The other day, one of the fitness instructors I take a regular class from said as we were doing our final stretches, “Life is full of surprises. You just have to take a deep breath, deal with it, and move on.”
She was referring to the fact that she was asked at the last minute to play a different set of music than she planned. The student who asked was tired of the one we’d been doing for three weeks, and wanted to change things up.
“Okay, that settles that,” the teacher said. “I can’t promise how well I know it, since I didn’t practice it, but we can do a different track.” She was adapting to a request, and improvising over what to do with it.
Unfortunately, the CD she put in started skipping in several places, prompting her to either start the song over, or cut it short and move on to the next. She was overcoming issues, again by adapting and improvising.
My husband adapted it, appropriately enough, from one of Clint Eastwood’s lines in the film Heartbreak Ridge. In the film, Marine Sergeant Thomas Highway (played by Eastwood) said, “You’re Marines now. You adapt. You overcome. You improvise. Let’s move!”
(By the way, if you happen to be thinking that Thomas Highway is a Canadian author who wrote the award-winning play, “Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing“, you’re close… but that was Tompson Highway. However, I dare say that Tompson has also done his fair share of adapting, overcoming and improvising.)
Anyway, back to Clint Eastwood’s Highway: according to Veteran Sergeant of Marines Glenn B. Knight, editor of The Marine Corps Dictionary: The Unofficial Unabridged Dictionary for Marines, the phrase “Improvise, adapt and overcome” is an unofficial mantra of the Marine Corps. He says it came about because the Marines often get poorly-equipped Army hand-me-downs as troops, but have continued to be successful, “mostly because of the creativity of its people and their success-based attitude.”
That attitude, of course, is useful — even vital — in many more situations than military training or combat.
How often, when life throws you a curve or drops a roadblock in your path, do you use your success-based attitude to adapt, overcome or improvise?
Adaptability is so important to leaders that employers now often use Behavioral Interviews, introduced in the 1980s by industrial psychologist Dr. Tom Janz, to find good employees. The premise is the assumption that how you’ve behaved in the past will dictate how you behave in the future, and adaptability is one of the key areas of questioning.
As an example, a job seeker these days might expect to be asked:
- Describe a major change that occurred in a job that you held. How did you adapt to this change?
- Tell us about a situation in which you had to adjust to changes over which you had no control. How did you handle it?
- Tell us about a time that you had to adapt to a difficult situation.
- What do you do when priorities change quickly? Give one example of when this happened.
And as a tool to change past patterns, you don’t need to wait for a job interview. Why not answer these questions for yourself? I think doing that honestly would go a long way towards strengthening your ability to deal with unexpected situations, so you can handle them better than ever in the future. In fact, just the act of interviewing yourself, and recording the answers or writing them in a journal, requires you to adapt, overcome and improvise your way through the questions.
So not only do you discover how you’ve handled the need to adapt in the past; but through the act of adapting, you learn how best to adapt in the future.
Nothing ever beats practice, but it’s a little strange to try to practice adapting. There’s no consistency, so anything can happen during the action of “practicing.” But because of the instability of practicing it, practicing is a perfect exercise to help us adapt, overcome and improvise. After all, instability is the whole reason we need to adapt, overcome or improvise in the first place.
Confused? No need to be… my wording might weave complicated patterns to make a point, but I know you can adapt, overcome and improvise your way through it. And that’s one more challenge under your belt that will help you better handle the next.
Photo Title: Fitness Test Gives Marines a Taste of Combat © DVIDSHUB
Photo Title: A Corporate Job Interview © Alan Cleaver