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How to make unexpected change work for you

How to make unexpected change work for you

Change, as the saying goes, is the only thing that we can count on, but unexpected change can be scary and stressful as Ali, a 38 year old sales executive and single mother of two from Melbourne discovered, when she suddenly got made redundant.

“I was working with an ASX listed company when the Global Financial Crisis hit and within a week I was out. The change was dramatic and traumatic,” she explains.

“One day I was in my dream job, the next I was in my pj’s on the sofa scared I would lose my home and not knowing when my next pay cheque was coming. And the worst thing was the whole situation was totally out of my control.” 

After a few weeks coming to terms with her change in fortunes Ali decided to take the challenge and turn it into an opportunity.

“I was lucky, I was given a bit of a redundancy payout and I used it to set up my own online company. I loved the process, even tho’ I was in a huge amount of fear most of the time about the money running out. I learned lots of new skills, and my business was a success.

I discovered I was stronger than I thought I was, and that actually, I had much more options than I’d first thought. It’s a cliché, but looking back, it was a good thing that happened. I just didn’t see it that way at the time.”

Ali’s story is a great example of how to survive a transition you didn’t see coming. Here are four steps to help navigate change when it happens to you.

1. Press pause

Shock or confusion are common when change hits. You need time to adapt to and accept the new circumstances so take some time out to adjust. US business strategist Scott Steinberg says we are 100% capable of adapting to any challenge even if we’ve been doing things a certain way for a long time, “it’s not a simple thing to realize that it’s time to do things differently and shake yourself out of a comfortable groove. Just about anybody, regardless of their age and background, has the ability to do amazing things if they put their mind to it.”

2. Focus on the solution, not the problem

Author and change expert MJ Ryan believes it’s important to focus on the ‘what now’ rather than the ‘why’. “Because society rewards analytic thinking, we believe that identifying the cause is the answer: Why is this happening? That’s a starting point, but don’t spend too much time there. Instead fast forward to, what are you going to do about where you are?” she says.

3. Feel the fear and do it anyway

Feeling fear is completely normal in periods of transition. It can also make, making strong decisions and taking calculated risks feel scary when you most need to. You don’t have to completely remove fear to take action, just observe and feel it and take the steps anyway.

There are lots of positive ways of managing fear and stress from exercise, meditation, support from friends to apps – find what works for you.

4. Keep moving forward 

“Perfect worlds don't exist and neither do perfect learning situations,” says Dr Pamela Dunston, Psychologist at Clemson University in the US, so be prepared to make mistakes. MJ Ryan again suggests focusing on the positive.

“Ask what opportunities has this change created that I/we can take advantage of? How can I/we turn this situation to our advantage? These are classic entrepreneurial questions that can work for all of us,” she says.

Finally, while it’s not possible to plan for all eventualities, put into place structures that can make you less vulnerable to unexpected change in the future. Savings, insurance, great friends and family networks can all help if change comes knocking on your door.