The One Skill That Makes All the Difference

Recently I opened my email to a form letter asking me if I’d write a post about what I thought the most marketable skill was. At first, the email turned me off. It felt a little cheesy, and I don’t usually go in for these group blog projects.

But later that day as I sat at a coffee shop sipping my coffee I thought back on all the jobs I’ve had and what skills helped me enjoy my work the most. I also thought about what absence of skills caused me the most pain.

And while every job I’ve had required a slightly different set of skills, one skill stood out as having the biggest impact on my ability to enjoy my work and my life. So I decided I would accept this challenge and write about flexibility, because I believe it not only makes you more marketable, it can also make you much happier.


Why Flexibility Is Important

Work and Life are Unpredictable

No matter what your job description or your personal mission statement is, life is always full of surprises. Even though I’ve had more crazy jobs than most (from sumo chicken boxing promoter to adult book store clerk), I’ve found that at even the most mundane jobs there is always something totally unexpected you end up doing. And the more flexible you are the better you’re able to handle these surprises.

Humility is an Asset

When I worked at the monastery, I took on the practice of saying yes whenever asked to do a task. This practice showed me how often I like to object when asked to do something. Very often, my objections had to do with the way something was done and how I thought it should be done.

I discovered that when I let go of my opinions, it became much easier to do my job. Sure there were occasions where I offered suggestions about how to do something, but only after I’d tried to complete the task as instructed. Being flexible can help you be humble and understand your life more deeply.

Flexibility Makes You Versatile

In the past when I’ve managed people, I found that most fell into one of two groups. The first group could follow instructions and do their job.

The second group did what their job was and then did a little bit more. They didn’t need as much direct supervision because they had the ability to improvise. When presented with a spilled drink or an angry customer they would pause, meet the situation, and handle it appropriately.

Flexible people have an advantage at work and in life because they shift to fill in the gaps, which is a very valuable asset.


How to Be Flexible at Work (And in Life)

Of course, saying you should be flexible is one thing and actually doing it is another. Here are some ways I’ve found to be more flexible at work and in my life.

Understand First

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my life is trying to speak my mind, before I truly understood the person I was speaking to. Every time I’ve done this, it erodes trust and often causes me to make a mistake that could’ve easily been prevented if I just slowed down.

One simple way to more flexible is to make sure you really understand the person you are talking to before you try to express yourself. Listening first demands your mind to be open to other ways of seeing the world, rather than becoming fixated on your perspective. If you put this into practice regularly you will discover that not only can your mind bend to understand other people, but that in bending you will learn a lot about how to connect and benefit those around you.

Just Do Stuff

There are times in life when you’re asked to do something that is boring or menial. When this happens it’s easy to get grumpy and resistant. But often this negative perspective can rob you of the potential to learn and grow as a person.

Next time you are given something you don’t quite get, give it a chance. Try to engage fully with the task and be open to the possibility that there might be something very reasonable or even enjoyable about this task, which you didn’t see at first.

This will help you treat ‘boring’ tasks with a sense of curiosity. In addition, having an open mindset will help you complete any task with a sense of purpose, which will make you a better employee and a happier person.

Step Up and Respond

When you see a mess, it’s a natural instinct to wonder what’s wrong with everyone around you. But the problem with this perspective is that it separates you from your environment and the people you share it with.

Instead of seeing every problem as someone else’s fault, try stepping up and responding to the needs you see around you.

If the sinks in the bathroom are dirty, take a paper towel and wipe them down. If the recycling bin by the copier is full, empty it. If the office fridge is a mess, throw a few expired items out.

Taking responsibility for your community builds good will in others and when you become more flexible about what you are responsible for you’ll learn that it feels better to add a bit extra to the lives of those around you.


Final Thoughts on Being Flexible

If you were floating down a fast moving river full of rocks, would you prefer to be on a brittle piece of wood or a bouncy piece of rubber? Sure, the wood might be sturdier, but the bumps will soon turn it into several sturdy toothpicks. But rubber can react and flow around the rocks, keeping you safe and absorbing the blows of unexpected obstacles.

Flexibility is the same way. The more flexible you are the better you’ll be at dealing with the sudden changes and unexpected things that pop up at your job and in your life. And that’s the reason that flexibility is not only one of the most marketable skills, but also a skill that leads to great happiness.

Toku is a mindfulness expert, speaker, and coach. He lived for over two years at a Zen monastery and now helps passionate people who are good at what they do, be the best at what they do. This post was originally published on MindFitMove.