Is it best to be perfectly adapted to a given environment? Or, rather, is it better to be able to adapt to the changes in that environment or to a completely new one? Adaptability is a more useful characteristic in a rapidly changing world.
For the last five years or so I’ve almost never stayed in hotels, opting to stay in Airbnb apartments instead, from Shanghai to Buenos Aires to Bangkok to Istanbul to New Delhi. I find it exhilarating to solve the small riddles of where the apartment is, how to get in if the host is not at home, how to connect to the WiFi and where the bathroom is. I even like waking up at night and reorienting myself in that particular place. It is a mental exercise that allows me to check if I can still fall on my feet, like a cat.
All this is within the acceptable boundaries of the full knowledge that even if I don’t know where the bathroom is there will indeed be a bathroom. All the small riddles do have a solution, and the exercise is never falling from a height that would kill me, like a cat.
Compared to the fun of the constant change, staying in hotels is stultifying and for me leads to anxiety.
A corollary of this choice is that you may accept a certain degree of maladaptation as a cost of the dynamic nature of adaptability. The smooth experience of a hotel checkin and checkout process gives way to one that can have a few bumps. But you accept it because it is a price worth paying. It is better to be constantly a bit out of balance with the knowledge that you can recover from excessive imbalance, instead of being in your comfort zone all the time. Regular exercising your adaptability “muscle” makes you better equipped to navigate the everyday challenges of a rapidly changing world.
If you think about it, this is how human bipedal locomotion is, with its constantly unstable positions, which lead to our endless steps forward in our life. We can’t even stand without unconsciously constantly adjusting our position. We are literally always balancing on our toes.
Thanks to Alex Lightman for telling me about his mother’s thoughts as she told them to him as a child about this topic, which led to the post.