You probably don’t know Bryan, but you might be lucky enough to know someone just like him. He’s been the heart and soul of the office for years, combining exemplary professional skills and integrity with a genuinely sweet nature and gentle disposition. In terms of clout, he could swing an awfully big bat if he wanted to, but he’s never been all that interested in such things. He just wants to do his job, and to do it superbly well. Beyond that, he’s big on reflecting light and allowing others to shine.
Like me, for instance. When the time came to fill my position, Bryan could have chosen to hire someone a lot younger and a lot less demanding than me. But instead of taking the easy and most logical path, he decided to go with the old guy, and has been among my most constant supporters. He even tries to make me look better by editing my press releases, sparing readers from an assortment of misplaced modifiers, dangling participles and literary delusions.
But now he’s moving on. He has a new assignment that will take him to our organization’s state headquarters. And while we’re all pleased that it’s something Bryan is excited about, that doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to a dear friend and trusted colleague.
Life has a way of throwing these curve balls at us. Just when we start to get comfortable with a person, a place or a situation, something comes along to alter the mix. A terrific neighbor moves away. Someone in the family graduates. A special friend marries someone we don’t get along with very well. The family’s principal bread-winner is laid off.
Our ability to cope with change and disruption determines, to a great degree, our happiness in life. But how do we do that? Philosophers have considered the question for centuries, and their responses have been varied. According to the writer of the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, comfort can be found in remembering that “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Kahlil Gibran urged his listeners to “let today embrace the past with remembrance, and the future with longing.” A friend of mine who works for the government likes to remind fellow bureaucrats that “survivability depends upon adaptability.”
And then there’s Chris, the California surf-rat, who once told me that the answer to life’s pressurized vicissitudes can be summed up in four words: “Go with the flow.”
“It’s like surfing,” Chris explained. “I mean, it’s not like you can organize the ocean. Waves just happen. You ride ‘em where they take you, you get off, you paddle back out there and you catch the next one. Sure, you’re always hoping for the perfect wave where you can get, like, you know, totally tubular. But until that happens, you just take ‘em the way they come.”
I think Chris was saying that life is a series of events – both good and bad – that just . . . happen. No matter how deft your organizational skills, there will always be life-influencing factors over which you have no control. The truly successful person expects the unexpected and is prepared to make adjustments should the need arise – as it almost always does. Which doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying to catch that perfect wave. It just means that when things come up that aren’t in your plan, you face them and deal with them – and then you move on.
Of course, some bumps along the road of life are a little tougher to take than others. A rained-out picnic, for example, is easier to cope with than the sudden death of a loved one. But the principle is the same. “Change, indeed, is painful, yet ever needful,” said philosopher Thomas Carlyle. “And if memory have its force and worth, so also has hope.”
We’re going to miss Bryan when he’s gone – just like you’ll miss that graduate, that neighbor or that newly married friend. But rather than dwell on the sadness of our parting, we’ll focus instead on our hopes for a brighter future – for him and for us.
And then we’ll do everything we can to make that future happen – until our plans change.