The Power of Adaptability

Read Time: 5 Minutes

Laura Penhaul was the keynote at NMPi’s recent seminar, where she talked about her experience as Team Leader for the Coxless Crew as they rowed across the Pacific Ocean, setting 2 world records in the process.

“When there is an element of choice,” she began, “we and society as a whole will choose the path of least resistance;” the easy route, the less risky route, the less energy-consuming so as to allow room for all the other factors in life. But what if we get comfortable with stepping into the unknown? It was only by tackling the largest ocean in the world that Laura was able to understand how to cope with the unknown, and what we draw upon when we want to give up.

Adaptability: the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions

Adaptability is a quality that is, in fact, innate in all humans; it’s a part of our physiology. Our immune system, the way we grow, how we remodel from injury, how we acclimatise to altitude or heat, it’s all process of adaption. When we don’t give ourselves a choice, we naturally adapt to our new life path.

While working with Paralympic athletes, Laura saw this adaption every day. Jacko Van Gaas, injured in the war, awoke and felt lucky to be alive. He has gone on to be a British Paralympic cyclist & part of the first ever adaptive team to climb the 7 highest peaks in the world and 2 poles – he chose to make the most of his abilities.

“Why do we wait to be faced with significant adversity before we realise our abilities?” questions Laura.

Losing Sight of Shore

What better way to understand this mindset than by doing something completely unknown – and that’s when Laura decided to row an ocean. Starting in San Francisco, she and 3 other women headed out into the expanse of the largest ocean in the world with no support, no get-out clause, and no safety boat in sight. “The term ‘go with the flow’ soon became a way of life out there, because that’s all we could do,” states Laura. They had to draw on adaptive behaviours to take on the challenge and constantly evolve through the journey, learning as they went and understanding there is no failure if we reflect and learn from it.

We all have our own Pacific to cross – whether literal or figurative. Not everything will play out exactly as written in the guidebook. Allowing yourself to control the controllable and adapt to the rest, we can minimise that threat of the unknown and stop ourselves from wanting to give up.

Download Laura’s slides: The Power of Adaptability

Watch Laura’s Netflix Documentary, Losing Sight of Shore