So I can't really do back bends. But my cartwheels are surprisingly decent for a dude with no formal gymnastics training.
I'm in Tullahoma, Tennessee right now, which is a quaint and quiet little town about an hour south(ish) of Nashville. I'm here because I delivered a lunch workshop to nonprofits about how they can better communicate with the next generation. I'm also scheduled to speak at a church tonight about the little things anyone can do to save the world.
As I was driving to Tullahoma (don't miss that – I said as I was driving to Tullahoma) this morning, I got a call from my contact. She said, "Sam - I have another speaking opportunity for you today, if you don’t mind."
I never mind. "Great," I told her. "When and where?"
"It will be at 2 PM." This was good since I needed to find a place to kill some time in between noon and 6. "And you'll be talking at a middle school."
That sounded fine. I'd spoken to classes before. Just recently I'd spoken to high school students taking a class on global issues. "Cool," I said. "How many people will be in the class, and how long do I have?"
"Well..." she replied. "That’s the thing. You'll be speaking at an assembly. There will be 140 7th graders."
The silence that bewilderment brings filled the airwaves between me and her.
"Did you say 140 7th graders?"
"Yes. And you'll have an entire hour."
Now, I've spoken to groups of students and I've worked with kids as young as 6. I'm not afraid to be around or talk to kids or teenagers. But on stage for an hour in front of well over 100 students is something different entirely.
This was new territory. I've got a set of canned talks that can work in nearly any situation. If she had booked another church, a nursing home, an educational conference, or even something at the local Grupo de Personas que Hablan Espanol, I'd be good to go. But I haven't exactly done the whole Assembly-Full-of-13-year-olds-at-the-End-of-the-Day gig yet.
But, I'm a flexible guy. So, I'm happy to make it work. And work it I did.
We had a great time at East Middle School, and I really hope 140 kids walked out of that room with some ideas on how to save the world. Maybe they really only remember the funny story about the love note I wrote to Jenny in 2nd grade, but at least they heard the idea that we can all make a difference.
I could have declined and everything would have been okay. The kids would have gone to their regular 7th period classes, I would have found a coffee shop to work from and no one would have been inconvenienced.
But I wouldn't now have the Assembly-Full-of-13-year-olds-at-the-End-of-the-Day talk. So, I'm the better for it.
Being flexible is one of those intangible qualities that is needed in any job or volunteer opportunity. Managers may not be asking it, but it's one of those wild card factors that can really show someone's mettle and their potential to work in certain situations. If I were hiring, I'd ask the candidate to tell a story about a time when he or she was flexible.
If you're not asking this question, you should start. It will tell you more about someone's ability to work under a deadline, under pressure and in uncharted waters. It will tell you a lot more than "What are three strengths you have?"
And if you're a job candidate, make sure you have a flexibility story ready, even if you're not asked. Working that story in during an interview will showcase some originality and the story will stay in someone's mind longer than that boring 'Objective' line will.
So start stretching yourself. You'll improve in some key areas and you may even get a great story out of it.