What Bill Clinton getting in my way taught me about adaptability

In 2001, Dan and his wife, Ioanna, welcomed my nephew Gabriel to world. I was excited to spend some time with the little guy, and my brother and sister-in-law were looking for babysitting help as they transitioned back to work. There was just one small detail to work out: the gig was in Hong Kong, where they were living at the time.

Still, I was keen to shake my reputation as the babysitter who used a butter knife to apply diaper cream. And thanks to my penny-pinching ways in university, I could afford the flight. So I bought a plane ticket and headed to the airport.

Although Gabe the Babe enjoyed barfing on me a lot, I managed to take care of him without too many incidents. And when I wasn’t looking after the kid, I was out and about, touring around the sprawling megapolis.

One afternoon, Dan returned home from work and relieved me from my nanny duties. He suggested I check out a small antique market a short walk from the apartment. Changing my T-shirt that Gabriel had once again covered in vomit, I stepped out into the oppressive heat. 

I didn’t get far. Although access to the antique market was literally across the street, getting there proved trickier than expected.

A wall of beefy men in black suits and sunglasses barred entry, their granite features and clear “I know how to kill you with my pinkie” vibe making me sweat even more. Weighing the pros and cons between getting into the market and having my arms torn off, I opted to give the scary men a wide berth.

I was disappointed by the unexpected detour but made the most of it with a visit to a nearby shrine. Unfortunately, the peace and serenity I felt inside the sacred space was quickly replaced with mild paranoia. As I exited the building, I saw that the men in black were back — and they had now cordoned off the entire street I was on.

For a fleeting moment I wondered if it was possible that I was actually a rogue government agent with amnesia, like Jason Bourne or Wolverine, and that these men were here to take me down. And as a result, I would need to brawl my way through the streets of Hong Kong like a scene from a Jackie Chan movie, using deadly martial arts I didn’t know I possessed.

Nope. Just Bill Clinton.

The former U.S. Commander-in-Chief strolled out of a side street as his black-suited security detail kept a watchful eye on the small crowd that had gathered. The official story was that the saxophone-loving American was in town for an economic forum. 

But part of me wonders if his true agenda was to disrupt my Hong Kong sightseeing plans and to get me fired from my unpaid job as a babysitter. Stymied again, I left the scene in search of an alternate route back to the apartment.

Fast-forward five years.

By this point, I had graduated university and was working for an international development charity. During the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto, my boss sent me downtown to attend some of the sessions. It was a jam-packed day.

Too jam-packed, I discovered, when I realized how late it was. If I hoped to catch my bus home, I’d need to hightail it out of there. I hurried for the nearest exit. 

Once again, however, I didn’t get far. Rounding the corner of the building, I skidded to a halt. The entire sidewalk was clogged up with a giant crowd.

With no time to spare, I considered worming my way through the sea of people. But then I noticed that the way forward was blocked off completely. By several men. Wearing black suits. Who looked like they could kill me with their pinkies. 

The conference centre doors swung open and there he was: Bill “I’ve Got the Need to Impede” Clinton. Half a decade later, the man was still out to get me.

Whether it’s a flat tire, a global pandemic or the 42nd president of the United States messing with your schedule, life has a way of throwing monkey wrenches into even the best-laid plans. That’s why being flexible is as important as being well prepared. 

That flexibility was key in my fight with cancer. The sudden aggressiveness of the leukemia forced us to change course and ramp up the chemotherapy. When my blood counts wouldn’t rebound as expected, we had to consider alternative therapies. And when we learned that none of my seven siblings were a match for my bone marrow transplant, we needed to expand our search to the wider national and international stem cell registries.

Life is full of curveballs. But the more responsive and open you are to changing directions — be it finding a back-alley shortcut in Hong Kong or taking a later bus home — the better equipped you’ll be to handle them.

Rolling with the punches

Looking for ways to improve your flexibility? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Nurture a flexible attitude — Plans change, things happen, projects get derailed. Acknowledge that setbacks are inevitable so you won’t be too discouraged when they do happen.

