How to Dance with the Unexpected.18th Feb 2021
Last week was a tough one. I had a busy work schedule planned, including leading two full-day Change Makers workouts. Then, at the start of the week, my seventeen year old daughter got a sciatic nerve injury which left her in excruciating pain and unable to get out of bed, let alone walk, for the whole week. On top of that, my wife was away for the week, leaving me in sole charge of the household, including two other kids who also needed care and attention.
Yep, kinda challenging. The week I thought I was going to have just evaporated.
I’m conscious that I might sound like I’m whining. I’m sure there are plenty of people who’ll be reading this saying ‘welcome to my world, mate.’ The world where life is a constant struggle and juggle. Yep. I hear you.
Like most of us, I love to be organised. I like to feel like I’m on top of what’s coming up and to be on the front foot. But this week, when life threw a spanner in the works, I found out how hard it can be to adapt to a new reality.
A couple of days in, I was exhausted. I was like a cruise ship trying to rapidly change course – I put a massive strain on the infrastructure. In this case, the infrastructure was my physical, mental and emotional capacity to deal with a daughter in serious pain while trying to meet the needs of clients and the rest of my family while keeping the household and my practice running. There were logistics to sort out, appointments to arrange, favours to call in, as well as the challenge to be fully present to my kids. Yet, around mid-way through the week, I found a new set-point and things seemed to get easier. The ship was on a new course. When I could let go of the tension, I found a new equilibrium.
Every day, we as leaders and change-makers are faced with the challenge to balance the tension between two things:
- Our intentions and plans
- The reality of what’s happening in front of us
As the saying goes, “No plan survives contact with the enemy” Or, as Mike Tyson less eloquently put it, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
How can we adapt quickly to changing circumstances without exhausting ourselves?
Here are three things that I think got me through the week in relatively good shape. Three things that you can do to build your ‘surge capacity’: the ability to adapt quickly when expectations and reality don’t meet as friends.
- Know your priorities. When it came down to it, of course my first priority was to the kids. Having that absolute clarity meant that everything else was up for negotiation. Knowing what was negotiable and what wasn’t made decision-making easier.
- Build relationships before you need them. I had people I could call on. I texted the physio on Sunday afternoon asking for help (and apologising for the Sunday work invasion). He did a phone consultation with my daughter that same day. (Awesome job, Chris Desmond, thank you!) I’d previously been a guest on Chris’ podcast and we’d built up and maintained a relationship over time. That made all the difference.
- Have a Plan B. When I look ahead to something I’m expected to deliver (a keynote, a workshop or a webinar) I usually ask myself, “what would I do if I couldn’t show up?” To be honest, in the past, it’s been more of a mental exercise than actually setting up a Plan B. But even going through the “this is what I’d do’ process allows me to more quickly come up with a plan than if I don’t do that.
Good ideas, but so what? Let’s get practical. Here’s one other thing that really helps me. Every Sunday night, I take 10 minutes to complete my Life By Design template. It’s a simple, powerful way to help me reconnect with my priorities and to set actions for the week.
Give it a go. You can download the template here, complete with instructions. I hope it’s useful.
I’d love to know: how do you adapt when it all turns pear-shaped?
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