During a recent cross-country flight, I struck up a conversation with a fellow frequent flier about our professions and the various challenges we faced. An architect who appreciates client stability from start to finish on his various projects, he told me that mid-stream regime changes were among his biggest headaches. What is the best way to survive these “regime changes” he asked?
As he spoke, my mind wandered back to several personal experiences where the upper management or client rug was suddenly pulled from beneath my feet. None of these experiences were pleasant and his choice of the verb “survive” certainly seemed appropriate.
Throughout a professional career, we can generally count on having our best laid plans and aspirations frustrated from time to time by the departure of people we are counting upon for something important. Or we may be the victims of a sudden change of mind or the drying up of the funding source for a project near and dear to our heart. While I have never discovered a magic formula for surviving these moments, my experiences have taught me that the following five suggestions certainly can help.
First, anticipate the possibility that this can happen to you, because it probably will. Nasty surprises that come as a shock are always harder to cope with than events — unpleasant though they may be — that you knew most likely would happen sooner or later. I call these “its your turn” events and having anticipated the possibility, you are likely to be more emotionally ready to move on to the important recovery steps you need to take.
Second, if you can anticipate the possibility of having the rug pulled from beneath an important professional, business, client-related, or career goal, you can also contemplate in advance a PLAN B should that occur. Having at least considered some alternative plan of action and additional options amounts to having more than one iron in the fire, and mitigates the emotional trauma of having wagered everything on one roll of the dice and lost. Being single-threaded whatever your business, industry, profession, or practice is never a good idea.
Third, limit the time you are willing to spend “feeling sorry for yourself'”. A little self-pity is a natural reaction to serious disappointment and does little harm. But the key word is “little”. Wallowing in an extended period of wondering why in the world this had to happen to you misdirects your emotional and intellectual energy away from the important task of deciding “well, now what”?
Assuming you have considered a Plan B, the faster you begin its implementation the better. Thus, you might also consider asking a loved one, friend or colleague to let you know when they believe your period of feeling sorry for yourself has moved beyond the “little self-pity” phase.
Fourth, do not automatically assume that the new regime can not be won over to your objective or goal. This is an empirical matter and can only be established by trying. As I have written elsewhere in these articles, an “untested assumption” is one of our most dangerous enemies in the professional, managerial, and business world. In my experience, they are just as likely to be wrong, off-target, and misleading as right, and can do considerable harm if blindly acted upon. Plan B can wait until you are certain the regime change you have experienced actually requires a change of plans.
Finally, at times of professional, business, or career disappointment, I believe it is important to remember — and remind yourself often of — the skills and talents you have drawn upon to achieve your past successes. They are now the best resources you have for putting your disappointment behind you and implementing your next plan of action.