On Adaptability 

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed creating my own challenges. Generally, this means increasing the level of difficulty inherent in dull or overly simplistic situations by adding extra limits, or constraints, to either my behavior or my thinking. It is my feeling that self-imposed limits, or self-created challenges, can transform rote or mundane tasks into opportunities for creative and intellectual growth. They can also force you to improvise, shift strategies, or make quick decisions–that is, to adapt. In Finding the Challenge, I discuss some methods I’ve found helpful for combatting boredom, increasing creative output, and reframing my attitude under mundane circumstances. With this post, I am turning my attention to what I consider to be one of the most valuable benefits of limits, or constraints, including those we may place on ourselves: the ability to successfully adapt.

I would, of course, be lying if I said that I relished in all of life’s challenges. Quite to the contrary. What I do value, however (and quite highly), is the belief that I can navigate whatever challenges come my way. I put tremendous faith in my ability to adapt to and handle the obstacles present in new and changing environments. Sometimes, I welcome the stimulation that comes with being required to “think on my feet.” More often, though, I simply do what I must in order to make it through difficult circumstances.

pencil and the image of head

I have observed that I rely very heavily not only my ability to adapt (when starting a new job, meeting new people, traveling, or dealing with difficult customers in my day job), but also–and more importantly–on my confidence in that capacity. I think adaptability, or the ability to effectively respond to changing and challenging circumstances is, in many ways, a matter of self-belief. I have found that self-doubt and my perceptions of my personal limitations constitute my greatest obstacles when forced to adapt to a new challenge. Here are some brief thoughts on becoming more adaptable and on increasing your confidence in navigating new and complex situations.

Be adventurous.

Quite simply, the more you do, the more you will know. Be open to new experiences. Try new things. Go new places. Meet new people. Challenge yourself. I know this comes more naturally to some of us than to others, but, regardless, broadening your range of experience will provide you with a great deal of perspective and a much-needed frame of reference for novel situations and situations that require a high degree of flexibility. Indeed, I find that having an ample frame of reference is essential to navigating unfamiliar terrain. It enables us too see more clearly the similarities between past and present experiences, between what we have already done and what we are about to do. And the unfamiliar often becomes a whole lot less intimidating when we can liken it to something we know. In addition, it’s much easier to have confidence in our ability to improvise and to move back-and-forth between multiple strategies when we have first-hand experience in using those techniques. And in using them competently.

“But, that’s not who I am!”

This one makes me a little bit sad. Over the years, I have developed a grave distaste for the phrases, “But, that’s not what I do!” and “That’s not who I am!” Do not let who you are–or who you think you are–dictate who you will become. Do it anyway. 

It is tragic to observe the manifestations of this kind of thinking both in others and in oneself (if we’re honest with ourselves about it when we do it). Just because a certain behavior or activity doesn’t fit into your conception of who you are, or who you were, does not mean that it can’t be part of whoyou will be. If you limit yourself in this way, not only will you be less able to adapt (because you’ll be working within a very narrow and rigid definition of “who you are” and “what you can and should do” in a given set of circumstances), but you also will severely hamper your growth, enjoyment, and the richness of your experiences. Confidence often comes from taking risks, which leads me to my final thought…

Be who you aren’t.

I had a friend tell me just the other day that she wants to become a painter–and has wanted to for some time–but has yet to embark on this endeavor because it’s not something she does. Little does she know that the only thing one must do in order to become a painter is paint. The only thing you have to do to be a writer is write. Run to become a runner. Swim to transform yourself into a swimmer. Climb a mountain in order to become a mountain climber. Then, that is who you are. And you can move forward comfortable in the knowledge that you not only have those new-found skills at your disposal, but that you also have the ability to perform despite your trepidations and, perhaps, a high degree of uncertainty. That’s part of what being adaptable is about.

