As our lives become more VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), personal flexibility can be helpful as a coping mechanism. It gives us piece of mind and options.
Eventually, many of us will encounter certain life events like; retirement, moving countries, or ‘empty nest’ down-sizing. Such events might help us shed cost and excess physical capacity. But not necessarily the life complexity we’d like to simplify. How so? We can anticipate that downsizing will likely be undermined, when complexity compliance acts as a brake. One simple example is that empty nest parents don’t stop being parents (or offspring of their own, perhaps ailing parents), just by downsizing their house, after the kids leave home.
So how can we achieve matching, so that downsizing and simplifying the complexity of our lives go together?
Using personal flexibility as a tool to alter the complexity before downsizing is one avenue to explore. On this, we can take inspiration from our own brains. Each night, our brains exhibit personal flexibility, in relaxing the body (reducing the complexity of physical activity) in preparation for sleep.
Another personal flexibility example is time flexibility – buying time to reduce complexity before we downsize. For example, hiring specialists to help us ‘get our affairs in order’ and simplify the maintenance time required.
Reducing complexity and downsizing together is another option. For example, we can build up a passive income portfolio, to replace the need for us having to work a 40 hour week, therefore downsizing the number of hours worked. And the complexity of handling a full-time job.
Regarding complexity, in the same way that households and wage earners have fixed & variable costs to pay for, (think of rent/mortgage payments and food bills respectively), complexity can also be described as fixed or variable. There is however no direct relationship between cost type and complexity type – you can have any mix of both. But in a VUCA environment, some combinations are likely to be more troublesome than others. For example, high fixed cost, high life complexity.
Some examples of fixed complexity in our personal life are as follows;
- the number of family members in our immediate family group,
- the number of places we can physically be at any one time,
- regular bill paying tasks each month e.g. utilities and rent/mortgage.
Some examples of variable complexity in our personal life are as follows;
- the number of key relationships and purchases we manage each month,
- the range of improvements we try to make each month,
- the range of disagreements or arguments we have each month,
- the number of crises we face each month.
Personal flexibility thinking is about designing both costs & complexity to be as variable as possible, regardless of our (own perceived) level of expertise, other people’s dependency on us, our career success, or our bank account balance.
Why is variable complexity in our lives desirable? Fixed complexity doesn’t stay fixed forever, so by coping with variable, we can cope with fixed complexity (inevitably) becoming variable. Assuming fixed complexity may lead to complacency and stop us looking for improvements i.e. personal growth opportunities. Some types of fixed complexity in our lives may be an illusion. When the unexpected occurs, for example our teen or adult children bring home a partner and behave differently in the partner’s presence, this reminds us not to make assumptions.