How to use the COVID-19 Pandemic to boost your career prospects
How to use the COVID-19 Pandemic to boost your career prospects and avoid falling into the 'fight, flight, freeze' trap.
It is so easy to fall into a state of negativity when we are faced with change – particularly when it is imposed upon us. There has never been a time in most of our lives when this was more true than now.
Normally, when we make decisions which lead to change, we feel in control of the process and outcomes. We focus on solving any problems which arise, implementing our plans and achieving our goals.
But now, with COVID-19, we have change forced upon us. We have experienced the shock of a lightning bolt – sudden, frightening and totally out of our control.
Imposed change creates major problems, disrupts routines and inevitably leads to conflict and, in the case of Coronavirus, chaos and fear.
Unexpected and life-changing (currently life-threatening) change awakens the most basic human fears: failure, loss of control, conflict, and rejection. It alerts our Reptilian brain to either fight, flight or freeze.
In reality, we are programmed to feel threatened by change and it is natural to resist it – resistance is not a conscious choice but an automatic response. The programming is as old as man, dating back to our primitive ancestors.
We should never underestimate its importance, for it has singlehandedly guaranteed the survival of the human species. The Corona pandemic has focused global attention on the need to survive and the fear of not. However, for those who can see beyond this fear, there lies the potential to achieve unprecedented personal growth and success.
How can we override hardwired and often limiting survival reflexes which hinder personal growth?
Can we switch off the alarm system which is sending us hundreds of warning signals that there is danger in our midst? Can we identify more effective coping mechanisms over and above our 3 defaults:
Fight: pick up any “weapon” and protect ourselves.
Flight: get far away from the danger, fast.
Freeze: lay low for a while and hope the danger will pass.
You might recognize some, or all, of these responses in your own behavior over the past few weeks. If so, it’s good that you’re reading this article now and it’s time to take stock and do something about it.
Rule Number 1: “Don’t Panic!”
Luckily, there are ways in which we can “manage” our response to the threat that COVID-19 or any unexpected and undesirable change brings to our lives.
Recognise that the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response is a triggered, automatic and prehistoric reaction to perceived danger – it is not rational, and you need to switch it OFF!
Reassure yourself that, in reality, lots of things are going to stay the same, even though it doesn’t feel like that right now.
Be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater by seeing only the bad and no good in the current situation.
We are easily caught up in our own emotional response to a situation we do not want, and we need to recognise this, calm our primitive brain down and let our rational brain take over again. When the rational brain regains control, it will start evaluating the situation to see what is to be done.
Taking stock is a good idea.
In reality, many things are going to stay the same.
I personally like the simple model that Jason Clarke suggests in his TED talk. He suggests that we look at any situation as a set of 4 doors.
There are four doors in any change process.
Door 1 is labelled: “Things we used to be able to do and still can”, (read a book, listen to music, sleep, eat, laugh, … an endless number of things).
Door 2 is: “Things we couldn’t do before and still can’t”, (another very long list here too).
So effectively, there is no change here, just business as usual.
Door 3 is labelled “Things we could do before but can’t now”. It contains the things we feel we have lost and we do need time to mourn these losses before we can let them go, get on with our lives and focus on the New Opportunities which Door 4 represents.
During the current pandemic, many people are getting stuck at Door 3. They need Expert coaching to rebuild their energy, refocus their attention and restart their personal growth and development.
Many of my clients are achieving this and are experiencing the steepest learning curves of their lives. With my personally tailored coaching, they are achieving more in 6 months than they could have expected in 3-5 years of “normal” personal growth and development. Such individuals will have significantly accelerated their career prospects (even in these times of great uncertainty) and will be winners in the post-pandemic world.
Door 4 is labelled “Things we couldn’t do before, but can now!” and is by far the most exciting door of all as it emphasises that in any change process there will be new opportunities just waiting for us.
If you have the courage and resilience to weather the current storm, manage the fears and uncertainties generated by your reptilian brain and focus on the opportunities that lie behind Door 4, you will succeed.
At the end of the day, the choice is yours!
You can focus on the negativity of the situation (glass half empty syndrome) and get stuck in ‘Fight, Flight or Freeze’ mode.
Or, you can focus on the opportunities and potential of the situation (glass half full) and fully embrace them.
The former will often lead you to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater – discarding all the good along with the bad. The latter will help you to create space in your mind to think creatively about new, emerging opportunities and a desire in your heart to learn, develop, and grow with the challenge of change.
The choice is yours.
Dr Shirley Blenkinsop coaches High Potentials in Professional Services. Shirley enables her clients to accelerate their careers and reach their full potential – fast!