Apply Adaptability to Your Career

By: Kirsi

Adaptability is a trait employers seek in their candidates. How have you been able to successfully adjust your habits and expectations to unfamiliar situations? Could your adaptability propel you through uncontrollable forces like illness, rejection, or a natural disaster?

Apply adaptability to your career. Ocean waves from overhead.

The only thing standing between me and my Spring 2017 Co-Op tour in Houston, Texas was the record-smashing Hurricane Harvey. Bravely (or foolishly?) I traveled down I-35 into the storm, arrived in Houston the evening Harvey hit, and bunkered down with a week of supplies. Unscathed, unlike many, a week later the flood water subsided and I started my Co-Op. Suddenly my Co-Op became less about me, my projects, and refining technical skills. My Co-Op became more about the affected employees, returning to normality, and refining my empathy toward others. In the coming weeks I adjusted my deadlines if my team members had to navigate flood insurance logistics, I volunteered at a donation center to get employees’ families the essentials, and reprioritized what tasks really needed to be done.

Hurricane Harvey from NASA International Space Station

Hurricane Harvey from Space

I hope you will never have to adapt to such an extremely destructive situation. One of my greatest weaknesses is adapting to change that is neither initiated by me nor part of a job’s nature.

If I am met with the challenge of adaptability again these are some big-picture questions I would reflect on…

What actually matters?
Taking a massive step back in life when a large change has occurred is necessary to get the whole picture and also is an opportunity recalibrate your life’s trajectory. Asking yourself “What actually matters?” leads to smaller questions and simpler answers. Here are examples of college-focused decisions…

Smaller (but not by much) Questions:

  • Why am I going to college?
  • Is what I am investing my time into going to lead to financial stability and a fulfilling future?
  • Am I happy?
  • Are there other options I am not aware of for my future?
  • Am I making the best decisions and how can I become more skeptical of my decisions?

Simpler Answers

  • I’m going to college because engineering positions require an ABET accredited engineering degree.
  • I’m going to college because it’s the only place I can learn about my field and it’s worth the hundreds of thousands of hours / and tens of thousands of dollars.
  • My current career trajectory is leading me to a fulfilling field that innovates in ways that shape the present and future of humanity.
  • My current major, while challenging, makes me happy because the climb is rewarding.
  • There are always options I am unaware of and I must keep an open mind and open doors.
  • I am making the best decisions based on my current perspective, skepticism can be achieved by welcoming critique and new experiences.

empty store shelves

Empty shelves that used to be filled with water.

What do I need?
This question arises when starting a career experience, moving, or changing a major. The “I” in this question is literal. What do I need, personally, to adapt?

  • If you have moved this may be as simple as familiarizing yourself with your surroundings. Where is the closest grocery store, hospital, gas station, or Target? Where can I hang out on the weekends, work out, shop, or meet new people?
  • If you are changing a major this could include: Who are my new advisors? Who can I partner up with to tackle homework? When are office hours? Who is in my new “support network”?
  • If you are starting a new career, adapting requires communication with your peers and managers about what you (reasonably) need. “I would like to meet once every week to talk about my progress,” “I would like a mentor to refine my professional skills,” and “I would like to know routines your company has so I can adjust to them.”

What resources are needed to get the job done?
Once you have a big picture and you have taken care of your personal needs you can focus on thriving in a new environment. If your goal is to have a successful internship you may need…

  • A new knowledge base populated with skills in coding, communication, math, thermodynamics, management, or simply knowing when you need to ask for help.
  • A support group of experienced mentors you can run ideas by and foolproof your solutions.
  • Classes or workshops to get you up to speed with other employees.
  • Enough time to make a couple of drafts and mistakes.
  • Proper materials, protective equipment, training, and authority.

Adapting is becoming constructively uncomfortable to improve yourself and advance a greater objective. To avoid adapting is sheltering yourself from beautiful possibilities. Wipe the sweat from your brow, control the knot in your gut, and get out there.

Of Possible Interest:

Read Kirsi’s other posts

Photo Sources: Unsplash|Carlos Dominguez, NASA, & Kirsi

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