job loss

Keep Calm and Carry On

The COVID-19 outbreak has forced changes on our society that have never been seen in our lifetimes. People in North America have lived their lives seeing localized skirmishes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes and even riots, but these have always been isolated incidents. They have all had a demarcation zone, outside of which life continues normally. You have to actually go back to the Second World War and the Great Depression to observe life being uprooted and restricted universally.

And we don’t like it.

This is change on an incomprehensible scale. Change presents uncertainty and uncertainty breeds fear. The instinctive response to fear is to go to ground – to return to the nest, and to turn to that old, unthinking fight or flight reflex that immediately activates when a threat is present. This helps explain the rush of toilet paper buying that accompanied the first few days of the pandemic news settling in. People had to do something. We can’t run away from this thing. So we instinctively feel the need to stock up on what instinct tells us. This is exacerbated, of course, by seeing others do it, because panic is contagious. It spreads even quicker than a virus, wrapping people up in a reflex of self-preservation.

As we observe everything we know shut down and turn away from us, the fear compounds. Not only is this a strange and unwelcome way of living, it also has direct impacts on all of us, our jobs, our family members and our ability to pay the bills. These are real fears certainly, and this is no time for political leaders to either sugar coat them, distract them or ignore them.

Change management is one of my areas of specialty, and if there’s one common theme about change, it’s that no one likes change being forced upon them.

But there’s something else to consider. Something that will really help. Facts. Facts help manage fear. Each person operates with two sides to their internal selves – we have an emotional side and a logical side. The two are always jostling for supremacy, and emotion always wins. That’s why when you think about some of the large decisions that you have made in your life, like maybe buying a car or a house, or even choosing a school or a job, your choice will likely be based on what feels right. You will use your research and understanding of the facts to back up your decision, but ultimately, it’s what you feel that counts the most.

So, emotion wins all the time. And the most powerful emotion of all is fear.

Fear motivates us to stay safe and protect our children. Fear makes you stay away from food that doesn’t look right, and to keep away from large animals that can do you harm. This type of fear is leveraged to some degree in advertising, making you instinctively worry you are not a good parent if you do not buy this brand of detergent, and you are not a cool person if you do not buy this brand of car.

Obviously, fear is not comfortable. That’s where facts help. Facts help neutralize fear and replace it with a sense of purpose and well-founded optimism. Consider some of the facts of this current lockdown and social distancing measures now in place.

  1. They are temporary. There will be an end to them. Life will return to normal or close to it.
  2. They are being done to get ahead of the rush of patients. This is a treatable disease in most cases. People are not dying in the streets like the bubonic plague. The lockdown is designed to slow the spread to ensure everyone gets the help they need. It’s like a movie theatre on opening night or assigned seating at a concert. Instead of managing a surging crowd of people, you get them to form a line – a queue.
  3. Science understands this virus. Treatments and antivirals are already being created.
  4. Korea, Singapore and China have shown it can be done. The social organization needed to mitigate the damage has now been proven.
  5. People are recovering.

Keep Calm and Carry On

The Second World War was a time of similar scale disruptions, with the added threat of actual bombs and rockets falling from the sky. It bears mentioning that there are a lot of people currently suffering the same thing right now in many parts of the world.

But the scope of the Second World War was almost universal. Anyone living in the countries where the war was being fought, experienced rationing, limited physical movement, and interruption of careers and jobs, to say nothing of all the loved ones lost. Winston Churchill was a master at using the media of radio to deliver words of comfort and advice. In other words, speak to peoples’ emotions first and logic second.

One of the best of these was “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

The practical beauty of this phrase as a crisis management tool for the masses is huge. First, it’s very short and memorable. But it is also in the moment. Whereas most phrases of reassurance focus on a fixed point in the distance, the phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On” helps deliver a reinforcement of a new normal. As a people, we can learn to acknowledge and then suppress those feelings of fear and then adapt to a new normal. A way of living the same life even if under new conditions, for now. Keep Calm. Carry On.

This is doubly important for what was happening then as well as what is happening now. There is no concrete finish line in sight. If the current outbreak and its related difficulties were guaranteed to be over and done with sixty days from now, people would be in a far better place. We can dig in and get through when there’s a finish line in sight.  But when there isn’t, the fear reappears. A fear of the unknown. And once again this triggers the instinctive need to conserve energy and resources to better survive an unknown threat. So then, as now, the mantra of keeping calm and carrying on replaces that of saying “just hang on for sixty days,” as a way of normalizing this new existence.

The 3:00 a.m. Panic Attack

Profound changes in schedule, such as no longer commuting to the office, or getting used to being at home with your partner and/or kids much more than usual is likely to disrupt your physiology as well. When the people who are driving you stir crazy are the ones you love rather than simply your office co-workers, destressing becomes vital.

