Embracing Flexibility to Succeed in Work and Life

Author:  Stephanie Camins – MA, LPC  

verified by Psychology Today

Moving Past the Holding Pattern

The world is in flux.  Our lives have changed; for some dramatically and for others in more subtle ways. No matter your circumstance, the changes we are experiencing are pervasive.  Many people have said to me over the last few weeks, “Life’s not going to go back to the old normal, how do I prioritize my life right now?”  “How will I keep myself challenged and feeling purposeful? I want to continue moving forward and making progress in my life.”  “How will I thrive through this time rather than just exist as COVID passes through leaving its mark?”  “I can make new goals, but they seem to pale in comparison to the ones I had.”

Many of us feel like we are in a holding pattern waiting for the pandemic to come to an end, so we can get back to it.  High performers accustomed to striving each day to achieve their goals are feeling frustrated, impatient, restless, and ready to get moving again.

If this sounds familiar, you may feel like you are moving, but it seems to be in circles rather than in a forward direction. Or the forward movement may have slowed to a snail’s pace.  Possibly you have been stopped in your tracks looking at a wall standing between you and progress. If our circumstance isn’t going to revert to our previous set of norms in the foreseeable future, how do we shift gears to continue our forward progress?

One of the things we’ve heard over and over in multiple arenas over the last few months is that we need to be flexible.  Flexible in our expectations, flexible in our work, flexible in teaching our children, flexible with our schedules, flexible with our plans, flexible with our grocery shopping.  You get the point.  And though you may be tired of hearing, “we all need to be flexible,” it is, in fact, a defining quality demonstrated consistently by those highly successful people you wish to emulate.

What can high achievers teach us that we can harness in our own lives during this time?

Qualities that separate highly successful people from the mainstream include their ability

  • to go with the flow
  • to rise above challenges with innovative ideas
  • to learn from mistakes and change course
  • to access resources and learn new information to solve problems
  • to ask for assistance when hitting a roadblock

This is all flexibility in action.  Flexibility allows for growth, innovation, and progress.  Flexibility is not a weakness, it is the strength that allows us to adapt to our changing circumstances.

Flexibility does not mean being lax or remiss. It does not mean simply following another’s lead at their command. It does not mean having zero boundaries and always acquiescing your schedule for others.

To be flexible is to pivot when needed to achieve the desired outcome.  Effective flexibility is grounded in routines, rituals, and ways of doing things.  It isn’t about going in whatever direction the wind blows.

Effective flexibility is your ability to evaluate openly all the relevant information and make the best decision based on the outcome you seek.  The structure that routines provide gives us the foundation from which to flex and bend and move and shift while staying focused on the goal.  Without the structure, you aren’t moving toward a goal, you are flailing aimlessly without direction.

My Own Lesson in Flexibility

Like myself, you may have had routines that supported your success.  The schedules, ways of doing things, and patterns of interaction that worked very well for you have changed dramatically or been taken away altogether by circumstance.

I am definitely a creature of habit.  Had you asked me 3 months ago, ‘Can I change my routine?’  I would have replied, ‘Sure, I can, but why? The one I have has been fine-tuned over many years, and it is because of this routine that I am so efficient, organized, and successful.’

Needless to say, that routine got ripped right out from under me with the shutdown of my community.  My routine which worked seamlessly is no longer available, not because it wasn’t effective or needed to change but because the world around me changed so dramatically.

Fast forward to now, having suddenly found myself in the “new normal” with some semblance of a routine I scraped together between online school with a special ed middle schooler, an older daughter in her first year of teaching now teaching virtually from her room, the gym closed down, my office shut down, working virtually, seeing my friends and family only on Zoom, and having groceries delivered.

It should come as no surprise given all of this that the routine which came about, not via any plan of action, but by default, is not working out!  This new routine that I fell into did not represent flexibility, it represented ‘flailing aimlessly’.  No wonder I was going in circles!

During a discussion I had with a mentor about my own frustration with the lack of forward progress I was experiencing, he pointed out that the routine I had, which was so successful is no longer available and it’s time to put together a new one.

So simply stated!  Why didn’t I think of that?  Well, anybody who knows me well, knows that when my routine gets thrown, I get thrown.  I was very attached to my routine.  However, harnessing flexibility, which I do feel is a strength of mine, it was time to work through this.

Harnessing Flexibility

 Time to shift gears and map out a new plan.  A plan that is congruent with the changes myself and the community around me are experiencing.  Our world will continue to be in rapid flux for the time being.  I need a routine and structure that represents accurately the current reality, not the prior reality. Routines keep me sane. They allow me to grow and reach my goals.

I take time to find a quiet space, close my eyes, and visualize myself walking down new paths. Looking at the abundance of options available to me. Breathing in the energy of all the possibilities and exhaling all my fears, doubts, and anxieties. I picture all that is available flowing my way with ease. Then I open my eyes and write all the ideas that come to me.

It’s still a work in progress, but adapting has given me the opportunity to discover new paths, meet new people, work in new ways, and deepen my relationship with myself.  I am grateful, I am strong, I am making space for more, I am finding joy in the in-between, I am flexible!

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