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October 23, 2018

Up Front

Adaptation to Life

Andrew P. Corty | 6/17/2011

Andy Corty
Andy Corty, Publisher

Once a month I get together with seven other guys for a discussion group. We always start out with a serious topic, but as the evening wears on and the wine/whiskey takes hold, we get down to the real business of camaraderie. Some participants — not this one — enjoy a cigar along with the conversation.

We may appear a motley crew, but in fact each of us has notched significant accomplishments. Our assembly includes two medical doctors, a finance executive, a counselor, an attorney, an ophthalmologist, a professor and this publisher.

The group has been meeting for nine years. Such gatherings aren't unique, but managing to assemble regularly for nearly a decade warrants respect. Hats off to the organizer, Dr. B. Lynn Feaster.

The group has a highfalutin name — the South Porch Society — for the simple reason that Feaster's front porch where we gather faces south. Thanks to the
art department at Florida Trend, we even have a logo. I can't say more without breaking our double secret oath of silence.

So why say anything at all? Because on rereading one of my favorite books of all time, I've found that participating in this sort of group constitutes one sign of a healthy adulthood. Interacting with peers, taking an active role in civic life and continually learning are three behaviors exhibited by "well-adapted" adults.

I'd like to commend this book to your attention — it's called "Adaptation to Life" by George Vaillant. Though published more than 30 years ago, it's highly relevant today. Vaillant writes about the "Grant Study," which followed 268 men from their years as underclassmen at Harvard College in the early '40s through adulthood. The original study set out to map healthy and successful lives to determine what elements breed

This longitudinal study found that virtually every participant faced some tough challenge in life — a broken home, family illness, business reversal or a similar malady. The study found that a healthy, balanced life derives from a way of reacting to these problems, not an absence of them. You could call it a capacity for self-reliance, or in common parlance "making lemonade out of lemons." In the author's words, "a man's adaptive devices are as important in determining the course of his life as are his heredity, his upbringing, or his social position."

The study also discusses other healthy ways of dealing with the bumps of life, including altruism, humor, suppression, anticipation and sublimation.

A few years ago, Vaillant published a sequel titled "Aging Well" that follows these same participants into their elder years. That's on my bookshelf now.

Without looking too hard, we find examples of adaptation all around us. In this edition of Florida Trend, we publish the listing of Florida's largest public and private companies. It's no stretch to assume that the leaders of these companies have been through thick and thin, yet they manage to wake up each morning with a "can do" attitude.

This month we also publish an in-depth look at Florida's research community, where once again an optimistic view that innovation is just around the corner is a hallmark of success. While we focus on purely scientific innovation, the university community is equally committed to studies in the social sciences, which move us forward in understanding mankind just as the research for Vaillant's books does.

Diet update: My friend Mike Connelly, executive editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Sarasota Herald-Tribune, told me my comments on personal health were incenting him to stay fit as he enters middle age. Now I need to emulate him. That would be a good adaptation to life.

— Andy Corty

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