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How to Capitalize on a Crisis and Make Meaningful Career Change Happen

How we fare during times of disruption is down to whether we resist the changes that are thrust on us or have the agility to lean in and seize opportunities that uniquely exist, thanks to the crisis.

This isn’t semantics or limited to the health threat that dominates our times. It is about thriving when our assumptions about everyday expectations are being shattered and somehow learning to see a possible route to much-needed change within all the unwelcome shifts. Because while we will all being experiencing the same disruption differently, what we have in common is that our usual inertia is temporarily suspended. We know our professional status quo is no longer a viable option and while that is deeply disconcerting, it can also spark much-needed career change.

I’ve noticed this keenly in coaching seasoned professionals during this time. Clients will typically be resistant to making change happen even when they come into a coaching relationship articulating they feel stuck or to get help achieving a specific career-life vision.

But during this time of crisis, I have observed again and again that careerists haven’t needed support to ideate about their What Next or take actionable steps towards it – so long as they can unlock something that goes against human nature. Being disempowered. Unprecedented cognitive flex and psychological ownership of fresh ideas clicks into place once we embrace our lack of agency. It’s an enormously counter-intuitive foundational step for coaching of course. Here’s what it sounds like.

Let’s not wish this crisis away. It’s happening with or without us. It’s time to capitalize on the crisis and consider things that you might give much time to under normal circumstances. Whatever your current career context, this unique time of unprecedented disruption could also be the best time to enact needed change for your career and life.

Please don’t waste it – use it. The crisis has forced open a window of opportunity that won’t last forever but you don’t want to be a passenger, carried along to a ‘new normal’ you didn’t influence.

What change are you going to prioritize?

And how will you pursue that different future?

Think of this kind of career agility like a Breadcrumbs Strategy. If breadcrumbs show the path you’re taking, week after week, they also show up when your path doesn’t reflect what you intended or what matters most. Following a simple and strategy-focused system could help you be more intentional about aligning your actionable goals with your values, taking your pulse around priorities and sparking agile ideas to act on too.

In short, ask yourself:

  1. What really matters? And of these, which feels the most compelling change effort you can make?
  2. What is important vs urgent? How much did this matter before the crisis? Has the crisis made addressing this issue more or less urgent?
  3. What is making you light up when you do it? How does knowing that relate to your work?
  4. What is always sitting on your to-do list? What is that telling you – and how can you get it off your plate?
  5. Anchor your actions to wanted change. What did you do last week? Is it on-point and progressive?
  6. Does real-life evidence challenge your previous thinking? Let that spark next-gen decisions about how best to pursue your What Next. What will you do this week?

In this way you will track your behavioral breadcrumbs and analyze if there are discrepancies – are you investing your time in the right actions, given clarity around the most important priority. No worries, if not. That’s what progress looks like – now you know how to keep a running check on yourself, you’ll spot the breadcrumbs trailing off course and realign them in time for the following weeks’ actions. And that’s today’s version of empowering!

When I think about my Covid cohort of clients, I can give you proof-points for capitalizing the crisis.

  • There’s the client who raised her hand to move across country for a pivot and promotion (while doing Zoom meetings from the road to make it work).
  • Another who needed to feel part of the Covid-solution for real people and formed a dedicated task force marrying her global company’s portfolio of products to the needs of the end-user in this time.
  • And there’s my favorite professional pivot – the client who consciously uncoupled from a long and successful career in food brand development to retrain and now fosters guide dogs for the blind, running her canine massage and dog-training advisory business.

So, there’s the proven track record. The secret to capitalizing on the crisis lies in a breadcrumbs strategy as old as fairy tales. I hope bringing your most pivotal priorities into sight will help you capitalize on the crisis and radically commit to the change you really want for yourself.

Because while 2020 disrupts our freedom and brings plenty of unwelcome constraints and an abundance of uncertainty, it also provides a container to be resilient, clear-sighted and a little obsessive, in all the right ways to incubate meaningful career change!


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Helen Hanison

Helen Hanison is the only executive coach bringing a unique blend of marketing savvy and commercial edges to coaching that draws on her background in psychology. She helps seasoned professionals who are stuck at a career crossroads to make a plan aligning work they love with a life they want to lead.

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