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When Crisis Strikes – How Quickly You Adapt Now Will Benefit You Later

I saw a really great quote from James Clear today.

‘The more you let a single belief define you, the less capable you are of adapting when life challenges you.’

I’ve been through a few crisis in my life in the last ten years or so and I can attest to the fact that you get better at adapting to crisis. In particular my focus on minimalism and intentional living has well prepared me for adapting quickly to changing environments.

When my role was restructured in 2008 right after the birth of my first child as a result of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) the change required was luckily only to my ego. I had to report to a former colleague and my duties changed but I didn’t have to take a pay cut. I didn’t realize at the time how close I had come to a life changing situation. My beliefs that I was bullet proof still defined my view of the world.

The second time I had to adapt was back in New Zealand almost 5 years later when my role was restructured right after the birth of my second child (see the pattern here?). I had to take a huge pay cut and we were on the verge of financial ruin. Having a baby as the bread winner means first you save up so you can have time off from having the baby and then you spend all your savings while you are off. So we had nothing left, took a massive pay cut and then the mortgage rates started going up, and up and up. It was devastating.

I’d like to say I adapted well to this crisis but frankly I didn’t. I was still clinging to my beliefs that this couldn’t or shouldn’t happen to me and I did not pivot and move forwards. Instead, I made an emotional decision and jumped ship to another company, in a different town, and agreed to a trial period. That quickly ended with me losing my job right after the Christmas party, with two weeks notice of no income coming in and a giant mortgage. Hello rock bottom.

I was fortunate enough to be able to return to the company that had restructured me and frankly, still didn’t adapt quickly. I was so grateful to have a job that I just put my head down and accepted life as it was. It was not great, we were still on the verge of financial collapse.

One day, after a humiliating incident at my job, I found myself in my office, my head in my hands, realizing that I just couldn’t continue as I was. It was time to adapt. My world view began to change in that moment.

From that point on, I started facing reality as it was. I analysed my life, my self and my future. I put away my sense of entitlement, my expectations that life would always do what I wanted and I started to plan for the future. You can read more about my plan for getting out of financial hardship here.

In Great by Choice, Jim Collins talks about the concept of Productive Paranoia. You may have already heard me talk about this in a previous post. Productive Paranoia is when you actively plan for the worst while still retaining the determination to succeed. People who practice Productive Paranoia spend time thinking about worse case scenarios and putting in action plans that will come into effect if things start to go badly. Despite remaining optimistic for the future, the productively paranoid are not afraid to face and plan for terrible ‘what if’ scenarios.

It’s a kind of insurance for life’s ups and downs and puts you in a position where you are very adaptable to change. There are some key things that help with being able to adapt quickly that I have learned from my past mistakes:

  • The world doesn’t owe us anything – not a thing
  • Being a great performer will not protect you from random negative events
  • Stuff happens and the only way to cope is to adapt and move forwards
  • Everything over and above the necessities of life is a luxury
  • Don’t love your stuff, it’s just stuff. Love the people you love
  • Have back up plans, for finances, in case of death, injury etc.
  • Save some of your leave entitlements for emergencies
  • Always have some cash put aside, even if its just a little
  • Be ready to change, always

Most of all, don’t emotionally attach yourself to your current lifestyle. Attach yourself to the people you love. Where you live or how you live is less important that those you live with.

This pandemic is showing us how quickly life can change. Even a company as stable as the one I work for can be rocked to the core by an event over which it has no control. Good people are affected by tough circumstances, despite having done nothing wrong.

I have learned that to adapt quickly, you must not cling to your house, your town, your friends or your expectations for life. You must be ready to change, pivot or embark on a new adventure. Only then can you have the mental freedom to do what you need to do in a crisis. The pursuit of minimalism has given me the kind of freedom and security that comes from knowing that I need very little to live a meaningful life. Further than this, it is not only material things I have let go of but also the need for status, success, stability or security.

At times like these, the faster we can let go, adapt and move forwards the faster our mental well-being will return.

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