Sometimes I get hung up on idioms. Sayings like “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” irk me to no end because they’re completely asinine… if you had cake, why wouldn’t you eat it? There’s a word for people who wouldn’t, and that word is masochist. Amirite?
The idiom that’s been floating around in my brain as of late is “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I actually like this one a lot, and it turns up the corners of my mouth to imagine, let’s say, an 8-year-old dog (I’m imagining a Golden Retriever like Shadow from Homeward Bound, in case you were wondering) laying with his head on his paws as his master tries to teach him, in what the master perceives to be a revolutionary and foolproof way, to do something he’s never done before, like flush a toilet or something, and the dog’s eyebrows twitch in the way dogs’ eyebrows often twitch that looks like they’re raising an eyebrow skeptically, and he thinks to himself “That’s interesting and all, but really? I give zero shits about what you’re trying to teach me right now.” Which perfectly illustrates my opinion about the validity of this idiom: I believe you can teach an old dog new tricks, sure, but you can’t make a dog perform a new trick if it doesn’t want to.
That has been my experience, at least. As someone who has worked almost exclusively with people who are significantly older than me, I can tell you with certainty: OLD PEOPLE ARE SET IN THEIR WAYS. And as an underling in most of the work positions I’ve held, it’s been on me, the young person, to adapt to the old person’s way of doing things, even when their way of doing things is bordering counter-productivity. You can introduce more efficient ways of doing things and they can even commend you for your cleverness and your initiative and promise to implement it themselves, but in the end, they will have difficulty adapting and will often revert back to the old, familiar way of doing things.
I’ve often heard it said that employers see the adaptability of young people as an positive quality and an asset, so why is it not an asset for older people too? And at what point in your life do you cross the threshold from being adaptable to being set in your ways?
Adaptability is the cornerstone of Darwin’s theory of evolution: nothing in this life stays the same for very long, and in the face of change an animal has to keep its cool and figure out how to be smarter than nature. You either evolve to adapt to your surroundings and thus stay alive to be able to reproduce, or you die. Obviously there are less dire consequences for humans who are unable to change the way they do things, but maybe an intrinsic aversion to change is what it all boils down to. There is comfort in the familiar, in the routinous, in knowing what to expect when you add x and y. And everyone wants to be comfortable.
I guess this is more an internal dialogue than anything else. I know I’m adaptable now, but I fear a day when I’m no longer able, or willing, to try to do things someone else’s way, when I have resolutely closed my mind to doing things any other way than the way I’ve always done it, or to seeing something old and familiar in a new and strange light. Mostly, I fear being a stubborn old codger that people mutter about to each other under their breaths, saying things like “That Kendall, she’ll never change. She’s set in her ways” as they fling their thumb incredulously in my direction. I want to find a way to retain the adaptability of my youth when I reach 40, and hang onto it until I drop dead, but I’m not sure that’s even possible.
In your opinion, what’s the key to staying adaptable?