Weekly Greatness Memo: Be Adaptable
Updated: Apr 27
How quickly are you able to adjust to new conditions? Your answer provides you with clues about your adaptability.
Although I don't agree with many of Charles Darwin's philosophies, I have always agreed with the statement above about those who are willing to adapt to change will always experience a greater level of success in life versus those who choose not to.
Why do I believe this? This belief was seeded in my early childhood when during my first three years of grade school, our family moved into three different houses. My mom was bullish towards upgrading our living standards despite my parents working class income.
I was the ninth of her eleven children. Our first brother was still born. Although two of my siblings were living on their own by the time I was born, that still meant that seven of us were living under the same roof. Affordable, well built housing for working class households was few and far between.
So, each time my mom heard about a neighbor's plan to move, and the house provided additional bedrooms, she figured out a way to secure it for our family. This meant that we lived in three different houses during my first three years of elementary school.
Most of the time, I was still able to stay in contact with my friends. However, their was a good friend that I wasn't able to keep in contact with. Fortunately, years ago, we were able to connect on Facebook.
My mother never sat down with my siblings and me and asked if we wanted to move. She was bent on elevating our living standards and that was that. We had no choice but to adapt to our changing conditions whether we liked it or not.
Because these moves allowed us to attend the same schools, for the most part we were excited about "moving on up" to bigger living spaces.
My Childhood Push Back to Change
In the summer before I was to attend fourth grade, my mom announced that she had been accepted into a government housing program and we were moving again. This time in a four bedroom, two bathroom upstairs apartment.
We couldn't believe our luck. At least that was my initial thought until I was informed that I would no longer be able to attend Carver Elementary. Instead, I was going to be bussed across town to what had been an all-white elementary school.
As a black child growing up in the South, I knew that this had everything to do with the Supreme Court's decision in the Brown v Board of Education in 1954. Because I lived in the South, many of the states refused to respect and honor this law. In many states, the federal government had to start enforcing the law.
I wasn't at happy with the idea of being bussed into a neighborhood I wasn't familiar with, Or, attending a predominately white school. At my all-black Carver elementary school, the teachers knew my family. Many of them had taught my older siblings. My mom attended PTA meetings and several of the programs that my siblings and me were in when she could get off from her day job.
I didn't know it as a child, but my older sisters informed me years later about how my mom spoke up about me having to be bussed across town when there was an elementary school in our new neighborhood.
Her efforts were to no avail. I had to attend Brennan elementary.
I spent the first half of my fourth grade begging my Dad who continued to live in our old neighborhood to use his address so that I could attend Carver.
I complained and cried about how I felt I was being treated by the teacher and students in my class. Instead of him caving in to my rants, he used the time we spent talking on the phone and when I visited him to teaching me how to expand my thinking about the situation.
Little did I know at the age of eight that my father was teaching me a skill that would serve me for life.
Facing the Unknown, Again
Although the start of my fourth grade year was difficult to me, by the second semester, my father's advice took hold in my mind and I was able to figure out how to navigate my new environment with less complaining about my teacher and classmates.
My mom died unexpectedly when I was 13. My sense of security in the world was taken from me in a blink of an eye. Although my father was alive, he had been diagnosed with cancer. He had started to prepare me for the inevitable before my mom's death.
My older sisters found a house in the Greenview subdivision in Columbia, SC. I was heartbroken. My mom was dead. My father was dying. Once again, I had be uprooted from the neighborhood where all my friends lived, and I would be required to attend a new school where I didn't know anyone and wasn't familiar with the environment.
I was faced with accepting a new condition with no say or control over it.
Seeds of Adaptability
Although I spent the first half of my freshman year in high school feeling angry, and sad about the realities that I had no control over, my saving grace was the mental and emotional habits that my father had taught me in the fourth grade.
For years, I credited the thought I had to shift my perspective about my mother's death to my intuition, today I know that this thought was seeded during a very emotional period in my childhood by my father.
It was my father who planted the seeds of changing how I perceived my fourth grade experiences. It was my father who planted the seeds that would later help me as a young adult to not believe everything I thought about myself, or accept everything someone else says about me as fact.
After the unexpected loss of my teenage son Blease and the dark night of the soul I experienced, it was my willingness to pray for God to help me to help myself that I began to tap into the treasure trove of experiences in my life when I had no control and had to adapt in order to be happy and successful.
It was during the season of navigating the truth of my grief that I began to connect the dots to the key actions and habits of mind that had helped me to walk by faith and trust that I would be able to figure things out.
Today, these habits of mind and actions serve as the framework for The Go Be Great Blueprint which is the title of my new book that will be released on June 22, 2021 on my father's birthday in honor of him.
