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4 Essential Strategies to Use When You’re Blindsided

Rolling with the punches when life takes a left turn

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Jeremy Bishop: Unsplash
Jeremy Bishop: Unsplash

It was painful to see him, doubled over, hands on his knees hyperventilating. Panicked and angry he looked up at me and shouted “You don’t understand!  This is a DISASTER!” 

In my 15 plus years as a career transition coach, I’ve helped more than 1600 people navigate major life change when their careers came to an abrupt halt.

Two individuals I’ve dealt with over the years stick out as the polar opposites of mindset and how it impacts your ability to manage life-changing circumstances.

This particular gentleman lost his job as part of a corporate downsizing and was devastated by the news. He jumped up from his chair and paced wildly around the room throwing his hands in the air while I tried to mitigate his fear and throw him a lifeline. As his adrenalin rush faded, he was close to tears. 

Before he’d found his current job, he’d been unemployed for an extended period of time. Nothing I said could shift what he so firmly chose to believe. He unfortunately had what is called a ‘fixed’ mindset. His beliefs about who he was and the situation he was facing were carved in stone.  It was an immutable fact for him that losing his job was a disaster, and that he was powerless to change it.  

The heartbreaking thing was that I could clearly see he was rolling into a new disaster, because that’s exactly what he was going to create. His beliefs were not going to allow him to bring his ‘A’ game. He was going to struggle and suffer, feeling defeated and resigned at every step. He couldn’t rise to the occasion and inspire a prospective employer, because he wasn’t even able to inspire himself.

On the other hand, I worked with a woman who was also impacted by a large corporate downsizing in the tech industry. As she related to me, she walked into the room and as soon as she saw her manager sitting there with an HR person she thought, “I’m going to get fired!”… and then “What if I don’t get fired?”  In that fraction of a moment, when she realized she was losing her job, she made a decision.  She decided to be excited about the possibilities that being fired opened up. She was excited about exploring new opportunities, stretching herself and seeing just how far she could go.  People with a ‘growth’ mindset thrive on challenge and see it as an empowering opportunity to grow and stretch.

Most of us, depending on the day and our mood, fall somewhere between those two poles. But the heartening news is that you can develop and strengthen a growth mindset. The ability to adapt to changing circumstances and reinvent ourselves is actually a gift from our evolutionary DNA.

You can choose how you want to think, feel and behave, which means you can consciously create not only the employment future you want, but any future.

That may seem like a tall order when you’re swimming in doubts about your ability to get from where you are at the moment to where you want to be. But embracing a growth mindset is a crucial step in reinventing yourself, because literally everything you do will be bolstered or sabotaged by your mindset. 

As a serial re-inventor myself, I’ve had to overcome my own disempowering beliefs that made managing change a challenge. In the process of all those reinventions I’ve learned 4 simple strategies that can help you to navigate whatever change is facing you with greater ease and confidence.

BREATHE

When change is forced upon you before you’re ready, the most important thing to remember is to breathe. Focus on taking 3 or 4 slow deep breaths. Whatever needs to be done is best done when you are calm. Slow your racing thoughts down. Remind yourself that the world did not just end. Think about the abundance of things that are right with your world, and be grateful for them. This will help to create a sense of perspective and bolster your resilience. 

GET CLEAR

One of the first things most of my career changers want to do is to call their network and put out feelers for their next job. It’s the wrong move. When life is moving fast it’s important to consciously slow events down so you have time to get clear about the actions you are taking and your motivation for taking them. Whether you’ve lost a job, a relationship has dissolved or your life has been turned upside down for another reason, a gap in the action is a precious opportunity to pause, reevaluate and get clear so you can make decisions and fine tune your action plan. The goal is to respond thoughtfully to change not react to it.

BE STRATEGIC

Don’t flail! Swinging into furious action might make you feel like you’re making headway, but don’t fool yourself. Not all actions are created equal. I cringed when a job-seeker shared that he had sent out 400 resumes without getting a bite. How demoralizing do you think that was? When I decided to look for a new job I took a month off to prepare myself, sent one resume, had one interview and got the job. Whether you are looking for a new job or responding to other life changing circumstances, you can be sure there is a tried and true process to follow that will minimize your angst and maximize your results! Circle back to point number 1, breathe, be calm and carry on!

DON’T BE A LONE RANGER!

Don’t be tempted to bravely soldier on alone. There are no awards for suffering in silence or doing things the hard way. When you are facing big changes and daunting tasks you want to have a team at your back. Having the emotional support of a friend or loved one is essential, but it isn’t enough. Who else do you need on your team to help support you along the way? It could be someone to help you plan or play devil’s advocate to ensure you make clear-headed decisions, a consummate networker who can connect you to the people or resources you need to accomplish your task, or a professional such as a financial advisor, coach or counselor. 

The next time you are blindsided by change, the first and most important thing is to remind yourself to breathe. It’ll keep you from panicking and hyperventilating. Then when you’re calm, the next steps will unfold as naturally as 1, 2, 3.

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