CHAPTER SEVEN: Is
Thirty years ago, I told my friends and family that I had “decided” to go to law school rather than telling them the truth, that I had simply Adapted to Chaos in my military career. The end of the Cold War had led to the Army’s contraction and me becoming RIF-bait. The Soviet Union’s sudden collapse, and the United States government’s reaction to that unexpected event, were not within my Control. Nor was the fact that I was RIF-bait a problem for me to solve, it was just an Is that I had to accept as an Obstacle to traverse. So, I Adapted by going to law school. It seemed like the harder path at the time.
When the guy from the Pentagon (a friend of mine named Erik) called to tell me that, he said he was sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
“I wish there was something different I could tell you Dave,” Erik said. “But it is what it Is.”
I didn’t argue with him, and I wasn’t upset. I was thirty years old at the time, so that was about ten years after I had resolved to stop quitting in the face of Adversity and continue moving down the harder path when confronted with a Chaotic fork in the road. My nine years as a soldier had been full of Obstacles, which had helped develop my capacity to make necessary and rapid adjustments in response to circumstances that were outside of my control. So, by the time I got that call from Erik, I was a full-blown Adapter who had learned not only to like Chaos but was actually a bit addicted to it.
Without Chaos I was like a fish without water. Take a fish out of the water and he has trouble breathing and can’t move very well, and (ultimately) he will die on dry land. That’s what the Chaos of uncontrollable circumstance is for an Adapter—it is like water to a fish. Take him out of it and he feels like he is dying. Adapters can’t breathe very well on the dry land where the Controllers dwell. It’s an unnatural habitat.
Unlike Adapters, Controllers do want to make decisions, or at least feel like they are. Not because they are weak or stupid, but simply because that is how they are. Throw them in the deep water of Chaos and they will drown. A Controller is what he is, and that Is cannot be Controlled because every individual’s hard wiring is a matter of uncontrollable circumstance. Criticizing him for it would not only be unjust, it would also be un-Adaptive because I cannot direct the actions of others. At most, I can Influence them—which is something entirely different. Influence is the ignition of a palpable desire for voluntary movement in another man. He moves not because you made him move, but because you led him to want to move.
When I was a sophomore in college my father called to tell me that he couldn’t pay my tuition for the following year.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “but it is what it Is”.
I didn’t argue with him, and I wasn’t upset. It was just the Chaos of an Obstacle in the road that I was traveling. A few years earlier, I might have seen it as the end of the road and quit school. But by then, I had already made continued movement my default response to Chaos.
After I hung up the phone, I looked down at the coffee table and saw a postcard from the university’s ROTC department that was addressed to my roommate. The card said (essentially) if you have a pulse and can’t pay your tuition you should come see us. It was 1983 and Ronald Reagan was cranking up the military to spend the Soviet Union into oblivion. That was his Cold War strategy.
The next morning I went to see the recruiter with the card he had sent to my roommate and said, “look, this didn’t come to me, but I—“.
“Oh hey, no problem,” the guy said, tossing the card into the garbage and grabbing me by the arm to pull me into the bowels of the ROTC office before I could get away. He was an Army major, although I didn’t know that at the time because I had zero knowledge about the military or how the rank structure worked.
“Come back to my office and we’ll see what we can do. Hey, do you workout? You look like you’re in pretty good shape.” He said, squeezing my scrawny bicep.
“Well, I play a lot of basketball . . . “
Two months later I found myself in basic training at Fort Knox. At the time, joining the Army seemed like the harder path for me to take, so that is what I did. I Adapted and kept moving.
It’s funny to me now that the Cold War, a truly Chaotic and uncontrollable circumstance in my life, played such a large role in starting the only two careers that I have ever had—first as a soldier and then a lawyer. In the first case, the Chaos of my father’s financial difficulties joined together with the president’s strategy to win the war. In the second, the fact that we had won that war joined together with the Chaos of the RIF to make me expendable as a soldier.
In both cases, the way I wanted things to be or thought they Should Be had no relevance to me as an Adapter. To stay in motion, I just accepted the Is and made necessary and rapid adjustments when faced with circumstances that were outside of my Dominion. I saw the Obstacle, pedaled faster, and kept moving.
For an Adapter, the Is always is what it Is.