Lessons From A Fish Out Of Water

Nov 08, 2018 1 Min Read
Adapting to sudden change has never been my strongest suit.

It is high on my list of pet peeves: when plans get thrown out the window, or worse – when there aren’t any.

By nature, I have always been someone who needed to have a game plan in mind. Unfortunately, sometimes plans fail ‒ leaving me floundering about like a fish out of water.

A few years ago, I got involved with Leaderonomics’ Youth Leadership camps and programmes as a facilitator. Through the activities that are carried out, the majority of the learning is experiential, meaning we teach through hands-on exposure.

Unfortunately, for me, this means very little room for control and things can change very, very fast.

Here’s my story about how this fish out of water, had to grow lungs.

Coming to camp 

As a facilitator, one of the things I had to do was design games and activities. I had to come up with interactive sessions and group work that instilled values like leadership with integrity or clear communication.

It was my cup of tea.

What was definitely not my cup of tea was when:

  1.  My ideas for 20 people suddenly had to work for 40 people.
  2.  The campers misinterpreted the instructions.
  3. The materials for the games magically disappeared

Of course, these are just some of the examples that led to the feeling of impending hair loss.

Thankfully, I had friends and mentors who taught me how get flexible ‒ to “grow lungs” when thrown out of water.

Keeping the ‘why’ in mind 

There’s one question that never fails to amuse me: “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Of course, everybody knows the answer: “To get to the other side!”

The thing that amuses me is that this chicken had a sense of purpose: it knew the ‘why’.

When coming up with a plan, the clearest part needs to be the aim. Everything else is subject to change.

The first activity I conducted was an ice breaker that involved lots of movement and running!

At least, it was supposed to. Sadly, it was the first day of camp and nobody wanted to move around.

I turned to my (clearly more experienced) friend and scream-whispered “WHAT DO I DO?” She said, “Remember, the idea is to get them to know each other. Try something else.”

Putting panic aside, I scrambled to find a new plan for the same goal. Despite my initial idea being tossed, I discovered that I did know other ways to break the ice! I split the large group into pairs and we played “two truths and a lie.”

When things don’t go as hoped, it’s not uncommon for the mind to go blank, but knowing the ‘why’ of your plan helps get your brain juices flowing and you’ll come up with new ideas.

What are your three simple rules? 

When writing instructions, many of us tend to have a very clear picture in our minds. Herein lies the problem, things are clear – in OUR minds.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” There’s simply no guarantee that the message we give is the one that is received.

During camp, we often have elaborate station games. These are activities where there are different booths, each with its own challenge.

As the person in charge of conveying the rules and regulations, I want to tell my fellow facilitators everything they need to know about their stations.

If you’ve ever been told everything you need to do at one go, you can guess that it didn’t end very well for me.

After my briefing, the games began and I visited each station. To my great horror, half the stations were following different game formats. The games carried on well, but the structure was all gone.

The next station games session I ran, I took the advice of a friend. I gave my briefing, but this time, I added three simple rules to each game.

As long as these rules were followed, any change was welcome! For example:

  1. Everybody must take part.
  2. Nobody is allowed to…
  3. The goal they must achieve is…

This time, my station visits looked a lot more like what I had in mind! Each game achieved its goal and maintained most of its format despite sudden changes here and there.

Surprises are meant to be surprising 

Perhaps the most crucial thing about dealing with a plan gone awry is acceptance. A surprise can be defined as “an unexpected or astonishing event.”

Surprises happen, and the best we can really do is expect that there will be something unexpected.

With this fact in mind, the first thing to do when facing an unexpected interference is to calm down.

Our natural biological response to being caught off guard is to breathe faster, to sweat, and to release stress hormones – not exactly an ideal state for problem-solving.

When things hit the fan, never underestimate the power of taking a deep breath or two.

Calmly step aside from the old plan and ask yourself, “What’s my ‘why’” and “What are my ‘Three Simple Rules?’”

Then – and only then – figure out the new plan.

Living with gills and lungs 

If I were a fish, my gills are my comfort zone. It’s the way I breathe easy.

However, after years of running and coordinating activities, I’ve learnt that there are times when strategy will face tragedy.

Swimming comfortably within the safety net of our plans is great! But sometimes, when a fish is thrown out of water, it will need to adapt and grow lungs.  

Share This


Ethan is passionate about meeting and understanding people. Filled with a strong sense of wonder and curiosity, to him challenges are only learning opportunities. Allergic to half the planet, he has learned to look for the silver lining in every dish life brings him.

You May Also Like

image of a women shopping using and shopping sustainable fashion products

Thoughtful Consumption: The “Last Mile” in Well-Being and Sustainability

By Hilke Plassmann and Subramanian Rangan and Ebba Hansmeyer. The fashion industry, known for its unsustainability, faces significant environmental and social challenges. Learn how consumers, and producers can drive meaningful change.

Sep 19, 2023 6 Min Read

Tall trees jungle (Starting Late)

The Benefits of Starting Late

Shashi Kesavan, Head of Strategic Projects at Leaderonomics, discusses the benefits of starting late and the importance of self-awareness at these crossroad moments.

Apr 25, 2022 24 Min Podcast


Maximizing Productivity for Success: Jordan Peterson's Insights on Time Management | Rethink Your Approach

Jordan Peterson shares how we all need to rethink the value of productivity and success and how time-wasting plays a key role in that. He shares that wasted time equates to wasted income as Time = Money. Listen to his enlightening talk below on how you too can procrastinate less and use your time wisely to make more money for yourself and be rich. Discipline is essential for personal growth and success, and it can be developed through consistent effort and a clear vision for the future.

Jan 12, 2024 8 Min Video

Be a Leader's Digest Reader