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What to Do When Facing Unexpected Change

By Patti Johnson on Jan 09, 2014

From workplace leadership and change expert Patti Johnson's upcoming book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life

Change happens that was never part of the plan. We may face a job loss, a transfer, a new job or an illness that changes everything. These changes can make us feel like bystanders. Yet, in the midst of surprise, fear and disappointment, there are still choices.

Emma Scheffler was a high school soccer player who had hopes of playing in college someday. A diabetes diagnosis stunned her and her family in the first few days and weeks. They received lots of medical information, yet they were uncertain what her diabetes diagnosis meant for her dreams and her life. 

Once she had time to accept it and educate herself, Emma started to think about what good could come from her disappointment. She continued to play soccer and had many long car rides to practice with her dad, Leon Scheffler. They talked a lot about how to turn her experience into a positive. 

Her dad asked her the question that started her journey. He said, “What would have made it easier for you?” Emma thought for a minute and then answered, “It would have helped me so much to have talked to someone who was like me and closer to my age—someone who had been through it.” 

Emma then decided to create Insulin Angels, a non-profit, that connects newly diagnosed children to high school students who have been through it. She involved other students and visited local hospitals to get it started. Today, as a senior, every week she meets and encourages children just diagnosed with diabetes. She wants other kids to have a different experience than she did.

Those conversations on the way to soccer began the search to find the good in disappointment. Emma flipped the idea that change happens to us and got to “What can I do?” 

We know that change feels very different when we have a role to play and can see a path to progress. This simple question of “What can I do?” can begin to change everything.

It also feels different when we decide rather than allowing others decide for us—even if we wanted the change all along

A friend had been very unhappy in her job for some time. She wanted to leave but hadn’t yet decided how and when. She even considered resigning without having her next position in place. Yet one day I received a tearful phone call from her telling me that her company had eliminated her job. She had received a very competitive severance package.

As I listened, I wondered why she wasn’t overjoyed. She had been given a wonderful exit strategy complete with a nice financial transition that would give her time to find a new job. I asked her why she felt this way when she had already decided to leave and had been so unhappy. She said, “Because I wanted to decide when I was ready.” 

I’ve been part of many conversations just like that one and I’ve felt that way too. We like to feel we are in control of our destiny—whether we are or not. And looking for ways to take action is one way to have that influence in our own lives. 

Even when the change wasn’t in your plans or your idea, when you are ready, there are still choices to make. 

Start by asking, “What can I do?” and “How can I help?” 

 

Excerpted from the book Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life by Patti Johnson. Copyright © by Patti Johnson. Reprinted with permission.

 

Patti Johnson

Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a Senior Executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at PattiBJohnson.com.

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