Vigilant Vicissitude: Adapting to the Unexpected

“You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the one’s you’re holding.” ~ Cheryl Strayed

The definition of vicissitude is changeability; a sudden or unexpected change in someone’s life. We all experience vicissitudes in life. Some more sudden and unexpected than others, but it’s still an aspect of the human condition that we all must go through in some form or another. The question is how well we’re able to adapt to the change. And the key to adaptation is having a sound emotional strategy, a healthy disposition based on hope and preparation: Hoping for the best, but being prepared for the worst.

Let’s face it, in the poker game of life we are sometimes dealt bad hands-like, going to jail for example. Getting locked up, especially when you’re the unwitting victim of an overreaching state with monopoly on violence, using petty laws to enforce a “legal” extortion racket on it’s citizens.

creating-oneselfOutdated statist-versus-progressive-anarchist talk aside, getting dealt such a hand, one has an existential duty to play the hell out of it. Self-pity is poison to someone seeking to become stronger than their former self. Like Charles Bukowski said, “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”

Adaptation and Affirmation

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Adaptibility is one of the keys to facing challenging unexpected changes, and one of the keys to adaptability is being able to motivate ourselves through healthy self-affirmations. Take the example of losing a loved one, like a mother or a child.

Once we’ve reconciled the pain, adapting to the new reality is made less challenging through positive self-affirmations. In short we’re empowering ourselves. We’re using affirmation to become stronger versions of ourselves in order to adapt to a scary new reality where our loved ones are no longer with us.

Take the jail analogy again: adapting to a drastically different and dangerous environment requires a healthy mode of self-talk, such as positive self affirmations that can motivate us to remain calm or maintain a good sense of humor in the face of adversity. Adaptability is more of an emotional balancing act than it is a physical one, and so in order to bolster positive emotions, despite despair, is to recognize the despair for what it is and then turn the tables through healthy self-affirmation.

Positive self affirmation can bring hope in dark times. It’s like an invisible cape that drags us through the darkness toward the “light”. The courage behind the affirmation doesn’t have to be “real” – hence the dragging. It just needs to be there to keep us stable during unstable times.

We may “feel” scared but our self-affirmation helps us to “act” courageously, or calmly, humorously, despite. Again, this isn’t done to mask our weaker emotions, it is done so that our weaker emotions don’t turn us into a puppet. It’s a strategy of healthy self-empowerment which can lead us from the ability to adapt to the ability to overcome.


“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man: true nobility is being superior to your former self.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

Self-overcoming is the flexible backbone of dealing with the vicissitudes of life. It’s like having an existential double-jointedness. Our former self is like an old skin that we shed, snake-like, except it’s not discarded. Rather, it is subsumed by the newer more flexible self.

The problem is that most people are not aware of this process, and so they tend to cling to previous selves, usually at the detriment of their current self. Add to the mix, unexpected changes like going to jail or losing a mother, and an individual clinging to the former self is going to have a lot of difficulty adapting to the new reality.

Like Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Clinging to yesterday’s self, that was free, won’t help the current self, that is now in jail. Likewise, clinging to the previous self, that was able to hug Mom, won’t help the current self adapt to the new reality where it cannot.

The clinging is the thing that must be let go. Absorb the old self into the new self by letting go of the need to cling so that you’re clear enough to adapt to, and overcome, the new reality.

The vicissitudes of life can really take us for a ride. Sometimes, usually, they will take us through a dark night of the soul, which can be a soul-shattering and heart-crushing experience. But there are strategies we can use amidst the scattered heart debris and shards of soul. Such strategies as self-affirmation and self-overcoming act like stepping stones, or “ropes to God”, that can help us ascend the dark night of the soul and compel us to transcend our seemingly limited conditions.

Unexpected change forces us into a new reality, usually painfully, but there’s no reason why we cannot build our character in the new reality, using the pain, if need be, to rise above despair and grab hold of life as it is, despite twists of fate, or bad luck or a shitty hand of poker. Like Maria Robinson wisely said, “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

Image Source

Art by Robert Kopecky

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Gary Z McGee
Gary Z McGee
Gary 'Z' McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.
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