It is helpful to find a place where you can walk and take deep measured breaths. Even if you don’t do yoga or meditate, the importance of deep breathing should not be overlooked in times like this for a simple physiological way to cut down on your stress response. As Esther Sternberg, research director at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine says, “A much more effective and quicker way of interrupting the stress response is to turn on the vagus nerve, (an extremely powerful nerve that controls a range of responses in the body), which in turn powers up the parasympathetic nervous system.” Basically, she says, “Deep-breathing turns on the vagus nerve enough that it acts as a brake on the stress response.”

This does not solve your situational problems of course, but it helps manage your response to them, which in turn allows the thinking areas of your brain to take over, rather than being sidelined by that fight-or-flight reflex.

Remember also that worrying at night is worse than worrying during the day. At night, especially around 3:00 a.m., your body is trying to focus on repair. It lowers body temperature by a degree or so and focuses its energy on rebuilding from the wear-and-tear of the night before. In fact, the colloquial name of this period, long known as the “dead of night” is quite apt in that you will be at your lowest metabolic ebb of the entire 24-hour cycle as breathing, pulse, and digestion all step down a little to allow your body an opportunity to redirect its resources toward repair.

If you wake up at 3:00 a.m. the worries of your world will seem much larger than they do in the daylight, because you, as a person are weaker, smaller, and more vulnerable than you are during the day.

Sometimes it helps to know that. If you wake up at 3:00 a.m. in a blind panic, about work or money, remind yourself, “there’s nothing I can do about it at this hour. Everyone else is asleep now too.” Then, if you need to, write your thoughts down using pen and paper near your bed. Try not to use your phone for this, since the light of your phone screen will further ruin your sleep chemistry. But write it down so that you can give your brain permission to let go of that thought, knowing it’s safely stored on paper.

Doing these things, like deep breathing and writing down your 3:00 a.m. thoughts will not alleviate the problems, but they substantially improve the way you approach them, by stick handling your body’s own fight-or-flight reflexes away and replacing them with clear thought.

The Phases of Change

People go through emotional phases when things happen to them. You might be familiar with Elizabeth Kübler Ross and her five stage model for grief, also known as the Kübler Ross change curve. When faced with a loss or a profound negative event, humans pass through five discreet emotional stages quite predictably.

  • Shock and Denial – where we refuse to admit such a change has happened to our state of normalcy.
  • Anger – a fight-or-flight reflex rooted in fear that is pure emotion without a rational counterbalance.
  • Bargaining – a desire to restore normalcy by using the human emotion of hope.
  • Depression – in recognizing the changed state for what it is, but still under the power of emotions to feel justifiably negative about it.

Finally,

  • Acceptance, in which the emotions of shock have largely exhausted themselves, and people start to face the reality of the change, both emotionally and logically.

This type of emotional sequence happens every time a negative change is imposed upon us. It’s unlikely that lottery winners go through this, but for changes that disrupt the norm in a way we don’t want, we will all go through this.

It’s important to recognize there will be an end to this. This pandemic will pass through the current crisis phase and will settle down to become one of the many enemies that our biological selves must deal with, along with influenza, measle and e-coli. It’s part of living on this planet. We will get to the point where science and our infrastructure will catch up, hopefully with minimized loss of life. People will continue to do work and commerce. Those whose jobs have stopped for a while, will start up again.

You as a person will likely pass through these emotional stages and if you are now in any of the first four, I think it helps to know that you will emerge from the emotional turmoil as well.

That’s why I feel the phrase, “Keep Calm and Carry On” is just so useful right now. These are not comfortable times. Things have changed that we did not want to change. But we will persevere. Take in some air from outside and breathe it in.

Keep calm and carry on.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Keep Calm and Carry On. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

You’re On Your Own

aloneIf there’s one thing that the U.S. Government shutdown proves it’s this: you’re on your own. In the hours before the deadline, companies and departments were asked to draw up lists of essential and non-essential personnel. Imagine commuting back home at the end of the day and asking yourself, “after all the schooling I completed, after all the work I put into this department, after all the team-building events, motivational speeches and training days, all of the emails I returned on weekends, I may still be a non-essential part of this organization.”

You’re on your own.

Not every working person is subject to the furlough, of course, but every working person is subject to the fear. What if I am no longer needed?  What if I lose my job?

I work with people like this – people who have recently been “let go.” We laugh grimly at the terminology. “Let go.” Like a dove or a handful of balloons, passively released to rise from the tedious bondage of a secure job, taking with it any vestiges of guilt that may be harbored by those who remain.

