November 30, 2017

Plan O is for “Opportunity”

Whether you call it resilience, grit or optimizing for “Option B”, that quality that allows some of us to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever doesn’t have to be elusive.  We all have the ability to rise from the ashes and find the opportunities that exist during the worst of times.  I’m introducing the concept of Plan O...for “Opportunity.”  Specifically those contingency plans we must embrace when our original plan goes off course. They almost always do, so why not explore the possibilities that can come from that?

In her bestselling book Grit, Angela Duckworth wrote about those who embody the elements of perseverance and passion for long-term goals, with a realization that achievement doesn’t always follow a clean, linear path. Resilience is often defined as that quality held by people who find a way to rise from the ashes, never letting a setback or failure drain their resolve. People characterized as having grit or resilience seem to share a number of similar attributes, including a positive attitude, the ability to regulate their emotions, and view their failures as opportunities. Over a century ago, educator Booker T. Washington highlighted resilience with his quote, “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles overcome while trying to succeed.”  Truth.  

Any time tragedy strikes a family, people tend to comfort parents with the often used adage, “Children are so resilient.” That sentiment probably doesn’t provide ample comfort, but there is something to it.  By learning about resilience from a young age, children are better capable to learn from disappointments, cope with losses and adapt to change. We learn most of these skills by kindergarten, and yet somehow we tend to ditch some them as we get older. Let’s remember back to childhood and see what we can learn.

Make Connections 

One of the first things children learn when they are young is how to make friends and develop empathy. We learned to be a good friend in order to make friends. We were provided support at home to strengthen those relationships and had a safety net for when disappointment eventually strikes. Essentially, we were taught we are never alone; if we have invested in relationships, we will always have a safety net to rely on.

Define a Structure

We often put kids on schedules to aid in establishing a routine, primarily to pacify those who benefit from a little structure. And while this is important in providing those basic elements that will aid as adults (understanding deadlines, organizing priorities, and the like), it’s also important to teach them how to operate when things don’t go according to that structure. For example, when my kids were in middle school, the principal actually requested that if your child forgot their homework, the parent SHOULD NOT immediately drop it off at the school, coming to the rescue. The kids needed to learn how to handle their mistakes, and not having someone bail you out every time is part of that learning. In other words, plan out whatever structure, roadmap or guidelines you want to aid you in organizing your work and life plans. And leave enough buffer room in there for a contingency plan.  

Establish Reflective Time

Kids get timeouts, naptimes, and recess as times to decompress and hit the pause button. Whether you think of it as personal wellness or work-life balance, everyone needs to carve out a bit of time to reflect and gather their thoughts.  When I was going through my divorce years ago, I was forced into an “Option B” situation - clearly, my life was no longer going in the direction I had anticipated. To stay focused, I chose priorities; kids and work. For a period of time, everything else took a distant place on the pecking order, including myself. It took me a while to figure it out, but I ended up transitioning my commute in the morning and evening from work phone calls to quiet, reflective time.  Sometimes I would listen to music, sometimes I’d just have myself a good cry. The point is, it became “me” time, which for that period of time twice a day no one could touch.

Set Reasonable Goals to Help You Accomplish the Audacious Ones 

Whether it’s learning to ride a bike or how to tackle that first book report, we teach children how to break down their big goals into small bite sizes ones. That same notion applies to us as adults. Consider the grand aspiration of promotions. Your Plan A might be “I’d like to be promoted into XX role by the end of the year.” Perhaps you’ve defined the roadmap to accomplish the skills you need to get there, and you make progress. Let’s go with an easy example of weight loss. Perhaps you have committed to an audacious goal of losing twenty-five pounds. You’ve signed up for a weight loss program, and you’ve hit the grocery store to stock up on healthy foods. You’ve set a goal of working out four days a week, and you’ve found a support group to cheer on your progress. And then you have an accident, in which you break your leg, and you are now out of commission and won’t be working out for the next few months. Does that mean your big goal of weight loss is now destroyed? Nope. It just means you need to refocus those goals and find a new way to achieve the master goal.  It obviously won’t be your original plan, but if you are committed, you’ll design a new one. Breaking down that big goal into smaller, reasonable and adaptable ones allows your Plan O to still get you where you want to go.   

This is the Worst Every Other Day Will Be Better

Death, loss, disappointments.  While some of us have suffered these to a more dramatic extent than others, every human suffers hardships. Each time my children encounter one, we spend time talking about previous times they felt similarly down, and how they were able to move past it and thrive. In the moment when it hits, it can feel like your world is falling apart. And yet, we all have the capability of moving past those difficult times. Of course, people need time to grieve and wallow a bit. However, when it’s time to move forward, putting things in perspective often helps. If that moment when you lost your job, got dumped or didn’t get that promotion you wanted became your absolute low point, it can only go up from there. If your Plan A is now defunct and you are feeling chaotic, pause and reflect.  What opportunities can Plan O provide? Sometimes, being forced into a new situation where you need to change course can offer possibilities you never dreamed of until you were forced to do so. Partner that with a positive outlook that each day will be a little bit better than the last, and you’re well on your way to healthy resilience.

Change or Die

As children, we learn about Darwin and the Theory of Evolution early on.  Simply put, if we don’t evolve, we die out. While having a set path and being able to navigate and feel in control of your Plan A might provide comfort, life just doesn’t always work like that. Finding ways to course correct and edit our plans isn’t just a new skill to develop; it’s critical to our existence. No, I’m not suggesting you’ll perish if you can’t establish a solid Plan O.  I am, however, acknowledging those who do build that resilience muscle is far more likely to evolve into a healthier, adaptable human being.

Resilience, grit and overcoming bumps are part of life’s journey. We all individually elect whether or not to embrace those ebbs and flows.  While intellectually everyone might understand the importance of our well being to develop that skill set, it’s easier said than done. By remembering and employing some of the basics we learned from our childhood, we can overcome just about anything. We just have to take a deep breath, believe in ourselves, and get busy plotting out Plan O.  While Plan A might have been what you were after, you just might find the opportunities your Plan O nets you are even better.

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.