Adapt, Improvise, Overcome: The Successful Admin’s Credo – even on vacation!

Oct 8, 2010 | Travel Planning

“Adapt, Improvise, and Overcome.” This became the recurring theme of a much needed two week vacation my husband and I took the last two weeks of September.  We were headed to Boston for three days of sightseeing before driving up the coast to Old Orchard Beach, Maine to meet up with some friends for the balance of our trip. I had every detail of the trip meticulously planned out right down to the outfits I was planning to wear each day (airport bag fees and all, I didn’t want to pack a single item I didn’t need).  And for what may be the FIRST TIME EVER, I was ready to leave for the airport BEFORE our agreed to time on the morning of our departure! There was one tiny snag before we left the house – we couldn’t check in online and prepay for our bags. But that could be easily overcome when we got to the airport, so we were off!

We arrived at our “non-international” airport with plenty of time to check in, breeze through security, and arrive at our gate with time to burn.  The weather was a big foggy that morning, but the wind was lightly blowing, and my husband assured me it would clear up before the incoming plane we were to depart on was due to land.  I mean, the wind was truly filling the wind socks at the airport, so it should be no problem, right?  But as we sat in the airport and the flight time got closer, and other airlines were delaying flights right and left, some were diverting flights to outlying cities, and people were getting thicker and thicker in the waiting areas, we started to sense there may be trouble.

Fast forward 10 hours and our flight was finally cancelled at 7:30 PM that evening.  It was time for the first major application of “adapt, improvise, and overcome.”  As we stood in line at the airline counter waiting to get rebooked and to pick up our luggage, I called the airline directly on my cell phone and determined there was a 6 AM flight out of Chicago the next morning that would get us to Boston by 9:30 AM – if we could get to Chicago yet that night.  After 10 hours in the airport, neither of us felt like driving 5 hours to get to Chicago, but our only other option was to go back home and wait until 7 PM the next evening to try flying out again.  No thanks!  So we adapted our mindset, improvised our plans, rented a car, and drove to Chicago to overcome this unfortunate travel delay.

We arrived at O’Hare in Chicago with no travel issues and hardly any traffic (bonus!).  We returned the rental car and caught the shuttle to our terminal so we could check in, get through security, and find a place to catch a long nap before our 6 AM flight.  What we didn’t count on was the airline windows shut down at 11 PM, and you can’t check in until they reopen at 4 AM. It was again time to “adapt, improvise, and overcome.” So after trying to scout out a semi-safe and clean area to camp out with our luggage in the terminal for 4 hours, we caught a few 15 minute naps in between cleaning crews passing by, and were third in line at 4 AM when the airline windows re-opened.

We were able to successfully check in for our 6 AM flight and finally get rid of our luggage when the airline representative decided to do us a favor and help us refund the first leg of our journey right then and there.  That sounded like a great idea.  She said it would take us hours to do on our own if we waited until later, so we agreed to let her.  What we didn’t know was it would take almost 45 minutes for her to accomplish and the security lines would be PACKED FULL with a 30+ minute wait time by the time we finally got to leave the check in counter.  We were now going to be cutting it VERY close to make it through security in time to board our flight. In my head, I began calculating the next strategies I may need to “adapt, improvise, and overcome” this new potential challenge.  Thankfully, the “Red Sea” at security parted and another line opened just as we were approaching the final bend.  We sped through, and landed in our seats of the airplane just in time. Cool side note: As we were going through security, we got to catch a glimpse of the Stanley Cup which was being transported through the airport by a member of the Chicago Blackhawks National Hockey League organization.  But I was too tired to realize I should grab my camera or cell phone and snap a quick picture like every Blackberry carrying person around me seemed to be doing.

Finally, at 9:30 AM on Monday morning, we arrived in Boston!  We were running on about 3 ½ hours of sleep, but we were there.  We promptly checked into our hotel, showered, took a couple hour nap, and commenced our adapted sightseeing itinerary!  And we had a terrific time in Boston which will definitely require another visit when we have the opportunity.

We left Boston on Wednesday to drive up the coast to Old Orchard Beach, Maine where we were meeting friends.  We had yet another incident when we arrived in Old Orchard Beach to practice what had now become the recurring theme of our trip: “adapt, improvise, and overcome.”

The hotel we had booked at was an older, family owned establishment that advertised newly refurbished rooms and upgraded facilities in their marketing materials and on their website.  But I think they meant they had refurbished and upgraded in the 1970s.  After looking at three different rooms, we decided to try another hotel. Travel Tip: This is one benefit of NOT booking on a site like hotels.com or others where you prepay to get cut rates and cannot get your money back!