Be ready with a Plan B — Plan ahead so you can adapt to unexpected changes. Put away extra money to deal with unpredictable car repairs or a surprise health issue. Don’t put all your eggs in a single investment basket. Bring five ideas to the table in case the first four get nixed.

Be open — Keep an open mind. There are a hundred ways to get from A to B, so don’t be rigid about your plans. Listen to other people’s opinions, ask questions and explore your options. 

Let go — Adapting to a new reality means letting go of the past. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of nostalgia and reminiscing. But when that devolves into wallowing and fixating on how things used to be, you probably need to give your head a shake and get back to the business at hand.

Find opportunity in obstacles — Embrace change as an opportunity for growth. That big client backing out is an opportunity to introduce fresh ideas to your strategy. That broken leg is an opportunity to catch up on reading. Losing your job is an opportunity to re-evaluate your career goals. Fail your way to success by embracing snafus as learning opportunities.


Next: Chapter 29 — The Taipei middle way: What a hostile hostel taught me about moderation

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Chapter 1 — The coin flip: What a cancer diagnosis taught me about life exploding into a bazillion pieces

Chapter 2 — The slip-up: What a puddle of puke taught me about asking for help

Chapter 3 — The Great Burning: What a million paper monsters taught me about things going up in smoke

Chapter 4 — The crayon candle: What the lamest science project ever taught me about putting in the extra effort

Chapter 5 — The Christmas concert: What starring as a tree taught me about finding my voice

Chapter 6 — The “Super Something:” What blood and glue fumes taught me about vulnerability

Chapter 7 — The dare: What wearing a clay helmet taught me about bad habits

Chapter 8 — The cannonball: What Meghan in the mud taught me about letting go

Chapter 9 — The fireball: What a flaming tennis ball taught me about nurturing imagination

Chapter 10 — The frying pan: What towel-snapping taboos taught me about pushing your luck

Chapter 11 — The haybale: What a tough day in the barn taught me about having someone to watch your back

Chapter 12 — The babysitting gig: What banshee babies and buttered butts taught me about failing forward

Chapter 13 — The sledgehammer: What a construction job taught me about using the right tools

Chapter 14 — The cement truck: What a misguided act of heroism taught me about good intentions

Chapter 15 — The valet: What a parking disaster taught me about overconfidence

Chapter 16 — The growl: What a wolf in the woods taught me about knowledge and responsibility

Chapter 17 — The shortcut: What a hike through stinging nettles taught me about cutting corners

Chapter 18 — The backpack: What a giant duffel bag taught me about band-aid solutions

Chapter 19 — The big freeze: What camping in a snowstorm taught me about knowing when to quit

Chapter 20 — The snowy gauntlet: What an idiotic bet taught me about redefining success

Chapter 21 — The Christmas tree: What a holiday hunt taught me about overkill

Chapter 22 — The BB gun: What my dad getting shot in the eye taught me about owning up to our mistakes

Chapter 23 — The toboggan hill: What sledding battles taught me about approaching problems from different angles

Chapter 24 — The train: What a trip to the big city taught me about self-sabotage

Chapter 25 — The mushy cauliflower: What dinner in France taught me about the power of words

Chapter 26 — The shopping cart: What an unusual ride to the bar taught me about control

Chapter 27 — The butt clay: What a muddy gully battle taught me about karma

Chapter 28 — The president: What Bill Clinton getting in my way taught me about adaptability

Chapter 29 — The Taipei middle way: What a hostile hostel taught me about moderation

Chapter 30 — The refugee camp: What volunteering in Ghana taught me about digging deeper

Chapter 31 — The bus ride: What a long drive through the mountains taught me about patience

Chapter 32 — The barn: What a Christmas sleepover taught me about keeping your fires stoked

Chapter 33 — The list: What farts and sandwiches taught me about gratitude

Chapter 34 — The birthday: What a surprise celebration in the hospital taught me about self-care

Chapter 35 — The goodbye: What a man named Frank taught me about luck

Chapter 36 — The bloody transformation: What going from negative to positive taught me about change

Chapter 37 — The school of hard knocks: What life’s misadventures taught me about blunderful resilience