Navigating Changes at Work Deftly

Mira’s been working at a start-up that’s been doing well for the past five years. But now the firm is trimming costs. Though her division has been downsized, her job is spared. However, she realizes that unless she upskills herself, she too may be asked to leave. Always having been a topper in her student days, Mira can’t come to terms with the fact that her resume or profile isn’t as superlative as she’d believed when she first landed multiple job offers. Should she look for another job? Or should she learn Python, something she’s been putting off for a while? 

Azim, the Head of Human Resources, will deal with the complaints and grievances of employees. But, of late, he’s finding it harder to get across to the new crop of recruits. The freshers in the company feel Azim is too “old school.” If his training modules and negotiation strategies have worked well so far, why does he have to tweak his methods and manners for a bunch of what he calls “entitled brats”? 

Being able to adapt and change based on the times or circumstances is indeed a crucial life skill that’s especially relevant in the world of work, which tends to be hyperdynamic nowadays. In Master of Change, Brad Stulberg, introduces us to the notion of “rugged flexibility,” wherein we embrace change proactively and positively while retaining core aspects of ourselves. In this article, I discuss the relevance of rugged flexibility in the context of work. 

According to Stulberg, one reason why we resist change is because we also crave stability, as it imbues us with a sense of control. No one would deny that a sense of control over our actions is necessary for optimal productivity. On the other hand, if our work environments are constantly in a state of flux, we may feel helpless and unable to give our best. An ordered environment helps us be more organized and efficient. 

Thus, when we are confronted with change, we may balk at altering our behaviors or attitudes. In the examples above, Mira cannot stomach the fact that her current skills and knowledge aren’t cutting-edge anymore. Likewise, Azim has to contend with the hard truth that his ability to work with all types of people doesn’t extend to Gen Z. 

But as change is an integral part of life, including work, we need not view change as the obverse of stability. Rather, as Stulberg argues, we need to reframe it as a state of order undergoing temporary disorder to reach a new state of reorder. Of course, as this cycle will repeat more often than not, we need to brace ourselves for periodic shifts. So, while Mira may learn Python, she has to be ready to upskill herself again as new technologies warrant. Likewise, to be an effective HR leader, Azim has to dispense with old ways and use more trendy methods to connect with younger generations. 

Stulberg provides some inspiring examples of people who pursued their careers despite having to confront debilitating shifts. Serge Hollerbach, a Russian by birth, attended the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied expressionism, an art movement that emphasizes the subjective experience of the artist as opposed to rendering a more realistic view of objects and events. Hollerbach did not realize at that time that his art education would come in handy many years later. He subsequently moved to the United States, where his work was met with recognition and many honors. He remained a prolific painter till the age of 71, when he was diagnosed with macular degeneration. Though his vision waned, his spirit remained resilient. 

Not one to give up his vocation due to a setback, Hollerbach continued to paint, relying more on his “inner eye.” Though he was wistful about his deteriorating eyesight, he did not let that impede his career. Hollerbach confesses that his “visual impairment” provided “new direction” to his work. 

Roger Federer, the legendary tennis player, had an unusually long career as a world-class tennis player. While most tennis players reach their acme in their late twenties, Federer played for a good decade longer. Of course, it wasn’t a smooth upward curve all along. In his early thirties, Federer suffered from multiple back injuries, and his game consequently nosedived. 

But Federer realized he needed to adapt and change the way he played the game in order to still be a serious contender. He picked a less grueling tournament schedule to ensure that he rested his body adequately between games. He played closer to the net more often so that he didn’t have to run around the court while competing with younger and fitter players. Federer also “learned a one-handed backhand” that allowed him to spin the ball more optimally. He also took to new technology, relinquishing his old racquet for one that incorporated “enhanced design technology.” By, thus, tweaking his game in different ways, Federer was able to be one of the most enduring and notable tennis players in the world. 

So, if you want to have a successful career, be open to learning and reinventing yourself based on new demands and realities.

About the Author 

Aruna Sankaranarayanan is a psychologist and writer. She is the author of Zero Limits: Things Every 20-Something Should Know. (She blogs at 

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