Below is some advice related to a common phase in life which I have dubbed “Changing Chapters”. This phase is characterized by any major change; change in status, a big move, or a career change. The phase that follows any of these changes is a time of growth, development, and maturity; if you let it.
“Changing Chapters” is my way of shifting your mentality and perspective regarding the changes in your life (which may or may not be up to you). This shift puts you in the driver’s seat and ultimately allows you to be intentional with your decisions.
Psychologically we are speaking about changing our locus of control; external to internal, when we are discussing intentionality and focusing on growth. This shift is paramount to taking personal responsibility for your life. Maybe that does not get you to where you want to be or does not line up with what you first intended but people who feel like they are the primary actors in their own lives and are not being acted upon by life, see life differently. They enjoy life when they see that their actions have consequences. Life can be a grand adventure.
Inevitably, due to hedonic adaptation, after any change, you quickly settle into a new normal and the uniqueness or novelty of the new environment or circumstances fades away, however, seeing these changes as “Changing Chapters” can make each chapter meaningful and provide a backdrop with which to reference and frame the lessons you learn and experiences you have, good or bad. I mention hedonic adaptation because even if you do not see your changes (the new job, new house, or new school) as a platform for growth and meaningful change or seeing these changes with this mindset shift, you will quickly become used to any change. It’s a normal process built into our bodies. Why not seize the opportunity and take responsibility for your growth?
I have always admired the writing of Robert Greene. In each of his books he presents powerful lessons tied in with interesting historical anecdotes about famous people from history. These anecdotes serve to provide a human outline around each lesson, humanizing the advice and grounding it for me.
In Mastery, Greene provides a framework for what he calls “The Ideal Apprenticeship”. This ties in nicely with our “Changing Chapters” mindset. The Ideal Apprenticeship characterizes the time that follows your “formal education”. It is a time of transformation, where you develop real experience and skills. One can see how this may allude to the “twenty-something” population but this mindset can apply to anyone.
“The goal of an apprenticeship is not money, a good position, a title, or a diploma, but rather the transformation of your mind and character – the first transformation on the way to Mastery”
Now, contrasting with formal apprenticeships, where your schedule is set and at the end of an allotted time and certain commitment to work you receive a position, I think it is important to ascribe your own chapter to your phase and ultimately create your own syllabus, your own apprenticeship.
Greene illustrates a great example of this idea of seizing the opportunity and crafting your own chapter with his example of the notable explorer and naturalist Charles Darwin.
Charles Darwin is known for his theories and explorations of the Galapagos islands aboard the infamous HMS Beagle. His theory of natural selection and book “On the Origin of Species” is commonplace. What I find most remarkable about his story is his time aboard the Beagle and I believe it is a great example for “Chapter Change” and embracing growth and development.
At the age of 22, Darwin was unclear as to what he wanted to do with his life. He had recently graduated college but was listless and unfulfilled. “Green” and observant but lacking discipline, this reflects most young people without a single purpose. Shortly after college, Darwin was offered a position as a naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle per a recommendation from a previous professor. After some initial doubts, Darwin accepted the position, writing to the captain, “My second life will then commence, and it shall be as a birthday for the rest of my life”.
Embracing his time on the Beagle and this new chapter before him, Darwin grew tremendously after the five year voyage but not without initial hurdles. As a template for our thinking, I’ve broken down the stages of Darwin’s development and how that translates to “Chapter Change” and Greene’s “Ideal Apprenticeship”.
Shift in Strategy:
Early in the voyage, Greene describes Darwin as a man out of place. He was depressed, doubtful with his decision, and lonely. Darwin had felt foolish for signing on to this ship. Greene describes his loneliness as crushing, where the crew eyed him “strangely”, and he began to regret his decision.
Feeling helpless, Darwin decides to do on the ship what he would do when he experienced “turmoil” at home, return to nature and observe the life around him. This shift in strategy illustrates Darwin’s shift in thinking. He asked himself, How can I make the most of the time before me?
Darwin began to start taking meticulous notes about the world he was observing; the mannerisms of the sailors, the tendencies of the captain, and the prevalent attitudes that characterized life at sea.
This shift in strategy propelled him into this “Chapter Change”. Seeing opportunity with the time before him and taking responsibility for his own actions.
Popular contemporary philosophers allude to this shift in strategy and mindset as: Alive time vs Dead time.
Develop a system:
As Darwin learned to embrace his new chapter before him, his loneliness dissipated and he immersed himself in his new world. After several months aboard the Beagle he arrived in Brazil and his wait was rewarded with a world overflowing with life; “a naturalist’s paradise”.
