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November 11, 2009 > Counseling Corner: How Adaptable Are You?

Counseling Corner: How Adaptable Are You?

By Anne Chan, Ph.D., MFT

I had the opportunity to visit the new California Academy of Sciences recently (note to Tri City folks - the Academy is well worth the trip across the Bay. Bring your kids, friends, and grandparents - there's something for everyone and every age group).

The Academy is chock full of eye-opening and thought-provoking exhibits, ranging from an albino alligator to a steamy rainforest walk. There is much to do in every corner to see, touch, and learn.

It may come as a surprise to you that the exhibit that gave me the most pause was a quote by Charles Darwin inscribed on a wall:

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.
It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."

I'm assuming Darwin was referring to evolution and the survival of species when he penned those sentences. But the reason why the quote stayed with me and gave me so much pause for thought was how applicable this quote is to many of our life situations.

It feels reassuring to know that one does not have to be the strongest or the most intelligent to survive. Darwin's unequivocally states that adaptability, not intelligence, money, strength or beauty is the key to survival.

Think about it - you may not be the smartest person, the most wealthy person, or the prettiest person. You may not be the strongest athlete or the most influential CEO. However, if you are adaptable, then, according to Darwin, you will survive.

As the New Year begins, it may be worthwhile to take a little time to reflect on how adaptable you are. In your work and in your life outside work, how adaptable are you? Last year, I got to interview Oscar Baile, a former engineer who morphed successfully into a chocolatier and opened his own Newark truffle business ( when he retired from engineering. Talk about being adaptable to change!

Another Union City business owner found he had extra time on his hands because of the market slowdown. Instead of moaning about the economy, he adapted to the change in his market demands by spending countless hours refining his website so that he is #1 in Google rankings.

Here's one more success story of career adaptability from two local residents who were casualties of the dotcom bust. This could have been an insurmountable blow, but they re-grouped and decided to reinvent themselves. Investing in a course on real estate appraisal, they worked hard, passed their real estate licensing exam and are now happily working as real estate appraisers. The nature of the business has changed with the downturn in the housing market, but once again, they have adapted and thrived, and now have a profitable home business they are proud of.

As a career counselor and a psychotherapist, I work with people struggling with a variety of work and personal issues. Sometimes the root of our problems is our attitude toward change - rather than being adaptable, as Darwin recommends, we get scared, inflexible, resistant, angry, or feel powerless. None of these responses, unfortunately, serves us well.

So for this column, I'd like to challenge you to assess your ability to be adaptable in your job and in your personal life. Take a quick inventory of your adaptability:

In terms of work:
* Do you keep up with the latest advances in your field?
* Have you asked about where your company is heading in the next 1-, 5-, and 10 years?
* Do you take continuing education classes to keep up with new developments?
* How have you handled changes in your workplace, such as management re-structuring or new co-workers?
* Have you upgraded your skills in the past five years?
* Have you updated your resume?
* What are your future plans to market and brand your company or yourself in these economic times?
* How have you responded to new technologies in the workplace?
* How are you preparing or adjusting to retirement?

In terms of personal life:
* How have you adjusted to changes in your family, whether it's a new baby, illness, or loss of a job?
* How have you adjusted to changes in your partner's life, such as a promotion or new interests?
* How have you adjusted to changes in friends and in your social circle?
* How prepared are you for future changes with your children, such as graduation or going off to college?

How adaptable you are will determine how successful you are in dealing with a new situation, whether the new situation involves a new baby, a new partner, or the normal developmental changes that children (and their parents) go through.

All of us have to face continuing changes in our lives. At this present time, many of us are facing challenges posed by our uncertain economy. During these times, it behooves us to reflect on what we each can do to survive or perhaps even thrive in these tough times now and ahead.

Anne Chan is a career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She specializes in helping people find maximum satisfaction in their careers and relationships. She can be reached at 510-744-1781. Her website is

(c) Anne Chan, 2009.

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