When I was going into my last year of high school my family moved across the country. At the time, it felt like my life was ending – moving far away from my friends and community, uprooting the homestretch of my high school career. I was so MAD!
In retrospect, this experience was transformational for me. You see, two months into my new life in a new city, a new school and new friends, I was doing pretty well. I got lucky and met some of the greatest people – many of whom I am still close with (and even married to one of them!).
What I didn’t realize at the time is that I was undergoing some serious neuroplasticity training – training my brain how to handle new things, how to learn something from scratch. Recent research has shown that kids these days are lacking in neuroplasticity – they are ‘specializing’ too early – focusing on one sport, one subject, one vocation (hockey, drama, clarinet, doesn’t matter). In doing so, the unintended consequence is they forget how to learn new things, or to constructively deal with the discomfort of being bad at something.
That big move taught me that I could make friends, could find community, adventure and purpose in unfamiliar places. You see, after moving for that last year of high school, I went on to some amazing adventures – taking big risks moving to new cities and countries to travel, volunteer, work and discover. These adventures led to some of the best times of my life, and each time I went on a new adventure it felt a bit easier, each time taking me further and further afield on bolder adventures.
How does this translate into my work today? I think it appears in being curious and excited by the unknown and the new. I can see the unknown as opportunity, instead of as something to fear and resist. I am lucky that my reaction now is to dive into the things I don’t understand, knowing that my brain will figure out the learning curve eventually on many things. Most importantly, this tells us this is a skill that can be learned, nurtured and refined – by anyone.
Next time you are faced with a new challenge, or an unknown adventure, think of it as a workout for your brain that will pay off for years to come.