Last week, as I sat watching game shows and eating lousy Chinese takeout in an even lousier airport hotel in Denver, I knew my Modern Elder Academy compatriots were watching whales and enjoying a delicious dinner and delightful conversation without me. I thought about the irony of expertise.
You see, I was just about to release a book that helps people become more elastic, including in response to the unexpected.
I’m finding that no one needs to be convinced that adaptability is a necessary skill these days. I know of what I speak and I’m sure you do too.
But recent events seem to be conspiring to ensure I’m embodying the skills I teach.
The week that found me stranded had started with my Canadian book launch party being snowed out. There were a couple of work projects threatening to go off the rails. My dog got sprayed by a skunk. And then I ended up in snowy Denver rather than sunny Baja.
In the midst of my disappointment and frustration, I tried to welcome these detours as good opportunities to practice skills I want to master. In my practice, I’ve seen that wise leaders are both attuned and aligned: they’re attuned to the people and circumstances present around them so they can respond with just the right words at just the right time; and they’re aligned in that their own behavior has integrity with what they say. I’m still working toward both. Probably we all are.
During my travel delay, I had a couple of unexpectedly memorable interactions with complete strangers, and a few laughs. At the end of my time at MEA (I did eventually get there!), several people described my late arrival as “a breath of fresh air” and “an energetic life force” the group welcomed. It made me think that perhaps my delay was not time wasted after all.
In my book Elastic and in my work as a strategic coach, I’m interested in helping people find their zone of “optimal elasticity”— people need to stretch so that we aren’t useless and don’t become brittle, but we want to avoid stretching too far or too fast lest we break. We often talk about being “stretched thin,” pulled taut with no slack, becoming less resilient, with even the smallest nick or tug potentially causing us to snap. I’ve also seen that when people are stretched for too long, we can lose our ability or willingness to bounce back into shapes that no longer fit us.
Where might you be on that continuum of elasticity these days? Are you feeling overstretched? Snapping back into patterns that used to work but no longer feel right? Discovering you’ve been stretched for so long that you aren’t good for much, like a waistband that’s lost its elasticity? Or maybe you’ve let your elastic go limp as you’ve been zoned out and exhausted after being stretched, only to discover that your comfortable rut has resulted in an inability to be nimble and responsive right now. It’s a good idea to be aware of the state of your stretch.
But I want to share with you a fascinating insight from studies of the physical properties of elastic substances: not all stretching thins things out. Some polymers actually grow and expand when they stretch. Their molecules fall into order. They uncrumple. The stretch makes them bigger and better than they would be otherwise.
This is what I called to mind in the Denver hotel, as I struggled to reset my mindset: when things don’t go as planned, I can envision “uncrumpling” into my best self rather than being stretched thin into a one-dimensional version of that self.
Then my flight home was canceled…but that’s a story for another day.
Dr. Rebecca Sutherns is a dynamic Canadian strategy facilitator, speaker and coach whose third book, ELASTIC: Stretch without snapping or snapping back came out on February 7, 2023. She writes a weekly blog called wiser decisions faster. Her grandbabies call her Minga – it means “something big has happened, drop everything and help.”