When I think of adaptability, I think of the many incredible athletes who have had to overcome the odds in order to excel at their sport. One such athlete is surfer Bethany Hamilton. In 2003, when Bethany was only 13 years old, she lost her left arm to a shark attack. Having already won surfing competitions, Bethany faced the difficult task of not only recovering from a major injury, but deciding if and how she would reenter the competitive world.
Bethany participated in her first major competition only three months after the shark attack. This quick and amazing turnaround can be attributed to her determination and adaptability. She taught herself to surf with only one arm by kicking more and adding a handle to her surfboard. To me, Bethany Hamilton is the perfect example of adaptability– her world suddenly changed and instead of just resigning herself to pain or sadness, she looked around, assessed her situation, and made the changes necessary to thrive, in spite of her pain and sadness.
Not many of us will face challenges quite like Bethany, but we still must consider what it means for us to be adaptable. Especially in today’s times, it seems like we could experience a number of setbacks at any moment. Our lives will not go smoothly 100% of the time. It is important that we know how to adapt and move forward when something unexpected does happen. But how?
Consider the following do’s and don’t as it relates to our posture toward adaptability:
A few “stop doing” items:
- Stop feeling sorry for yourself– We all face let downs in life, and when this happens it’s natural to feel disappointed. However, dwelling in this disappointment will not do any good. Acknowledge the feeling and move on.
- Don’t assume there is just one right outcome– Adapting means accepting a certain level of uncertainty. There is more than one way to solve a problem.
- Stop looking to cast blame– Many times, there is no one to blame for a problem arising. And even when there is, it is unproductive to spend your time looking for the culprit instead of figuring out a way forward.
- Abandon negative self talk– Much like feeling sorry for yourself, this doesn’t lead anywhere. Putting yourself down will only make it harder to adapt. Instead, engage in positive self talk: “You can do this. You have what it takes to adapt and thrive.”
A few “start doing” items:
- Assess the moment– Take a moment to analyze what’s going on. Consider what is the most important and what should be a priority. Decide what is and what isn’t valuable knowledge.
- Decide what your role should be– Whatever problem arises, your role will probably need to change and adapt. Ask yourself “What will my new role be?” This will require some self-reflection, but it is vital to adapting well.
- Think on your feet– Adapting means thinking quickly. You must prepare yourself to act decisively and effectively.
My friend Cynthia has recently had to adapt to a new situation. When the COVID-19 crisis began, she was furloughed from her long-time job as a teacher. While she was disappointed to lose her job, she realized that this was just one of the consequences of the times. She began looking for other schools where she could teach, however, options were limited due to the pandemic. Cynthia had to think quickly and creatively about what to do.
She knew she needed to work to provide for her family and she knew she was a great teacher. She also realized that there were probably students who could no longer get the in-person instruction they needed, so she began looking for online teaching jobs. She was able to find a job teaching English to Spanish speaking students. In addition, Cynthia needed to secure another part-time job to make ends meet and decided to think about the places she frequents, like retail and grocery stores. Though it is something she has never done before, she landed a job in the deli of a grocery store and really enjoys it. Can you identify how Cynthia may have applied the do’s and don’t above to her situation?
What are the circumstances in your life that are compelling enough for you to consider adapting? How will you adapt moving forward?
Yasser Youssef is the president of The Budd Group, one of the leading facility service companies in the country, a North Carolina-based company that provides facility support services in the Southeast. Throughout his career, Youssef has met leaders from all backgrounds, and believes leadership is for everyone. Over the past few years, he has developed an affinity for writing and contributing thought leadership, and is often asked to speak to businesses throughout the country about authentic leadership.