I know that the individual people who do the firing or the furloughing or the laying-off will, in most cases, agonize over the action. Most people are not, after all, made of stone. However the company as an entity feels far less pain; it has liberated and freed an individual whose value, it seems was not enough to warrant its continued care.

I talk to people about fear all the time. I ask people what fears they hold and how they react to them. Many people fear for their own health and safety. All people fear for the safety of those they love. Fear is an instinctive reaction that forces a person to turn or run away from a threat. Fear can cause panic, but it can also elicit courage.

The fear of losing one’s job sits very high on this list. The loss of a job means more than a loss of identity, it represents failure – financial, career, family and health. Yet most people, working as hard as they do, for the employer they currently have, push this fear to the back of their minds, believing that careful and diligent adherence to the plan, answering all the emails, taking on the extra work of an atrophied workforce, sacrificing family time and vacation time to get things done – will buy their safety and keep the axe away.

Part of my role is to help people confront fear through action. If you fear something, the best thing you can do is to take an action that helps dissolve the threat. When it comes to the fear of being let go, left behind or shut down, the action is to ensure you have the network and the knowledge in place to ensure your value to your industry is clearly visible.

This is what I have been teaching through my endless and wonderful Wolf On Wheels tour. When it comes to career management, you are on your own. But this time in a good way.  The tools to connect you with the right people are available online. The tools that will help you continue to learn the trends in your industry from the experts and analysts are online. The tools that will help you announce your value and establish credibility are online, too.

The age of cradle-to-grave employment has long passed. We are in an era now where jobs are hard to find and hard to keep, and where it is projected that a significant portion of the workforce will be freelancers in a very short time.

This, I believe, is a good thing. This is why I gave my book the title Work Like a Wolf, because I believe we all have the capacity (or must develop the capacity) to hunt down opportunity in an active fashion, rather than wait and hope for someone to hand it to us. Those “someones” are getting fewer and further between.

So yes, you are on your own. You are your own best ally when it comes to the battle to survive, because you are the one you can trust the most. Let the furlough deliver a dividend to you in the form of this wake-up call: you are responsible for your own future, and there has never been a better time in all of human history to take advantage of the tools and methods availble to help you.

Go and hunt your destiny. You deserve the best, but only you can find it.

For more information on the Wolf On Wheels Tour – Putting People Back to Work One Town at a Time, visit the website here.

Getting people back to work one town at a time – for free

Wolf On Wheels graphic

Help us travel the country putting people back to work.

Now that my book Work Like a Wolf is out and on sale, the next thing we have on our agenda is to get in front of people, sharing our knowledge about finding work and keeping work. There are millions of people out there who want to work: students, people who have been recently downsized, people returning to work after an absence, veterans and those just looking for a change. But the skills needed for hunting down opportunity, building a network and finding the time to build a future — these need practice.

To that end we have launched the Wolf On Wheels project. Our goal is to start travelling across the country, speaking to schools, service clubs, legion halls, wherever we’re needed,  and to do this for free.

But we need your help to do this. We are looking to raise $80,000 to buy and fuel an RV for a cross-country tour that can take Steve to the people and the towns that would otherwise not be able to afford him. That’s a lot of money when you look at it as one amount. But there are two really cool ways to make this happen.

  • Buy a book. Every time a copy of Work Like a Wolf is sold, 100% of the revenues after printing costs, ($15.75) goes towards the Wolf On Wheels project. We would need to sell just five thousand copies of the book to make this happen. Just five thousand out of a country of millions.
  • Sponsor us. Alternatively, we would also love to find corporate sponsors. Just eight companies, shelling out $10,000 each for national exposure, their logo on the sides of the RV, on the handout materials and the gratitude of thousands and thousands of consumers.

The Wolf On Wheels project seeks to deliver the skills and ideas found within the book Work Like a Wolf in an interactive town-hall format, where people can ask questions and build an active viable plan for finding meaningful work.

Our trip will also be publicized through social media and regular media, so in the end sponsors and book-buyers will see their investment flourish. What a great way to help rebuild the economy.

Want to buy a book now or find out more? Click here to go to the Wolf On Wheels web page.

Work Like a Wolf – the book – is published.

Work Like a Wolf: Own Your Future, a book on career survival.

Work Like a Wolf: Own Your Future, a book on career survival.

Work Like a Wolf: Own Your Future, my third book, is a handbook for survival in the high-speed age. I created it for three reasons:

  1. I have observed too many working people existing without a sense of control; overloaded by email and ToDo lists, compelled to respond to their BlackBerrys 24/7, and being held in position through fear.
  2. I have met too many people who have suddenly found themselves out of work, and equally suddenly have found themselves lacking a network or career safety-net.
  3. I have observed “reaction” as a dominant force in all that we do, and I want to reinstill “pro-action” instead.

