Steering into the skid
If you have been thrown into a world of change at work, you may be feeling like you’re out of control. Imagine barreling down the highway at 65 miles per hour. The sun’s out, there are blue skies all around, and you haven’t a care in the world. Suddenly, you hit a patch of black ice and find that you are losing control of the car. Your immediate reaction will determine what happens next. If you slam on the brakes, the car could go into a spin or start fishtailing, and you are likely to end up in a ditch or worse, in a collision. So in that split second, what do you do? Take your foot off the accelerator, downshift, steer into the skid, and aim the car in the direction you want to go. Is it scary? Yes. But you will be able to gain control.
In advance preparation for a cold-weather road trip, you would have checked the weather and road conditions. Although the exact spot the ice occurred may have been a surprise, the conditions seen when you initially checked would have made it clear that ice was a possibility. Even past experience travelling this route or a similar route prompted you to employ heightened driving skills in the past, and you were ready. But this year, even those of us who would have entertained the possibility of hitting an ice patch would not have expected to hit a glacier. None of us anticipated anything as devastating or as course changing as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recovery will take longer, but the principles we used for correcting course can remain the same. If you consider what has led to your ability to navigate tough road conditions in the past, you can apply many of those concepts to be able to drive your career forward after this.
There are many analogies we can draw from driving to a destination and moving forward in your career. You need more than a car. First and foremost, you need to have a destination in mind and a map. The car needs to be in good repair. It needs to have gas in the tank, air in the tires, working windshield wipers, coolant and a spare tire. If you are travelling out into the wilderness, you’ll need water and other supplies. It’s also pragmatic to check the weather before you leave so you know what you’ll be driving into. As you are driving, pay attention to your surroundings and other cars. A defensive* driver is a safe driver. Consider the similarities between driving your car and driving your career. As you look forward, there’s more to consider than just getting a job with the title you had hoped for. Today we have even more to consider: which industries are likely to survive moving forward?
As we have seen, it’s possible for anyone to be faced with the news that your company is closing completely, substantially downsizing or has been merged with a larger corporation to survive, and your job is being eliminated. Do you hide under the covers and hope when you wake up the news will have changed, or do you move your vacation plans to next year and focus on the other opportunities that need to be tracked down? Hopefully, you’re one of the few who fall into the latter group. If you aren’t, or if you are suddenly realizing this could happen to you, then the following steps can help you to retain control when it happens.
Have a goal. What is it you really want to be doing 5-10 years from now? It needn’t be absolutely precise, and you certainly don’t want to limit yourself to only one path, but you do need to have a fairly clear idea of the elements you want to get from your career and what it should look like. Creating a career plan (road map) for where you want to go can keep you from completely getting lost when conditions change as dramatically as they have this year.
Be ready to change gears.
Be prepared. Know your equipment and familiarize yourself with the materials you use. Make sure you have what you need to get your job done and that everything operates properly (and that you are able to operate it properly). If you are being challenged by any element (e.g., technology/software, communication, time management or project management), be proactive about getting assistance or training. Don’t wait until shortcomings become issues that prevent you from being competitive. Know what others in your field are being required to do and how they need to do it, NOW, vs. what used to be the norm. Embrace change and be willing to take on new processes and new work if necessary.
Have gas in your tank and air in the tires. You have to have enough energy to do the job in front of you for as many hours as it requires, and then some to spare, in case things go awry. Get enough sleep so you are rested and alert. Exercise and eat right. Stress wears you down, and if you are not taking care of yourself, you won’t have the energy to fight the battle that looms ahead when your employment does a 180.
Be ready to change gears. When driving a car, acceleration produces higher RPMs (revolutions per minute) and allows you to shift up to increase your power and performance. Reducing your speed or braking lowers the RPMs and allows you to downshift to improve control. Pay attention to our world events and your surroundings as carefully as you would drive. Be aware of any relevant news, recognize when world conditions can impact the economy and know about market conditions that can impact your industry. Know where your organization fits into the big scheme of things. Be ready to make a move before you hit the wall. Look for conversations regarding industry demand, economic distress, impending leadership changes or any possibilities of your company pursuing a sale/merger/acquisition, location change or closure.
Anticipate the worst. Make sure you remain current with people in your network and that you have a support system intact. Stay in touch with people who provided references for you in the past and keep them in tune with how you are growing, changing and advancing. Review your business contacts to ensure the data is current and store that information on a personal device. Update your resume and continue to add any current training. If you are still working, keep a log of your accomplishments.
Even though nobody, anywhere, was prepared enough for what has transpired in the preceding months, we have all rallied. We will continue to fight back and put our lives back to normal. The message here is that the better prepared you are, the more control you have when things go off course. So if you weren’t prepared, change what you can and do it right now. Even severe damage can be overcome. Adjust to the status quo by moving forward. Don’t slam on the brakes. Drive into the slide. Stay focused on your goal, revise it to incorporate the changes that have occurred and keep moving.
* This definition is taken from the National Safety Council’s Defensive Driving Course: “driving to save lives, time, and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others.”