Actions You Can Take to Be More Adaptable
I'll be the first to admit that I don't like or enjoy when life asks me to accept and adapt to new conditions, especially, when I felt and believed that I was making progress and having fun.
But of course, none of us can control LIFE.
Many of us resist change for the reasons why I didn't want to attend a predominately white school in the fourth grade. We are creatures of habit. We prefer what is familiar. We want to go to places where people know our name, like Norm in the Cheers sitcom.
Lots of people are okay with living their lives in this manner. I can certainly understand the appeal of living life this way.
I believe a larger number of people would choose differently if they trusted in their ability to figure out things on the path to pursuing what can be in their lives.
The following actions will help you build your adaptability muscles.
Expect Change. As you have read about several experiences of change that disrupted my normal, it's important that you accept the reality that change happens without asking you for approval. Consider this fact: the one and only thing that you have control over is your response to what happens in your life. That is it.
Perspective Matters. Challenge the paradigms that create the lens by which you view yourself, your experiences, other people and the world. Don't believe everything you think about yourself, a person or situation. Seek first to understand.
Manage Your Emotions. Developing emotional intelligence skills will help you to develop the self-awareness that I believe is fundamental to being able to manage our emotions successfully.
Be Mindful of Cognitive Distortions. Consider major decisions you have made that did not work out as well as you had hoped. Was your thinking at the time accurate and objective, or emotional and based on your sole perspective about the situation? Were you defensive or at peace when someone challenged your decision? Whenever we are faced with adverse or challenging situations, our emotional brain often dominates our thinking which is often distorted by our emotions. Be mindful.
The Mind/Body Connection. Science has found that our thoughts, beliefs, emotions and attitudes can have a positive or negative effect on our bodily functions. Think about when you feel stress. Don't you experience it in your mind and body? Developing emotional resilience will help you to recover and bounce forward in the face of the unexpected.
Environments Matter. Make it a point to spend time with people who demonstrate resilience and a measure of mastery over their emotions. I'm not suggesting that you deny the truth of your feelings and emotions. Just because you feel a particular way doesn't mean that it needs to be communicated in that moment (except in emergencies) without careful thought about how you plan to say what you want to say and the intention you want from the conversation. You can build your awareness about how your environments influence you by creating a daily practice of identifying the thoughts that preceded a particular emotion or reaction in a situation.
Stop Defending the Old Approach. One of the worst things we can do is to go into any new environment talking about how we did things wherever we've been. If you believe it is a better approach to a situation, and you haven't been asked for a suggestion, I suggest that you first share your idea with your immediate supervisor. Don't suggest it to the group if you haven't been asked to do so. When you arrive in a new environment, it's important to observe how things are done before you make changes. I had to learn this the hard way in my first GM's role. When possible, give people time to get to know you and trust you in the new environment prior to suggesting changes.
Be Curious. Most organizations, communities and countries are constantly looking for innovative ideas that will help them to grow and prosper. Become curious about the key challenges faced by your organization, and then research different industries to see how they are solving a similar problem. It is possible that the combination of this information will spark an innovative idea that will help you contribute value and stand out.
Always Be Learning. People who develop and sustain a growth mindset believe that they can expand their intelligences and skills, and evolve. They don't accept that as they age they will be less able to contribute value. Instead, they continue to challenge themselves to learn and apply what they learn to gain additional insights from their results. They are a lot like scientists, always experimenting with life.
The inertia towards change is real.
We hear it in the conversations that take place in our families, communities and organizations.
We were born with adaptability skills. Think about all the skills we learned from age 1 day to 18 years old.
Depending on our earlier experiences and the people and environments that influenced us, we tend to view change in a particular way.
Unless we expand our perspective on change and its benefits, as we get older, we tend to protect "what is" thinking that somehow our resistance to change protects us from unwanted disruption.
As I've shared in this article, we have no control over how many of our LIFE experiences will unfold.
If you have a tendency to stay within the confines of your comfort zone, you are more likely to remain in your comfort zone unless some form of change happens in your life which you have no control over that requires you to move beyond your comfort zone.
On the other hand, if you have a tendency toward movement and making progress in your life, you will be more inclined to develop your ability to adapt faster to change merely because you are constantly initiating change in your life.
Your decision to "just survive" or "thrive" in life will play a role as to which of these tendencies will govern most, if not all, of your actions in life.
My hope is that you chose the tendency that helps you to thrive as long as you have breath in your body.
Imagine the stories you will have to tell about the experiences you created as a result of building your ability to adapt in diverse situations and how this level of self-trust inspired the courage in your heart to expand the horizons of your life.
The possibilities in your life would be endless.