November 06, 2017

6 ways adaptability can help you succeed

By Renée Sylvestre-Williams

Life throws you curveballs – at work and at home. Here’s how being positive and creative can help you navigate obstacles with grace and confidence.

We’re approaching the holiday season, a time of joy, excitement and . . . stress. While we’re doling out holiday cheer to our family and friends, it can be difficult to manage the unexpected. How can you deal with surprises without losing your cool? It turns out there’s one business buzzword that can help you in your family life: adaptability.

For Elena Yunusov, founder of Communicable Inc., adaptability is a combination of curiosity, humility and having an open mind. “It’s realizing I may not have all the answers, even when I think I do, and seeking out a more complete understanding of whatever context I find myself in,” she says. “As a business owner, adaptability has been my willingness to roll with the punches, learn, get up and go at it again. It led to a great deal of personal and professional growth.”

You can apply that same willingness to be open to whatever comes your way to home life, too. Being adaptable can help open up your perspective and present more solutions to problems that come up.

Evelyn So, founder of Noesium Consulting Inc., says she developed adaptability as a child while living away from her family at a boarding school in England. “I believe as a child I was born with an adaptable trait; newness excited me,” she says. “However, developing more advanced levels of adaptability continues at various stages. I did so by being positive and creative with life’s curveballs.”

As an entrepreneur and a parent of highly gifted kids with ADHD, challenges are a regular part of So’s daily life. At one point, she had to stop working to take care of her children’s medical and school issues; she eventually turned that experience into the seed idea for a business venture.

Adaptability is one of the key job skills needed in the 21st-century workforce. According to the University of Kent’s Careers and Employability Service, employers want team members who can adapt “to changing circumstances and environments, embrace new ideas, who are enterprising, resourceful and adaptable” -- and often do so on short notice. It’s all about being able to navigate obstacles with grace and confidence.

The great thing about being adaptable is that it gets easier with practice. Yunusov says she treats adaptability like a muscle: “Now that I've developed it, I don't want to lose it.”

You can look for opportunities in your daily life to practise a few of these common skills to help you build adaptability: 

1. Being open-minded

Different life experiences can help you look at situations from different perspectives, according to Yunusov. “I had lived in 4 different countries by the time I was 21, learned 5 languages, read countless books, and met many amazing people along the way.” With 2 children and a busy career, “adaptability comes with the territory,” she says.

2. Asking for help

Speaking to friends, family and professionals can help you make sense of things. So says she had what she calls a “lightbulb moment,” thanks to her therapist: “It was a family session and the therapist pointed out that certain issues I see as a parent are not issues.”

That moment made So redefine the roles in her family, such as delegating appointment booking to her older son. It helped her discover new possible solutions by incorporating other points of view.

3. Measuring the pros and cons

Take time to imagine the worst-case scenario; often it’s not as bad as you might think. And once you recognize it, you’re better able to prepare for it. “For me, it's about making lemonade out of all the free lemons,” says So.

4. Being solution-oriented

“I have seen people pick avoidance or blame when faced with life’s challenges,” says So. But adaptable people tend to look for solutions first and foremost, to help cope with difficult situations.

5. Prioritizing what’s important to you

Sometimes the hardest part about making a decision is figuring out what matters. Once you know what matters, you can use your priorities to help make better decisions.

6. Being flexible

The more flexible you are, the more options you have to choose from when it comes to solutions. That can make the difference between a tolerable situation and an intolerable one.

Being adaptable can help widen your professional and personal reach by creating more opportunities. For example, now that her children are older, So has taken her ability to adapt to situations and turned it into a career building tech applications to support mental health.

Adaptability isn’t just about managing your own stress. It’s also about using the space you gain to help benefit those around you. And that’s the best gift you can give to the ones you love during the holidays.

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