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Archive for April, 2009

Benefit of the Downturn — Learning Resilience

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

The current stresses have a lot of us feeling like we’re pushing bus-sized boulders up the Matterhorn. The trauma of having so much change so fast for so many is truly numbing. But we still have to live it. So the question becomes: How do I do this well? What can I change about the way I’m going at it that would make it easier?

Well, I’m not sure a major upheaval can ever be “easy.” But the thing I most need to change–and am least inclined to alter–is the idea that “this should not be happening.” So that’s a first step. Let’s work on getting past that. It doesn’t make any difference whether it should be happening or not, it is happening. The first step is to accept that.

That leads to the next question: If it’s happening, am I doing what I can to deal with the new situation?Your answer may be as simple as “I’m eating at home more” or as extreme as “I’m living in my grandmother’s basement while I look for another job.” But in every case, the change you make needs to be on target with your changed situation.

But is it? Sometimes we change things just to feel like we are doing something. When we do that out of panic instead of based on a planned effort, we waste time, money, and momentum at a point when we need to conserve all three.

This week started for me with a string of losses. Nothing from which I can’t recover, but quite a load for one morning. I’ve put a lot into getting people to value the talent and experience of older workers. I’m committed to this mission and passionate about the need for change. But as I struggled with my Monday disappointments, my thoughts suddenly turned toward going back to school. To study nursing!

That might be a great strategy for some of you. But I don’t do well with the sight of blood. I do not belong in nursing, even if nurses are in such short supply they can find a job in a day. But the “sure thing” seemed like the right call for a few hours there.

Don’t do it. Don’t grab at something just because it seems like the “sure thing.” Especially if it’s got nothing to do with who you really are. Sure things don’t stay that way. Just ask the bankers. Or the folks who were relying on Enron pensions.

What should you change? Change your strategies. Maybe it’s time to take it up a notch at work so people know how valuable you are. Maybe it’s time to spend less of your evening in front of the TV so you can work on things that can help your dreams take flight. Maybe it is time to take well-developed skills into a new industry or new direction in the same industry—or to learn new skills.

You’re the one who knows where things are starting to pinch personally. But to see a better way to address them, you need to stay calm. It’s hard to be calm when they’re announcing layoffs like they usually to announce Saturday night football scores on the ten o’clock news in September.

Be calm anyway. Prayer helps on this. Or meditation. Or just listening to your breath.

It also helps to regularly brainstorm other ways to deal with your current situation. Do this often. I’m always surprised with what comes up. And even more surprised with what comes up when I do it again a few days later. Once I started brainstorming, nursing disappeared from the radar, incidentally. I found some new ways to approach the challenge that I’m so passionate about. More options to try. More “next things” to get to.

Does that solve the problem? No. Having more to do is just, well, more to do. But Edison’s 1000 attempts before successfully inventing the light bulb does hold strong truth. Looking for another way is the way to get through this gracefully.

Learning how to do that gives you something you could never have gained with uninterrupted prosperity. You will gain resilience. And that’s priceless because it will serve you every time something doesn’t go your way. Being able to bounce is a very good thing.