Turning Career Uncertainty Into Opportunity

By Shelby Rowe Moyer

Strange times.

It’s hard to say much more than that as we continue to wade through the murkiness of a global health pandemic that resulted in unemployment rates that tower over those of the 2007-09 Great Recession.

Forbes reported in May that 36.5 million people in the U.S. had filed for unemployment since mid-March and, according to the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute of Economics, it’s predicted that 42% of layoffs “will result in permanent job loss.”

Undoubtedly, the uncertainty of the future economy is forcing many to reconsider their careers, or double down and prove themselves to be indispensable to their current employer. We talked with career and leadership coach (and 2019 THRIVE conference speaker) Betsy Koepke to get some advice on how to navigate these waters.

What thoughts were you having when the pandemic first hit and really rocked people’s careers?

My first thought was, “Oh, people are going to go into their lower brains, their reptile brains, which is all about survival.” This is where people are going to be in fight, flight or freeze mode — and for good reason. The tricky part is, we’re wired that way for a reason, for short bursts to be able to survive, but it’s not the best place for making decisions for long-term. The trick is to help people, support people, with getting through their own internal dialogue and thought process and help them access more of their pre-frontal cortex, or their higher brain. That helps them get out of the fight or flight and helps lower the cortisol, helps lower the adrenaline. They can see possibility again. They can see opportunity. It’s mental conditioning.

If we were to experience something like this again (hopefully not!), what advice would you give people about stabilizing themselves from a career standpoint?

The only thing that’s certain is uncertainty. We never know what’s around the corner and you really can do the work and start the work right now to have that mental strength and emotional strength, so you can weather whatever comes your way without as much wobble, without getting so shaken. Your feelings will follow your thoughts, and then your behaviors will follow your feelings. It’s a chain reaction.

What can people do to make themselves more valuable to their current employer or new employers?

No one expected the current circumstances we find ourselves in, and there has been a lot of pressure on everyone to make decisions within the context of much uncertainty. In this type of environment, a willingness to be a team player, adopting a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset and being ready to shift and change as needed is highly valued and will allow you to get the edge at work.

What conversations should people be having with their managers?

People need to use this as an opportunity. If they haven’t been vulnerable with their manager, this is a time to practice that skill. This is the time to let them know where you’re struggling and asking for the support you need. And keeping in mind that, typically, if you’re in a healthy work environment, your boss and manager would rather find the resources to give you the support you need than have you leave and go through a hiring process, [which] takes a lot of time and energy for them. So just be really clear and assertive in your communication.

With the economy still very shaky, what steps should people take to ready themselves in case they do lose their job? How can people ensure they’re prepared?

No. 1 is recognizing that no matter what happens, that you’re going to be OK. You have to be thinking through things and making decisions from a place of certainty, even with all the swirling uncertainty.

There’s a lot of disruption right now, and disruption creates opportunity. Sometimes things need to be shaken up. Focus on what’s good about this. What’s beneficial about this? Your brain will come up with something. That will allow you to feel better and take action and do whatever planning you need to do. It always starts with your thoughts.

The more uncertainty you’re able to tolerate, or even enjoy, the more fulfilling your life tends to be. This is really an opportunity for us to grow and get more comfortable being outside our comfort zones.

Want more?

Check out our new article on Sept 15 for advice on how to translate soft skills into making yourself a highly valuable employee, as well as resources and advice to help you land on your feet in case you lose your job.

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