20 thoughts on “On Adaptability 

  1. I enjoyed this post, especially because of its timing. I recently started a bookkeeping business so that I can (hopefully) earn some income from home. I’m about to start attracting clients, but my self doubt is tormenting me. This is so far out of my comfort zone and skill set that I’m tempted to give up. The only things stopping me are my stubbornness, fear of failure, and persistence. I agree that persistence is essential in adaptability. Like you said, I’m going to do it anyway!

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    1. I think it’s most difficult to persist when you’re not seeing any rewards, like when you first start a business, you’re full of self-doubt, and you’re working tirelessly with seemingly no success in sight. Hang in there! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, and I love this quote by Steve Harvey:
    “If you want to be successful, you have to jump, there’s no way around it. When you jump, I can assure you that your parachute will not open right away. But if you do not jump, your parachute will never open. If you’re safe, you’ll never soar!”

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  3. Love this, I also find we limit ourselves because we have a preconceived notion about the type of person we have decided we are. Take a risk! after all, you can’t really stop being yourself…

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  4. My favorite part is about telling ourselves who we are and not allowing room for growth. I’m in the midst of stepping way outside of my comfort zone in multiple areas of my life, so I really sat up for that part. We don’t have to remain the same person forever. I can’t believe how much technology I’ve been learning, and… I am not a tech person… haha, just had to say it to tease you. 🙂

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  5. This piece sent me spinning off on a slight tangent, and I think you’re right on target.

    Forgive me for this, because we’re not supposed to use this word any more. But I heard someone –I think it was Garrison Keillor– who said he thought he was an elitist, that he’d gotten the idea of what that meant from his parents and grandparents. They, being staunch Lutheran Midwesterners (being a Midwesterner, I get this; I’m not a Lutheran, though) they saw elitism as never being satisfied. That no matter how well one does, you can always do better the next time.

    My yeoman Ohio farmer/Quaker/Puritan/Scots/Irish/Danish/Swiss/English/French/Jewish/ German/Norman French/African ancestors (the latter nations via DNA and Ancestry) would approve.

    I gradually learned that always striving, always looking at what was possible, was the true creative path. It wasn’t supposed to be easy. It became liberating, this dour, disapproving, elitist Calvanist mentality. It kept me looking for the hard truth of things, not settling for easy answers. It forced humility on me, too, this constant awareness of my inadequacies. My parents were not the types to worry about my self-esteem, certainly not more than my education and character. They’d both had hard lives, living through the Great Depression and World War II. On both sides, they came from people who pushed into unsettled country, leaving everything and everyone behind. So, I guess it’s in the genes.

    I don’t think life would have been nearly as interesting another way. I may be making a virtue of necessity, but I think it’s also why I love detective fiction, where the stories are always about basic human motivations, of greed, and hatreds and loves and desires and loss and honor and weakness and strength. Those are the stuff of life. The genre gets a bad rap by people who are, shall we say, a bit snooty.

    I found I liked the challenge, and got a lot of satisfaction from never settling when I might push on a little further. I don’t have illusions about my writing.. There I go again. Maybe I’ve trained myself not to think in terms of looking for praise. It’s nice to get . I’m pretty critical of what I do and people who don’t understand are put off by that. We’re not supposed to be too judgmental these days; might hurt feelings. But my self-criticisms don’t register internally as discouragement, and they don’t make me feel bad. The inner editor in me keeps me honest. “Was that *really* the best word you could have used? That phrase is clumsy; do it over. Is that original? Can you come up with something a little different?”

    But I do want to always do a little better. I may be getting older, but I don’t see a reason to try less for as long as the words still come. When they don’t, any longer, I guess I’ll be done. But at least I won’t have quit too soon.

    I’m sorry to go off on an essay here. This has been important to me lately.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t be sorry! I really like what you have to say here. I think self-examination is critical to growing creatively and personally–in all aspects of our lives. Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response. As always, I appreciate your feedback!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have recently set a target list of various small to large challenges. It has made me feel so much better about, what I thought was a dull 9-5 life. I would recommend this. Ive had fun, set up my own blog, climbed many “mountain” etc. The only thing is you must stick to it!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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