Successful people are adaptable. Research shows that in terms of the competencies one needs to be successful, adaptability is up there with self-confidence, emotional self-control, and inspirational leadership.
Yet, so many of us dedicate significant amounts of time and energy to planning. And then when our plans don’t work out (as so often happens) we dedicate significant amounts of emotion to being irritated, frustrated, bent out of shape, and placing blame.
So, on one hand we have the critical importance of being adaptable and on the other we have our natural tendency to be totally inflexible. This is a problem – a problem I know intimately.
Like most other important business lessons, I was reminded of the futility of planning at the hands of my children. On Friday morning, I went to my kids’ school to volunteer in the classroom. I had confirmed the date and time with the teacher days in advance. I had reviewed with her the materials I needed to bring and the treats I was going to share with the children. I looked over my papers the night before and set my alarm early the morning of. I arrived at school just as I had planned, excited about my morning with the children.
With smile wide, I ran smack into the other mom who had also volunteered to be in the classroom that morning. She had confirmed the date and time with the teacher days in advance. She had reviewed with the teacher the materials she needed to bring and the treats she was going to share with the children. She had looked over her papers the night before and set her alarm early the morning of. She arrived at school just as she had planned, excited about her morning with the children.
Then in an instant our well-orchestrated plans crumbled. There was a miscommunication. The teacher only needed one volunteer and now she had two. The other mom was superfluous. I was a duplicate. We were both very annoyed and disappointed. Our morning had been shattered. One of us would surely be sent home or left standing in the corner while the other performed the morning’s duties. While I can’t speak for her, I wasn’t just annoyed and disappointed, I was angry too.
Neither one of us was particularly adaptable in that movement and because of that neither one of us could figure out a solution. Luckily, the school receptionist, on the other hand, was a study in flexibility and with clear and unemotional thinking rearranged us so that two moms became better than one. She split the class up, sent me to one room with class A, sent the other mom to another room to class B and midway through the morning had us switch rooms so that we could spend time with the other class.
It was a lovely morning and the reshuffle worked out perfectly. I walked out of school thinking how the morning had turned out so much better than I could have planned.
And so often that is how life is. Plan A is average. It frequently doesn’t work out because life is messy and humans are imperfect and in the scheme of the cosmos we are just ants who have very little control over anything. The real shame isn’t that Plan A falls apart it’s that we waste time mourning it and don’t shift to Plan B. And, if we let it, in most cases, Plan B is better.