We drove to the visitor center and asked where the nearest chain hotels might be.  Thankfully, there was a Ramada Inn just 5 minutes up the road. Better yet, they had a room for us for all 9 days of our stay. Three cheers for the Ramada Inn!

Maine was great!  We enjoyed a lot of sightseeing there including a life-size chocolate moose, several lighthouses, and the beginning of the leaf changing season.  We were a couple of weeks too early to enjoy it in full color, but what we did see was still beautiful. The remainder of our trip was relatively uneventful (which was just fine by us!) although it seemed to take several days to unwind from the trauma of it all.

I do have a purpose in sharing all of our travel experiences with you, though.  As I thought more about this entire series of events, I was struck by the parallels of our recurring trip theme – “adapt, improvise, and overcome” – to the administrative roles we each fill every day. Much of our professional life as administrative professionals involves adapting, improvising, and overcoming obstacles that appear out of nowhere each and every day.  Even our best-laid plans and meticulously planned events run into snags.  Speakers cancel.  Coworkers calls in sick, and we have to cover for them.  Our executives have last minute requests that require we put in additional time or shift our priorities. I can’t think of a single day that doesn’t involve some degree of adapting, improvising, and overcoming.  It’s how we respond that makes all of the difference, though. 

So here are a few tips to help you more successfully maneuver through the daily challenges and opportunities that force you to “adapt, improvise, and overcome” as an administrative professional:

  • Choose to respond positively when challenges present themselves.  It is a choice. It does make a difference. You can completely change the entire mood of a room (or office) by how you choose to respond with your attitude, your words, your tone of voice, and your facial expressions.  At the very least – SMILE!  Being rude, nasty, or sarcastic to the airline attendants wasn’t going to cause that cloud of fog to lift the day we left.  They weren’t having any better of a day than I was, so I didn’t need to contribute to making it worse. But it’s amazing how many people take out their frustration on the messenger instead of trying to do all they can to help the messenger have a better day in spite of the situation we all found ourselves in together.  Simply thanking the airline attendants for all they were doing to help us all get rebooked made a difference that day.
  • Think about your Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, etc. are as you plan things to begin with.  You’ll never come up with every possible contingency that you may need to be prepared for, but this will help you be better prepared for the ones that do pop up.  It gets you in the habit of thinking ahead, thinking creatively, and being ready just in case.  I had read some hotel reviews on hotels.com and other travel sites just before we left, and I knew there was potential for issues at the hotel our travel companions had recommended.  My plan B was to drive to the visitor center and ask where the nearest chain hotels were.  And that’s exactly what we did!  Next time, I’ll have that research done before I leave (this experience probably just made a future travel experience much better for me or a client).
  • Understand and evaluate how you typically respond in stressful situations.  Enlist the feedback of a colleague or your executive.  How does this help?  You can purposefully think about how you can respond better and more professionally than you may have in the past.  Sometimes we don’t even realize the body language that we’re communicating with in the heat of the moment. Do you fold your arms?  Do you glare over the top of your glasses?  Do you get short and snippy or do you maintain courteous, polite, and friendly tones in your voice?  In some cases, I even recommend role playing your responses with a friend, coach or mentor.  Some personality types don’t think as clearly when they have to make a decision under stressful situations. Others shine in chaotic situations.  Know your personal tendencies so you can shine no matter what comes your direction.
  • Be prepared to do things occasionally that you don’t like to do or that may not be part of your “job description” to help the team accomplish the goal.  Think big picture. Get over it. Get it done. Then move on. I hate driving when I’m tired – especially at night.  But I did my part and drove for two hours of the trip to Chicago to help my team accomplish the goal of getting to Boston to salvage as much of our vacation sightseeing time as possible. It was worth it.

Clint Eastwood has a line in the movie “Heartbreak Ridge” that I’ve adapted for myself after the experiences of this trip:  “You’re an Admin now!  You adapt. You improvise. You overcome. Let’s move.”  The more prepared you are to mentally adapt, improvise and overcome, the better you’ll be able to maneuver through the twists and turns of a day in the life of an innovative administrative professional – even on vacation!

© 2010 Julie Perrine International, LLC

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Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career and The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity. And request your free copy of our special report “From Reactive to Proactive: Creating Your Strategic Administrative Career Plan” at www.AllThingsAdmin.com.

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