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Flexibility: the key to wellbeing

Flexibility: the key to wellbeing

We have all heard it, the cautionary tale of the small tree with flexibility in its branches who was jealous of the large tree with rigidity in its branches. But when the storm came, the small tree's flexible branches swayed with it, and it survived; whereas the large tree's rigid branches tried to resist it, and it collapsed and was reduced to a stump.

Just as a flexible muscle will have good circulation and achieve its full range of motion, so too having a flexible approach to work and to life is the cornerstone for greater health, wellbeing, and getting the most out of what this world has to offer.

The success misconception

There is a misconception today, which views success as the product of stubbornly subjecting ourselves to unnecessary suffering and strain in the form of stress, sleep deprivation and burnout. This attitude seems to see misery as the road to success, and breeds a destructive negative energy that is not only harmful to ones' self, but is also extremely contagious to those around them. This is not what success really is and is extremely harmful to our health and wellbeing.

The true nature of success

Albert Schweitzer puts it aptly when he says, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Life is full of obstacles, but these are not a chore. They should be a prospect we look forward to, and approach with positivity, as they help us learn and are the key to achieving our desires. True success is found as much in the process as it is in the results; the journey is as important as the destination.

The importance of flexibility

It is very important when a fresh obstacle presents itself, an unforeseen problem, that we remain flexible enough to respond to it in a befitting manner, even if it goes against our previously formulated plans. There are times when staying the course means incorporating enough flexibility into our design to be able to change tactics. This is particularly the case when we make mistakes. There is often a temptation to keep flogging a dead horse and repeat the tactics that have already failed us. In these circumstances, a flexible outlook goes a long way in coming up with a remedy.

Flexibility vs work/life balance

'Balance' is a slippery term, as what constitutes 'balanced' is constantly shifting. Life throws up new challenges, work presents new opportunities and we need to respond accordingly. We need to be flexible and do what works for us at that particular time and which ultimately leads to our version of success.

As an example, you have a big project coming in which will require longer days at work. Fortunately, you are at a stage in your life where excess hours are possible without having a detrimental effect on your wellbeing. Completing this project also achieves your notion of success right now. However fast forward two years and perhaps you now have a sick relative you want to care for or a young child you want to spend time with. Your definition of what makes you happy and therefore constitutes success has changed and therefore you no longer want to take on this large project and work 12-hour days as it leaves you feeling stressed and near burnout, having a detrimental effect on your wellbeing. The work hasn’t changed, but your life has. Equally there will be times when life stays the same but work changes.

It is not possible to have a clear balance between work and life. We need to make our life work for us based on what stage of life we are at. It needs to be effective for us. Instead it is essential we have flexibility. Rather than adhering to a strict regime or strict hours, it is better to be able to embrace moments of spontaneity, responding to life as it happens, instead of trying to engulf everything in a preconceived plan.

While the large, rigid-branched tree may look stronger and more impressive, it is the flexible one that will weather the storm. Exerting ourselves and making an effort is important, but not to the point of injury. We need to be flexible enough to put our health and wellbeing first.

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