The wolf imagery primarily emerged from the phrase “working like a dog,” which people use often to connote an on-going workload that we take on without question or expectation of relief – doggedness, as it were. I chose to extend the metaphor by looking at the way in which dogs are kept: they are collared and controlled, but in return, they are fed once or twice a day. The price for a full stomach is strong restrictions on liberty, but at least you don’t go to bed hungry.

The problem with this occurs when immediacies such as email and meetings start to dull the senses. When a dog is worked all day and then fed, its ability to hunt, and its general survival skills get dulled. It becomes domesticated and therefore dependent. An overly busy person at work is like that: in exchange for a bi-weekly paycheck, he/she is kept in a state of constant overload and busy-ness, one that forbids the opportunity to network, to explore, to develop the career and financial safety nets we all need.

I’m all in favor of hard work, but when people have no time to protect both their present and their future, they are in trouble.

A wolf, by contrast, eats only what it kills. It must always stay vigilant, because it is owned by no-one. It must keep its hunting and survival instincts sharp, always on the lookout for danger and opportunity. My goal is simply to re-inject an amount of self-sufficiency into the lives of time-starved working people by reminding them of the skills and techniques that will get them further ahead, rather than just running all day just to keep up.

It’s about survival, career management self-determination.

Topics include:

  • The power of networking
  • Sculpting your own future
  • Personal presentation and image
  • Dealing with job loss
  • Looking for work (for people of all ages)
  • Locating the hidden job market
  • Staying literate in the social media age

For more information visit www.worklikeawolf.com

Steve Prentice is a speaker, author and Partner at The Bristall Group. He works at the crossroads where busy working people intersect with technology. Follow him on Twitter @stevenprentice or visit steveprentice.com (speeches) or bristall.com (training + coaching).

Thinking Clearly during Transition: Build a Gazebo

Stressed? Build one of these, or something like it.

Stressed? Build one of these, or something like it.

It was during a workshop in which I was talking with a group of professionals-in-transition that one gentleman in the audience asked me if it was okay for him to take a week or two off from job-seeking so that he could build a gazebo in his back yard. It was something he had wanted to do for his family for a long time, but he had never been able to get around to it because he had spent too many weekends stuck at the office. He wanted to know if it was wrong to take time to do this when a part of him felt he really should be out looking for his next job.

Clearly, he was looking for permission to step away from the work of finding work. I told him that it was absolutely the right thing to do; in fact, I have long held the belief that everyone in a position of stress, confusion, or overload should go out and build a gazebo of their own. Everyone who is thrown into the soul-wrenching position of losing identity, career, and financial stability should, as a first step, take on some activity that allows time to flush out the panic through physical distraction: a catalyst for reflection.

To set out to build a gazebo is to undertake a physical activity in which body and mind become focused on a plan of action unrelated to life and its current problems. When both body and mind become occupied in this manner, even when the gazebo-building work gets strenuous, there is relaxation that comes in the form of a positive stress called eustress. When both the body and mind relax, blood pressure drops, reflection happens, and then creative thought happens.

Action creates positive stress which helps solve problems.

Some people might turn to a week of playing tennis, or of long walks with the dog, or of painting (either with an easel, or on the living room walls with a roller), or of tidying the yard or building a deck. What is most important is that you choose a solitary activity in which body and mind focus on constructive work. There will be time for discussing your findings and thoughts with your mentor later. For now, you need some time to slow down and let the thoughts come.

Remember, this is not a chronic assignment, just as unemployment need not be a chronic condition. The gazebo project might take a week, or two. It symbolizes not just a mind-and-body focused activity but a finite activity as well. Upon completion of the project, you’ll be ready for the next chapter of your life.

By slowing down in this fashion to work on your personal gazebo, you allow for significant, salient thoughts to emerge and rise to the top, unfettered by the trivial priorities of email and meetings. Questions will emerge, in your expanding, thinking mind, such as:

  • What do I value?
  • What do I like to do?
  • In my heart, what does my next job look like?
  • What hours and conditions would suit me best?
  • What do I wish to achieve? What companies interest me, regardless of whether they currently have openings or not?
  • Who do I know that can help me and what should I say to these people?
  • How would an ideal job fit with my ideal balanced life?

Focusing on an unrelated topic such as building a gazebo gives your mind permission to massage and work on these questions without the stress of applying hard focus to them. This is indirect thinking, and in just the same manner that slow is so often quicker than fast when seeking to attain a goal, so indirect thinking leads to resolution faster than direct thinking does.

(Excerpted and abridged from my book “Work Like a Wolf.” To purchase the book visit www.worklikeawolf.com)