Early into his voyage, Darwin recognized that the wealth of variety of vegetation and wildlife he was observing was too broad. How could he decide what to collect and what to send back to England?
“He would have to expand his knowledge. Not only would he have to spend endless hours studying everything in his sight on his walks, and take copious notes, but he would have to find a way to organize all of this information, catalog all of these specimens, bring some order to his observations.”
Darwin recognized the task before him as not only one of a shift in strategy but rather, to reach his goals, he needed to improve his skills and create a system of order in his life. He recognized what skills and qualities he was lacking and created a syllabus for himself in order to reach his goals.
I allude to syllabus as the education system is a great way to put a framework to this thinking. As formal universities and college systems weigh on curriculum with classes building upon one another, when designing my goals I approach them in this sequential fashion; identifying the qualities and skills necessary for growth specific to my goal and then building a curriculum or syllabus from there.
An example from history that gives me inspiration in regards to designing my own syllabus is from a letter from Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr written in 1785. In this letter, Jefferson provides a classical framework for his young nephew to follow with the goal of developing a strong base of knowledge revolving around history and thinking in order to introduce him into society with a Well Educated Mind.
Upon his return, Greene remarks on Darwin’s growth through the eyes of his father, “His whole manner was different – a seriousness of purpose and sharpness could be read in his eyes, almost the opposite look of the lost young man who had gone to sea years before”.
Embracing his time aboard the Beagle and seizing the opportunity that his new chapter presented him led Darwin on a path of growth and development that he may not have achieved if he stayed in his comfortable original position back in England.
One can see how “Changing Chapters” is a relevant mindset for any stage change in life, however, there is a certain significance held for those on the cusp of adulthood. Entering the adult world and leaving the comfort and security of childhood can be a daunting task. I would like to conclude with some advice I have gathered (and benefited from) for those people who are emerging into adulthood and wish to apply this mindset of “Changing Chapters”.
You may emerge from your adolescent years with a lifeline behind you. This is an attractive yet potentially growth limiting path. The struggle and discomfort that comes from making your own decisions and bearing those consequences is essential to your formation.
Get Real Jobs:
Use this time to gain real work experience. I recommend working in a manual labor job or food service; jobs with little consequence except they teach you the height of the hourly wage and reinforces the need to develop real skills. Real jobs recalibrate your perspective on skilled labor and unskilled labor with the consequence of orienting yourself towards the need to develop the former as well as learn how to work with another part of society (what some term “the middle”). You will emerge with an improved perspective, improved ability to navigate social dynamics, as well as a humbling affect on your ego (experiencing the service industry as a server will change your appreciation and perspective when you are served in a restaurant in the future).
This is a complement to the previous point. “Identity Capital” is a term coined by psychologist Dr. Meg Jay. Identity capital is described as a collection of personal assets or experiences and is useful in identifying the possible weight of a job or decision and its consequences. She describes “Identity Capital” as, “the currency we use to metaphorically purchase jobs and relationships and other things we want…These are the investments we make in ourselves, the things we do well enough, or long enough, that they become a part of who we are…Identity capital is how we build ourselves – bit by bit, over time”. It is important to highlight that when choosing work, whether it is a “real job” that we described before or something else, it is important not to choose a placeholder position or what Dr. Jay would describe as “underemployed”. You should be seeking jobs that give you real experience (ideally experience that cumulatively is aiming towards a goal) and not get jobs where it just appears like you are working.
Finally, upon emerging from school or university into the real world, it is very attractive to dispel with the textbooks and “turn off” the brain. Your learning is done. You’ve learned everything already. This is an empty notion. I have found that following school has been my greatest time for learning. In fact, I emerged from school with a profound sense of inadequacy in terms of knowledge, a consequential urgency to create a curriculum for myself and follow it, and finally a newfound love for learning that I did not have when the lessons were prescribed to me. Leaving the structure of school and being forced to create my own structure gave me a profound feeling of responsibility for my own learning. This path of responsibility has left me challenged and ultimately satisfied. It has also led me to a career path that offers the same opportunities for growth and learning in the future. (A career I identified following time in “Real Jobs” and developing “Identity Capital”).
Mastery by Robert Greene
Well Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer
The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead by Charles Murray
The Defining Decade by Dr. Meg Jay
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
I hope this mindset of “Changing Chapters” can be helpful to you. Taking responsibility for your learning and trajectory in life is a powerful thing. Even if the path is not what you expected, having the power and perspective to embrace the chapter before you, learn what you can from it, and consequently grow, is transformative. I hope this mindset serves you in some small way. It has for me.