has been moving around for two months. It’s definitely kept me on my toes, because at first, I didn’t expect to be out of work for so long. When the start date initially got pushed back two weeks, I thought I would have a leisurely three week vacation with plenty of time for writing. When it got pushed back a second time, I wondered what I would do with my life for a month. By the third time and fourth time, I despaired and struggled with depression. And now that I’m supposed to start work in a week, I’m worried and confused for entirely new reasons.

            This is not something I had any control over. All I could do was file for unemployment, and look for a new job in this dire job market. I couldn’t just push through to make everything work my way. I had to have understanding and compassion that the company I’m about to work for is facing its own challenges. Everyone is affected by what’s happening. So, I’ve been trying to adapt. And when I finally start this job, I’ll have to learn to adapt again. It’s been an interesting two months.

            Which now leads me to how does one learn to adapt? The Center for Creative Leadership says “If you want to improve your responses to change in the future… you need to practice the 3 components of adaptability: cognitive flexibility, emotional flexibility and dispositional flexibility.”
  • Cognitive flexibility: the ability to think divergently, learn from experience, and recognize when something is not working; learn how to approach a situation differently
  • Emotional flexibility: the ability to vary how to deal with your own or other people’s emotions; comfortable with the process of transition; doesn’t shut down or dismiss your own or other’s emotions
  • Dispositional flexibility: “the ability to remain optimistic and, at the same time, realistic;” acknowledges the bad while envisioning what can be better; “see change as an opportunity rather than as a threat or danger”

            What does this look like in practicality? There’s a lot of advice on the subject, but I’ll share my favorite ones:
  • Be curious – keep learning
  • Be open
  • Be resourceful – utilize what is already around you
  • Experiment
  • Be aware of your emotions, and of those around you
  • Look for opportunity in the midst of failure and chaos
  • Set multiple, achievable goals – small ones and big ones

            Staying at home without a job for two months has definitely been a bumpy ride. During this time some are thriving, and some aren’t. What’s most uplifting about adaptability is that you can choose to do it. It is a choice.

            Every time my start date got pushed back and I was faced with unknown weeks with nothing to do, I made the choice to focus on self-improvement. I’ve experimented with home remedies for random small ailments. I’ve kept my brain stimulated by practicing Spanish, reading, and writing. I’ve added healthy new habits that I hope to keep when I start working, like working out regularly and drinking green tea every day when I wake up. Above all, I’ve taken this as an opportunity to focus on my writing life.

            People have been calling this our “new normal.” There are many who want to get back to our old normal, but there are others who see the good changes that have been made, such as in pollution reduction. I even read recently that dating has changed and forced people to slow down and get to know each other before moving on to physical intimacy. Many advocates are calling for permanent changes to our healthcare system. Here in California, we see that as an opportunity to reform our jail systems and homeless situation.

            We can fight to go back to what was normal, but is that the best thing moving forward? I think about those men in that phone company that instead of looking to the past decided to look to the future. They decided to take this drastic change to their lives and turn it into a great opportunity. What will you do with this change?


Sources:
Dutch restaurant trials glass booths for dining amid coronavirus
Adapting to Change Requires Flexibility
14 Signs of an Adaptable Person
How Well Adapted Are You?
Why 1 in 3 Adapt to Change More Successfully
5 Habits That Let Emotionally Intelligent People Adapt to Anything
How to Train Your Brain to Accept Change
This is Your Brain on Change
5 Ways to Adapt to Change in Life