Be flexible 2: embrace new paths to reach goals

Three flamingos standing on one leg with heads tucked under their wings

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Life doesn’t always hand you what you want. Sometimes we have to change our plans in ways we don’t like. If you can be flexible and embrace new paths to reach goals, you’ll be ahead of the pack.

Having a rigid outlook makes it harder to modify your goals. On the other hand, being flexible means you’re more aware of opportunities. Does it really matter in the long run if you need to take a roundabout path to your dreams?

What would you prefer to do? Stay stuck, demanding that life should do what you want? Or embrace change and transform your goals to achieve fulfilment?

Past experiences affect beliefs

How two people handle the same changes can depend on their attitudes and beliefs. Of course, these are affected by past experiences. So it may be difficult if you’ve had a tough start in life.

However, sometimes this makes you “hungrier” than someone who’s had it easy. You may be more willing to do what it takes to adapt to a changing situation. You may even have had to face many shifting situations that were out of your control. 

In contrast, someone from a more stable background may not be as resilient. They’re not used to the idea that life isn’t always fair. They may give up when things don’t go their way. 

So your attitudes and beliefs can help or hinder your ability to be flexible and embrace change.

Fear of change

If you’re preoccupied with unfairness, you’ll miss many of the positives in your situation. In addition, the uncertainty can stop you trying anything new.

For instance, you may believe things like:

Everything should stay the same.
Nothing good happens when things change.
I’ll never be able to cope with all these changes. It’s too hard.
If I fail, everyone will think I’m pathetic/hopeless/stupid.
The world is a scary place and everything’s out of control.

These beliefs can be hard to change. But it’s important that you don’t just accept them without question.

Ask yourself: What concrete evidence is there that these beliefs are true? Can you think of any times when they haven’t been 100% true? And are you really able to predict the future with 100% accuracy?

Your beliefs affect what you do

Change can be confusing and unsettling. So fear of change is both widespread and understandable – especially if you don’t feel you have control over what’s happening.

It can take a long time to adjust and feel comfortable again. However changing a rigid outlook helps you move forward to transform your goals. 

Dealing with loss

It’s also important to acknowledge your feelings about changes happening. Notice if you’re feeling sad, scared or angry. 

It’s OK to admit this. Loss is a big part of change. For instance, you may lose close contact with important people, lose status, or miss other aspects of life.

Any losses can make you feel anxious, distressed or angry. But glossing over your feelings isn’t helpful.

Each day, set aside a few minutes to acknowledge your grief or fear.

Sit quietly and breathe slowly and evenly. Allow yourself to experience your feelings.

Remind yourself of the following:

1 You can still function even if you’re hurting

Noticing and experiencing your feelings is important. And so is keeping your emotional balance.

However, getting stuck in sadness, anger or negativity isn’t helpful. 

You can still be effective and do what you need to do, even if you’re hurting. You may take longer, and find it harder to focus, but you can still function. 

2 Life’s a balancing act

Often unexpected changes that happen suddenly will bring up intense sadness and loss.  

Accept it may take time to process what’s happened to you.

That’s normal. And you may never be happy with what’s happened.

But after some time, you’ll need to balance your feelings with the competing need to think of the future. That’s when it’s important to be aware of your thinking habits.

Being flexible in how you view the situation is a good start. This applies to all areas of life: relationships, finances, work and leisure.

3 Challenge yourself to tolerate discomfort

Changing from being inflexible to flexible isn’t always easy. But don’t let that put you off. Rising to the challenge is what makes it worth doing. Ask yourself: will you put up with some discomfort to become more flexible?

Let’s look at other people who were blocked from reaching cherished goals.

After their initial disappointment, how did they cope? How did they move forward and avoid being stuck in regret?

Note that each one was willing to try various activities related to their area of interest. And each tried to be flexible and channel their initial plans into another form. 

By taking advantage of opportunities around them, they all achieved something meaningful.

Tammy

Tammy wanted to be a social worker. But she’s ended up as a secretary in a large corporation. However she’s taken lots of short courses run by the company. Now she’s knowledgeable about issues such as:

social inclusion

equal opportunity

assertiveness

communication skills

mental health first aid.

She’s also developed a reputation for being a good listener. Staff from all levels trust her to help with interpersonal issues.

Obviously Tammy’s not a professional counsellor, but she listens with empathy, and tells them about services that can help. At times she acts as a go-between in minor conflicts in the office.

So Tammy’s contributing to the well-being of her colleagues. 

However, her dream of being a social worker is still alive. With greater life experience, she may decide to do a social work course in future.

Nevertheless, she’s still making a difference where she is. And all because she’s willing to be flexible and embrace new paths to reach treasured goals. 

Beth

Beth wanted to study environmental science. As is common, she had to leave school early to help support her family. Now she works in at a medical centre as a receptionist.

But she hasn’t let that stop her desire to work for the environment. She’s joined several environmental groups, and helps with campaigns in her spare time. Over the past year she’s written to many MPs about environmental issues. She’s even helped develop social media ads and YouTube videos about the environment for the organisation she supports.

Beth also runs guest sessions in local schools, to show children how to be more aware of the environment. Now she hopes her volunteer work will help her get a job in the environmental field. 

Tricia

Tricia wanted to be a paediatrician, but again, was stopped by lack of money. However she intends to gain experience with children through various jobs.

For example, as a child care worker or early childhood educator, she’ll learn about child development. She could then role model for parents how to handle behavioural issues. She could also run short courses for parents focussing on:

attachment issues

reasonable expectations of behaviour for different ages

how to have positive interactions with children

developing self-confidence and self-reliance in children.

This way, she’ll help parents and children develop good relationships right from the start. And who knows? She may get just as much satisfaction as if she’d been a paediatrician. And she can still try for entry to paediatrics courses later, if she saves enough money in the meantime.

What about you?

Are you able to see the possibilities, no matter where you’ve ended up?

Can you see that everyone has something to teach you, no matter how modest. And every situation provides some lessons, personal or professional, that you can learn.

Never see any experience as wasted. Instead, be curious and embrace new paths to reach goals. Adapting to whatever situation you find yourself in makes you more resilient. In turn, you’ll be able to cope better when further obstacles are put in your way. 

Remember that with each experience, you’re learning new skills. Search out knowledgeable people who are keen to help others. Learn from their example.

Perhaps you’ll also find out what you don’t want to do, or don’t like. In a way that’s just as valuable, and can save years of frustration.

Trust the process

At some stage of your life, all the pieces will come together. Skills you learned years ago will take on a new importance. Moreover, you’ll integrate different sources of learning and experience to reach a new level.

Use the examples of Tammy, Beth and Tricia to inspire you. Take note of how each of them managed to be flexible and embrace change. By adapting to change, you can transform your goals into meaningful achievement.

You never know – you could find another area just as fulfilling as your dream job.

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