I fly a lot for business, and a recent flight to Fort Lauderdale reminded me of the importance of flexibility, both at work and in my personal life.
I arrived at the airport, got through security without a hitch, my flight was on time, and I knew roughly how many emails I could get through before I would have to turn off my phone. I boarded the plane beneath blue skies with my laptop in hand, and was looking forward to getting a couple hours of work done before landing. Then a shadow came over the plane, and before the stewardess could warn us, a heavy downpour delayed our flight.
As rain pounded the airplane, we were informed that the storm had caused a backup on the runway. “No problem,” I thought. Then they told us that the storm might necessitate a route change. “Uh-oh,” I thought. Finally, we found out there was a tornado watch and that our delay would be much longer than anticipated. “Game time,” I thought.
I knew from experience that I wouldn’t be able to change the situation, I could only change the way I handled it. So while other passengers berated the flight attendant or complained to their spouses on the phone, I remembered “TAG.”
When you’re faced with something unexpected, the first thing to do is to stop and think. It’s easy to get caught in the whirlwind of circumstances and act impulsively, but by pausing, you can ask ourselves questions that will help direct your subsequent actions. “What’s happening?” “Why is this happening?” “How does this affect me?” “What’s the best response?”
Once you’ve identified what’s happening and how you’re involved, you can change your expectations and behavior to allow for the new circumstance. Accepting Plan B isn’t always easy because it means Plan A failed. But what people don’t realize is that Plan B represents a willingness to keep trying. Ultimately, you still need to get to your destination, but maybe you need to adjust how you get there.
Even when you’re being patient and practical and channeling your inner Yoda, a supportive shoulder to lean on is always helpful. Whether it’s your family at home or your colleagues at work, gather people you know you can count on—especially when you’ve encountered an unexpected situation. These are the people who will adjust their schedules when they find out your arrival is delayed or will make room at the table when the babysitter cancels. Allow them to help you when they’re able.
So there I sat on the plane, asking myself what had happened and what it meant for me. The flight was delayed so my arrival was delayed; I wouldn’t check in on time and I might even be late for my meeting. Problem identified. Time to adjust. I would need to check timing for the next flight out, advise my hotel, and warn my client about the situation. Then came a challenge: I had horrible service and my phone was dying. So I gathered myself—I sent an email to a colleague and asked her to contact the client, and I asked my wife to notify the hotel.
Eventually the storm ended and I got on a new flight. My plans had changed, but I arrived at my destination. Being flexible doesn’t just mean rolling with the punches or rising with the tide—it isn’t passive. Rather, flexibility requires an adjustment of our attitudes and actions to account for the unexpected. And a game of TAG doesn’t hurt.
This article originally appeared in All Business Daily.