You have competency. That’s not enough. You have experience. So do a lot of other people. You have long-term loyalty. That’s not relevant. You have a family, a mortgage, car payments, expenses, tuition. It’s not even a consideration. You’re over fifty; it’s too late to start over for crying out loud! Nobody’s listening.
Do you stay w here you are and wait for the inevitable call into the boss’s office (or, even worse, security showing up at your desk unannounced with an empty cardboard box)? Do you commute in to the office every day wondering if today will be the day when the flying fickle finger of fate stops spinning and points at you? Do you start your job search today, expecting the worst, getting in line with tens of thousands of other women and men just like you with similar experience and expectations all looking for the same jobs? Or is today the day you take the great leap into the unknown and become an entrepreneur? Ironically, if you’re an entrepreneur, will today be the day you give it up and go out to get an ‘RJ’ (‘Real Job’)?
Nothing narrows your focus quite so effectively as a midlife transition, and one of the most effective attention-getters arrives on the scene in the guise of job insecurity. Of course, as one of my Facebook friends recently reminded me, job loss is not the exclusive concern of women and men in midlife. When the economy takes a nosedive like what we’re experiencing now nobody is ‘safe.’ Yet, we all know that people in midlife are prime targets: they’re more highly compensated, have families and expensive insurance benefits, and most of what they do can either be outsourced or taken over by less highly-skilled (and cheaper) help. Of course, most employers care about what happens to their employees – particularly those who have been part of their team for a long time. However, when push comes to shove, the plight of the worker almost always comes second to the survival of the company. After all, there are others who work there who are equally dependent on their employment income. In business, the needs of the many almost always overshadow the needs of the few.
So, for whatever reason, you’re facing Career Change. If you’re in denial, good luck! As a coach, one of the first things I might ask someone who’s taken a new position would be, “What’s your exit strategy?” Stephen R. Covey insists that, as one of his ‘seven habits,’ you “begin with the end in mind.” If that’s not you . . . if you’re imagining that you’re the Irreplaceable Man (or Woman), then chances are very good that there’s a Rude Awakening in your future, and you’ll get to experience first-hand what it means to react to a crisis situation. Get your brain’s amygdala all warmed up, because, sooner or later, it’s going to be time for ‘fight, flight or freeze!’
Au contraire, mon ami, if you’re wise enough to see the handwriting on the wall, the unsavory prospects that are staring you in the face may very well be exploding into your consciousness as a blinding flash or a deafening roar. Bad news – and shocking realizations – have a habit of leaving us at first stunned and then scrambling to provide damage control. It’s as though all those ducks that we had so neatly lined up in a row have suddenly panicked and turned on us like that scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds where Tippi Hedren is locked in the phone booth at ground zero of the attack of All the Birds in the World. Yet, when you’re standing at the turning point, damage control needs not to be your first concern. Chances are that, regardless of how bad things get, you probably will survive this. What ought to be your contingency plan?
This is the time to stop (not panic), take stock of yourself and your situation, and, instead of getting caught up in the never-ending cascade of critical details, take a mental and emotional step backward: away from the heat of your battle for survival. As the labor situation worsens, you’re going to be bombarded by sure-fire, no-risk, proven, ‘secrets’ that are ‘guaranteed’ to solve all your problems and transform you into a captain of commerce (or at least a wealthy magnate who outsources all his or her problems). Don’t ignore the fact that throwing all your resources at fixing the problem will most likely leave you (and your resources) exhausted, but no further ahead. That’s because the problem’s not the problem – you are!
For the past few years, I’ve been focusing my energy and my expertise on encouraging men and women exactly like you to take their attention off the ‘problem at hand’ and to turn it to the core issue: how exactly you relate with your world and, more precisely, how you relate with your future. How, then, do you survive in a crisis? You turn your attention to taking care of yourself. You take control of your awareness, forcing the focus of your attention away from all those ‘important’ things that are demanding your involvement, and adopt a deliberate strategy of taking charge of yourself. The fundamental paradigm shift that will enable you to survive any crisis begins with the decision (yes, it’s a decision; no it’s not a realization) that you are not a victim of circumstance, and that, regardless of the conditions you now face, you always have choices. That’s the real turning point in any crisis – and the real turning point in midlife.
Not yet standing in line at the job fairs? Good! There’s not a moment to lose for you to turn your attention away from all the noisy distractions around you and toward those things that really matter to you. This is your chance to become proactive: to build, to adopt, and to practice the strategies that will train your mind and heart (and spirit) not just to cope with, but to transcend and master those crisis situations that you fear the most. What’s your life strategy? I can tell you mine in seven words: appreciation, mindfulness, comprehension, discernment, empathy, understanding, and anticipation. I can tell you what each of them means, and how I practice them every day. Now it’s your turn. Whether or not you’re aware of it right at this moment, you’re standing at the turning point. There’s a lot at stake. What’s it going to be?
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Copyright © 2008 H. Les Brown
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