Saturday, January 26, 2013

Don't Learn the Rules - They'll Just Change Anyway

"The rules" as they once were don't exist anymore. It used to be easy to be successful (or at the very least, straightforward). Go to school, get good grades, go to college, get good grades, get job at company, stay there for 20-30 years, make lots of money, retire, move to Florida.

Simple, right?

But then the internet came along, upending nearly every industry (and for the industries it hasn't upended yet, it's just a matter of time). And the recession hit, leaving many people with careers that were distinctly derailed. All of this left people saying "wait a minute, I did what I was told to do but I didn't get the life I was promised - what went wrong??".

Welp, the rules changed. Or maybe there were never really rules to begin with. Either way, the only consistent thing these days is change.

Crap! Now what??

It's all about adaptability.

A friend of mine was asking me recently for travel advice (I travel a bit) and the best advice I could give her was "be flexible and don't have a rigid plan." If you think back on any trips you've taken (either across the world or just across town), I would be willing to bet that the greatest moments of stress came from plans changing. Maybe your flight was delayed and you missed a connection. Maybe you hit some crazy, unexpected traffic. Maybe the hotel you'd booked lost your reservation. Whatever it was, your sense of calm came from knowing the rules (or plans), and your stress rose from having those rules change.

The solution: Have no plan!

Ok, that's a little extreme. You can have a plan. But perhaps we should take a look at what that actually means.

In the case of traveling, let's say you have a room booked in Paris for the night. You arrive there, tired and ready to check in, and the hotel has lost your reservation. Not only have they lost your reservation, they are completely booked solid. Even the couches in the lobby are spoken for - there is no way you are staying there for the night.

Panic.

Now in your head, your plan may have been to stay at the specific hotel, but the REAL plan, your real goal, is to visit Paris. Which hotel you're staying at doesn't actually make a material difference in your REAL goal. So, use the hotel's wifi to find a new hotel, or ask around, or walk down the street (hotels are often in clumps). All you need is *a* place to stay not *this* place to stay.

(As it turns out, there's another hotel down the street that doesn't really do the whole "online" thing and therefore has much better rates and is much more unique - and you never would have found it if it weren't for hotel mishap #1!)

The same philosophy applies to most (probably all) aspects of life. Having an idea is good (I want to visit Paris). Having a rigid plan (must. stay. in. this. hotel.) is, well, limiting. Things change. Industries change, plans change, careers change, the world changes. And this is a GOOD thing (unless you'd like to go back to milling your own wheat...personally I would not). Change means innovation and innovation means progress.

So how do you plan for a world where the rules are constantly changing?

The best skill you can have is the ability to think on your feet - to adapt. Have your goals in mind, but be flexible about how you achieve them. Be willing to try a new way of doing something, be willing to explore until you find a better option, accept that if plans A-D fall through, plan E might have been the best option all along.

Breathe, relax, and enjoy the ride!



To illustrate my point,
while traveling last year I missed my bus
- the only one running that day -
and ended up going to a totally different place

...that looks like this.
Palaiochora, Crete, Greece