Life is so easy when you can coast. You know your lines, your setting, your fellow players, and everything goes just as it should. The mind rests and there is a sense of calm.
But what happens when it all goes “wrong?”
In The Unexpected, Ashley shared stories of people who found themselves in unforeseen circumstances. The issues that can arise unexpectedly in one’s life can be personal or professional, tragic or simply annoying, and sometimes just plain odd (surprise: a 400-pound pig!) Regardless, it’s how we handle them that makes a difference.
Depending on the level of upheaval that the unexpected causes in your life, your brain can go from autopilot to overdrive, working harder to take in new surroundings and situations and trying to make sense of them. It’s a kind of personal culture shock where everything is new and therefore must be analyzed and coded. Sometimes your instinct is to shut down at the thought of all of this work, to hide and avoid the newness of your circumstances. But when you instead embrace them, new opportunities come your way that you may not have ever imagined.
Traditionally, culture shock is the personal disorientation a person may feel when suddenly immersed in a culture that is unfamiliar. Think of the last time you travelled to a country that was completely new to you. You made all sorts of plans; dinners, shows, tours, etc; but by the end of the first day you were exhausted. Sure you may have walked a bit more than your usual exercise routine allows, but it was more than that, wasn’t it? Your senses were overwhelmed all day with new sights, smells, sounds, and tastes. You didn’t take street signs for granted; in fact you had to struggle to understand them. Traffic patterns were different so autopilot mode when crossing the street wouldn’t be safe. Every time someone around your spoke, your brain was trying to make sense of a new language. That is exhausting! And no different than when other circumstances in your life change; your mind still has to work extra hard to make sense of it all before you can return to what will be a new normal and eventually cruise control kicks in again.
Continuing the travel analogy, when you are taking a short trip of a few weeks or less you remain in the honeymoon phase of culture shock. You will be exhausted and overwhelmed, but it is still thrilling and romantic. But after awhile, when trying to adapt to the new culture, we often reach a stage of increased anxiety, loneliness and frustration with anything that is new. We reject it and feel homesickness for all that is familiar. But eventually, usually after six months or so, a period of adjustment kicks in and then finally a mastery phase, when everything new becomes the new normal. As a high school exchange student years ago, I remember these phases very well, but none as well as the last one. When I could walk down a street in Greece and no longer need to look at a map but be able to find my way around and know exactly what I was doing and talk about it with locals, it brought me an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. I still feel that when doing something that was recently strange to me but has since been mastered, and it is quite addictive. (Which is why I continue to travel and put myself in new situations.)
The best tool for mastery of any new phase in your life is opening your mind and accepting. In improvisation classes you learn this as “yes, and…” Whatever has just been handed to you, you don’t fight it, instead you build on it. We can’t fight our new situations because they are different from what we had expected. Every surprise, every change, is an opportunity for growth and for that unbelievable high of mastery. Embrace the different. Welcome the new. To once again quote my favorite scholar Joseph Campbell, “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Are you willing to do that?
To listen to the broadcast of The Unexpected on Perspectives with Ashley Berges, listen here: https://www.ashleyberges.com/radioshow/next-time-the-unexpected-happens-do-this/