I led small tour groups across south-east Asia for two years in my early twenties. In this ‘lessons from the road’ series, I share my lessons from the road that apply to being self-employed.

Creatures of comfort

Most of us believe we are creatures of comfort – we like things a certain way, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But most of us grossly underestimate just how adaptable human beings are.

Case in point: most people I took through Cambodia and Vietnam didn’t really appreciate just how poor these countries were. While they may have done some reading before arriving, they were ill equipped to being approached by countless young children, raggedly clothed and barefoot, selling things and begging for cash.

They were unprepared for the depth and breadth of suffering and the weight of recent history – of war, genocide, torture, human slavery, child prostitution, the inefficiency of aid, corruption and international political ineptitude.

And yet the vast majority of passengers handled this commendably.

Having witnessed the torture museum or the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh, having listened to the personal stories of the Khmer Rouge by Cambodian tour guides, having toured the Cu Chi tunnels outside Saigon in Vietnam, or seen the heinous photos in the War Remnants Museums in Saigon, most passengers responded with heart, courage and compassion, and with eyes wide open.

I pulled no punches. I told passengers of the vast inequalities between international trading terms. I talked about the politics and inefficacy of aid (at the time, Cambodia received US $500 million per year in aid – with little to show for it). I took them through red light districts and for dinners in local markets surrounded by kids. I introduced the idea of human slavery to people and talked about how and why women and children ended up in prostitution.

And the vast majority of passengers opened their hearts and minds. They may have been a little surprised or shell-shocked. But, with hearts broken open, they interacted admirably with the locals and responded.

You are more adaptable than you appreciate

We are capable of far more than we give ourselves credit for. We adapt to whatever circumstances life throws at us, and will do so much faster and more effectively once we appreciate this.

It floors me to think about the depth of suffering of people who somehow muster the courage to get up each day and get on with life. It staggers me how much misery we may live through and still turn our faces towards the light.

But you don’t need to have lived through war or genocide to adapt to changes. No matter how seemingly insignificant the change, your attitude and perspective will direct your approach and build your resilience. So harness these.

Resilience is our birthright

Challenges transform us. Troubles and failures build character and are a massive opportunity for learning, though I must add that these aren’t necessary for growth and it’s a healthy response to always remove these, when and if possible.

Resilience is our birthright. We have not survived as a species for hundreds of thousands of years without being resilient. We are more than capable of adapting to a new environment and conditions. We are quick, agile, strong and brave.

Looking ahead

Accepting that we are both adaptable and resilient, we can improve these by getting better at planning ahead. On one trip, I had a family of three – the daughter was about my age and the parents were lovely. The father, in particular, took a shine to me, acting in a very paternal manner.

We went on a motorcycle tour of the countryside outside Hue, a city in the middle of Vietnam. I hired my own bike to ride and had a lovely time driving around bends and up and down small dips in the road.

The father approached me at the end of the day, saying “you’re a fine rider. But you’ve got to look for what’s coming up next. You need to anticipate what’s ahead.”

I haven’t forgotten this. We can heighten our adaptability and resilience by keeping an eye on the future to anticipate our next moves.

What this means for your business

You are likely telling yourself that you’re good at this and bad at that. You’re likely telling yourself that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, or that you’re not capable of changing quickly without slow and considerable contemplation. You’re likely focusing on your failures, misfortunes and shortcoming and licking your wounds for actions taken that didn’t work out the way you hoped.

Perhaps that’s not true.

Try this on for size:

  • Failures in business are totally normal and far more common than we tend to appreciate
  • You are more than capable of whatever task you’ve been putting off
  • Countless people before you have managed to do what you fear doing
  • Your fear is likely far more powerful than the reality
  • You don’t win any prizes for suffering. But surviving is commendable, noble and most human
  • Your attitude affects your ability. Own this
  • Your nerves affect your attitude. Own these
  • Look ahead. Anticipate the next move, and the one beyond this. Build your resilience muscle by planning
  • You are stronger than you think you are

Missed the other lessons from the road? Here’s the firstthe second, and the third.