“To finish first, you must first finish” is a favourite quote of racing car drivers. While they pursue professional glory, they constantly remind themselves that their lives are at stake. As a professional, this is a time to think like a racing car driver. How will you ensure your survival so that you continue to compete in your career? Apart from staying safe in the pandemic, what’s your cash flow status if you lose your job? Create a cash reserve through liquid savings, a job/income insurance plan, and access to instant financial support through friends/ lenders.
Hold it higher
A crisis is not just about physical survival. If you are an emotional mess, you will not be able to close a job interview or retain your current one. As a professional, you need to not just hold it together but hold your flame higher in a crisis. There are two things to do. Firstly focus on your real priority—whether it’s family health, earning money, battling loneliness. Secondly, let your career choices support that priority—whether you need to work for a promotion, take a break from work or switch jobs.
Honesty and help
Look around your WhatsApp groups and Twitter. People in need of help are asking for it directly. A crisis is a time to be honest and not bashful. If you need a job, a change of role or immediate cashflow in your business, go out there and ask for help. Commit that you can start work immediately. And communicate clearly and concisely, what you are able and willing to do, that will meet the other person’s requirement. You are not just a content writer but someone specialised in technical product catalogues and delivering five pages/ 2,000 words per day. However, if you are not in crisis mode, choose to negotiate on the opportunities you get.
Least important person
In that crisis, become the least significant person in the room who is willing to do the grunt work required. When there is a patient in the hospital, that grunt work involves fetching the medicines and filing the mediclaim. Being that person during a workplace crisis, makes you indispensable, ensures your own survival and gives you continuous learning denied to those who continue to pick and choose their tasks.
Givers and favours
Switch from your own crisis to helping others in theirs. The habit of giving even in a crisis reduces anxiety, and restores the feeling of control in your life. At the workplace, helping people without jobs to get back on their feet or an ill colleague with a deadline, gets back confidence and choice in your space. For the financially inclined, consider it as an investment into a favour bank or in professional relationships of unknown value that will compound over time.
The gutsy option
Confused about a decision? Go with your gut. Why do you feel this way in the current crisis? Will you feel the same way tomorrow or in three months’ time? Is there something else that you are ignoring, that will make you feel better or worse in the days to come? Will it change the language and discussions around you? A change in role or budget might exclude you from decisions or information and you may feel left out at work. You may be better off ignoring your physical comfort zone and seeking a new job.
Go the long game
Survive, invest, stay and pivot is your simple four step strategy to do well in the short and long term. You started with ensuring your survival. Next invest daily in your long term career game. Are you learning something new, practising a skill, doing an extra task? Next, stay in the game. Don’t take a break because you had a huge failure. You will lose out on compounded benefits. Finally, be willing to pivot. What worked in the past may stop working for you due to the pandemic or other changes in your world. Something new works for you now. Accept it and change direction. That completes your long term career game.
5 Choices each times
1. Fight it
Fight or flight is the body’s response to acute stress, in the animal kingdom. As a human, you can also accept or modify the change that is causing stress. The first choice you have is to fight the change. Fight for status quo. Confront your team lead, HR, CFO or management to hold on to your role, project, budget or job. Decide which battle to fight.
2. Flight out
Flight is the easiest choice, and de-stresses you immediately. Exit the situation that is causing the change. Your company is reducing costs and your new role doesn’t provide you with learning or cover your expenses? You realise that a fight may not give results and may spoil relationships. You choose to leave. You also choose when.
3. Fuss over
You choose to work out a better deal instead of running away or fighting for status quo. You are happy to speak up and negotiate an agreement. Your new job offer needs you to relocate? You offer a practical solution. Work-from-home until lockdown, then begin with weekly trips to the new location, leading to a full relocation in the future
4. Frame it
You can choose to accept the external change. Change how you describe the situation to yourself and thus open new opportunities instead of closing doors. Your employer has put you on indefinite unpaid leave? It is an opportunity to search for jobs, learn a skill, spend time with family or pursue that business idea. How will you choose to frame it?
5. Freeze it out
Richard Bach, the author of Illusions, says: If you really want to remove a cloud from your life, you do not make a big production out of it, you just relax and remove it from your thinking. Similarly, choose to ignore and freeze out the change. You liked the old boss better? Doesn’t matter. You have work to do!
(The author is a career coach, mentor and the author of Yoursortinghat.com.)