As a communication professional, you know there's only one sure thing in our world of work: uncertainty.
No matter where you are, big questions continue to swirl around our workplaces:
- With whom will we work next — colleagues, clients, communities, contractors or computers?
- Where will we work next — at home, in office, at a client or customer location, always or once in a while?
- How will we work, and will our work shrink or expand, become commoditized or increase in value?
Let’s face it — uncertainty is difficult, especially for those who revel in having a plan or want all the steps of our work lives spelled out. With multiple levels of uncertainty surrounding us, what can we do now to continue to grow and succeed as professionals?
Should we give up and remain fearful, confused? Should we toughen up, staying tense in a stance of constant readiness, like a goalie bracing for the puck to speed their way? How can we plan what’s next when we don’t know what's ahead?
There's only one answer: to focus on the future YOU, and what you need to take back control.
How To Take Control Next
No matter what's happening in our world, there are and always have been only three things in your control each day: everything you think, everything you say and everything you do. That's it.
Maybe you don’t believe me. After all, if you were raised in a highly developed nation, you were likely taught that you could do anything, have anything, be anything — if you only worked hard enough and did the right things. You squeezed and stressed and tightened your grip around what you thought you could control until your fists hurt. Still, after all that effort and tension, the world kept changing around you.
Understanding what you control is the alternative. It helps you create a stronger sense of power, safety, self-worth and freedom than you’ve ever had before, ultimately helping you face uncertain times with more confidence.
If you’re ready to plan for whatever's next, here are three core strategies that will accelerate your control and increase your ability to accept, adapt and advance. While these strategies seem simple, they’re not always easy. However, each will increase your ability to respond to anything and everything that emerges as our working world continues to change.
Strategy 1: Schedule Self-Reflection
Emerging research indicates that one reason the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated so many economic and workforce trends is because individuals worldwide were forced into periods of quiet thinking and personal reflection.
Or, as the Zen saying goes, “We cannot see our reflection in running water. It’s only in still water that we can see.”
To prepare for an uncertain future, we need to commit space on our calendars for regular, intentional reflection. For some, this might be a formal practice such as no-screen Sundays or planned time alone in nature. Others might work with a trusted coach on a planned schedule, or plan commitments to a series of group classes, like yoga, meditation or a book club. Anything that provides an appointment to shift your mind away from the outside and into your own mind and spirit.
It's time to abandon any resistance that self-reflection is not serious work. In fact, a self-reflection practice isn’t self-centered or selfish. It’s preventative care to keep your brain ready for whatever’s next.
Strategy 2: Self Direct Your Growth
If you’ve unintentionally outsourced your personal growth goals to your company, now’s the perfect time to create your own development plan. That means making time and even financial commitments in your own learning, since building your brain is the only investment that will always pay off year after year.
Perhaps there’s something you’d like to learn within your industry, or a skill you’d finally like to master. Maybe you'd benefit from an external perspective to challenge your assumptions or stretch your thinking about what's possible. Just don’t procrastinate your growth waiting for an invitation to attend corporate training or learn on the job. Take control yourself and start reaching out to people who are already experts in what you'd like to learn.
Note: This is where your IABC membership pays off year after year. Members help members and learn from each other constantly — but no one can help you if you're not reaching out to ask.
Strategy 3: Quiet the Self Criticism
Our internal desires for control are a well-trained response in our attempt to stay safe, sparked by the prehistoric part of our brain that sends us strong messages of worry and fear. We beat ourselves up with the justifying lie that “If I let my guard down, all will be lost.”
Here’s the catch: safe isn’t a route to more meaning, impact or happiness. It’s only a route to more of the same. As author John A. Shedd writes, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”
The best way to prepare for whatever's ahead is to learn to talk back to the negative voice in your head that keeps you in fear. That chatter's just an echo of our primitive brains, trying to keep us safe by keeping us in hiding. It's not your true voice — it's a voice of fear, magnified by extreme noise in the media encouraging you to feel stuck, worried and overwhelmed.
By consciously choosing thoughts, words and actions that promote calm, confidence and strength, we can surpass our perceived limits. History shows our capacity for remarkable feats, no matter what's happening in our world, at work and at home. It's time to face whatever's next with the tools to trust that whatever comes, you'll know not only how to survive, but to thrive.
Darcy Eikenberg, PCC
Darcy Eikenberg, PCC, is a nationally recognized executive coach and leadership speaker who helps leaders retain and connect with their most important people. A longtime IABC member and former communication business partner in global HR consulting firm Hewitt (now part of Aon), her clients include Mondelēz International, PwC, Workday, Discover, State Farm and more. She’s the author of "Red Cape Rescue: Save Your Career Without Leaving Your Job," and writes regularly at RedCapeRevolution.com, where you can connect and download free career tools and workplace strategies.