“It's perfectly safe to stand nowhere.” -Ram Dass
When I began my career nearly 45 years ago, the road to success may have seemed a little long, but it was paved in concrete and well-illumined.
Today, however, you can be cruising along at 80 miles an hour only to find the road ends abruptly in a pool of darkness and you find yourself in a farmer's lane with only a jug of cheap whiskey to light your path back to civilization (I grew up in the Amish Country, so cut me a little slack with the metaphors.)
Everyone today is wondering the same things: "When will it all settle down? When will I be safe again? How can I do my job when things keep changing almost on a daily basis?"
Jobs which used to follow some semblance of an orderly,
logical pattern have today become virtually undoable.
How do you manage people when they're afraid of being laid off, they're so distracted they only bring 50% of their energy to their jobs, and there's a ton of pressure coming from above that must, gravity dictates, be pushed in some fashion down to their level?
How do you sell when every time you build your pipeline there's a territory realignment or your company changes its business model, and you get a new boss every six months?
The bad news is that there is no safe haven and there's not likely to be one any time before the end of your career.
The good news is: that's not as bad as you think. In fact, it may just be a cause for rejoicing. Times of instability offer a great opportunity to learn something about ourselves. How we behave in the face of fear, for instance. What we will do in order to survive that goes against our instincts.
Paying close attention to your own behavior is much more productive than reacting to everyone else's. It allows you to take an honest look at what's really effective and make better decisions about how and when to act.
More good news: it's less dangerous out there than you imagine.
In the United States (and many other countries) at least, you may lose your job if your employers fall out of love with you, but you won't be in any real mortal danger even though at times you may feel like it.
It's far more dangerous to pretend that you will find a safe perch; that reality is other than it is. Running from how things actually are can lead to cynicism and burnout, which will cost you a lot more cash in the long run than any setback you're likely to encounter in the course of performing your job.
As you begin paying close attention to your own behavior, here are some tips to help you thrive during periods of uncertainty:
- Take care of your own inner state. If you're not peaceful inside, you're bound to communicate that to your customers, bosses, employees and co-workers. Meditate, listen to Chopin, sit in the park for an extra hour at lunch ("what lunch?" you laugh, but I'm being dead serious here). Whatever it takes.
- Send out love. I'm not preaching. You don't need to use the "L" word. But once you take care of your inner state you need to communicate it to the world. Customers will want to be around your peacefulness, even if they can't buy from you right now. If they're acting out of fear (squeezing you, for instance, or treating you impolitely), your centeredness will calm them down.
- Show leadership. This concept is bandied about so often today it's almost become meaningless — yet businesses are crying out for it. If you're managing people, start with simple things: kindness, generosity, straightforward communication. If you're not in management, you can show leadership by lending a helping hand even when you yourself might be feeling threatened, by refusing to engage in politics, and by being careful of what you say.
There is no safe place to stand, there is only this moment, and the next and the next, until it's your turn to take the podium and sing your own version of "My Way." In the meantime, you'll be much more effective if you're moving, internally at least, to a smooth groove of your own choosing than doing a reactive dance to every new tune that blows in your direction.
See you on the road!
Jim Schaffer is a mindfulness trainer and consultant who has had a decades-long career in the corporate world, primarily in advertising and market research. He has been conducting workshops and speaking on mindfulness in business since 1990. Jim helps organizations and leaders develop the ability to see things clearly, focus on getting results, and maintain high morale & deep resilience, regardless of what is going on around them. He has been a featured speaker at the Boston Whole Health Expo and the Babson College International Symposium on Business and Spirituality. Jim lives with his wife in the Boston area.