After six months of being cooped up at home with only the occasional trip to the grandparents’ houses to break up the monotony, my wife and I and our 6-month-old son were starting to pack for a much-needed beach vacation.
We had debated and researched many different trips over the summer. We wanted to go to Colorado so we could get out of the intense heat of a Texas summer, but we decided against a 13-hour drive with a 6-month old. So we started looking closer and chose a beach vacation to Galveston. Sure, it may not be the prettiest beach in the world, but it is the closest to us in Dallas and it would give us a great excuse to go somewhere. And my in-laws were going to tag along to help us with the baby.
To say we were excited was an understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic had upended every one of our plans for the first half year of our son’s life. Finally we were going to get to take him somewhere new.
Then, Hurricane Laura came through. Only a few days before we planned to get in the car and head to the coast, the storm’s trajectory changed and it was heading straight for where we’d be going. Fortunately, the hurricane turned away from the larger population centers of the Houston area and didn’t do major damage to Galveston, but we couldn’t have known that at the time. We had to make the decision to cancel our trip. At that point, it would have been easy to get annoyed, pocket the refund from our Airbnb and try again another time.
But if we’ve learned anything in 2020, it’s that you’ve got to roll with the punches. So we quickly pivoted, found a new place to go and booked a great guesthouse there. I’m so glad we didn’t just sulk over our unfortunate circumstances, because it turned into an amazing weekend getaway with family.
In this crazy year when nothing is going according to plan, flexibility has become one of the most important traits to have. Here are five reasons why an adaptable mindset is key:
1. Unmet expectations create disappointment.
One thing we’ve all learned in 2020 is that we can’t predict the future. Things have been canceled this year that we never thought could be stopped. Think back to March and April—how devastating were the cancellations of events like the March Madness basketball tournament, Easter services at your church or a wedding? They hurt especially bad because we had never experienced anything like that before in our lives.
Now, think about the next event coming up on your calendar—you almost expect it to be canceled or altered in some way. But it probably won’t hurt as bad as it did earlier in the year. That’s because your expectations have changed; you’ve learned to be flexible with plans, though that lesson was taught in a harsh way.
Plans change, even in non-pandemic times, so don’t put all your hopes and dreams into something that could be affected by circumstances outside of your control.
2. You never know what you’re missing out on.
For some people, spontaneity comes naturally; it is part of their daily life. For many others, the opposite is true. But in a year like this one, it’s a skill we could all use. Sometimes the most fun plans are impromptu ones, and how would you know if you don’t look past what “should have been.”
We ended up going to New Braunfels for that weekend instead of the beach. I’ve only been to the area a few times, so it was really fun getting to explore it. If my family had given up when our original plans got canceled, we would have missed out on a great experience. Plus, now looking back, we remember a great weekend that we had and can also look forward to our first family trip to the beach someday in the future.
Vacations often happen this way. A lot of times, the most memorable vacation moments are when something went wrong or you got lost, or your plans changed and you were forced to improvise. Life is like this, too. Of course, impulsive decisions aren’t always advisable and it’s smart to take time before making big decisions. But when it comes to small decisions like deciding where to eat or what to do on a beautiful Saturday with no plans, allow yourself some flexibility to try something new. I can guarantee that it will make for a more memorable day.
3. Attitude changes everything.
Things aren’t always going to go your way, but you don’t have to live life being constantly disappointed. Which you can do by recalibrating your attitude. Instead of seeing each new disappointment as another reason to get down, you can see it as an opportunity to try something different.
Sometimes altered plans won’t be quite what you had imagined—like that big wedding with friends and family that you had to cancel and change to a small wedding that you had to stream to your extended family. Instead of focusing on the negatives, which will only bring you down, look for the positives—like how you are finally married to the love of your life, and you have someone by your side to go through this crazy time with. Having a positive outlook about it (whatever “it” is) will keep you going when things get hard.
4. Everyone loves a problem solver.
No one in a tough situation says, “Boy, I sure wish there was one more person here complaining.” Spiraling in negativity isn’t productive or helpful (or healthy), but stepping back to look at the circumstances and your options is.
Has complaining ever helped you solve a problem? Have you ever looked back at time spent feeling sorry for yourself and been glad you did that? Allowing yourself room to feel sad or upset is OK, but staying in that feeling isn’t beneficial. Instead of extending your pity party, it’s best to start plotting your next moves as quickly as possible.
Being flexible means you are willing to adapt to situations and make changes to find solutions. Think about the businesses and restaurants that adapted quickly to the pandemic. They had a choice: to be resourceful and get creative, or close. Apply the same perspective to your problems.
5. You can’t predict the future.
How you respond matters. Being upset or angry, or sad or disappointed, when something expected happens will turn a difficult situation into a major problem. Being flexible, on the other hand, will make life easier and more manageable.
It’s smart to keep tabs on things like like the economy and the weather, but you also have to remember that both of these are outside of your control. You aren’t going to affect the market one way or another, and you aren’t going to stop the rain from falling. But you can make sure your assets are protected, and that you have backup plans for your outdoor party. Then it’s time to put the worry aside.
Think back through your life, how often has everything gone according to plan? Did you get everything that you ever wanted? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean that your life has been terrible—there’s even a chance that you’re happy things didn’t go the way you initially planned. So don’t waste time being upset about circumstances beyond your control.
Nobody has enjoyed the punches we’ve all endured during this trying year, but those who can roll with them are the ones who will thrive and be prepared for whatever new blow comes our way next.
Read next: 8 Habits of People Who Thrive in Crisis
Photo by @alexandrahraskova/Twenty20.com
Scott Bedgood is a freelance writer and the author of Lessons from Legends: 12 Hall of Fame Coaches on Leadership, Life, and Leaving a Legacy. He lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife Sami.