How to Deal With Unexpected Change

UPDATED: February 8, 2023
PUBLISHED: February 7, 2023
woman at home thinking about dealing with changes

Change is inevitable. When you’re expecting it, the transition can feel easy. When you’re not, it can be devastating. Either way, how do you deal with change?

Without question, your perception of change influences your response to it. Will the shift produce a positive or negative outcome for you? Will it be challenging, causing you to stretch and experience some periods of discomfort? Or will it inspire you to get up early and stay up late, preparing for its new and prominent role in your life?

For better or worse, here’s what to do when you have to pivot to deal with change when it rears its head:

1. Acknowledge that the change is the new normal.

Denying the existence of change rarely frustrates its staying power. Instead of rejecting change, our most rewarding course of action is to acknowledge its presence and effect on our way of life. In a riveting TED Talk called “Coronavirus is our future,” global health expert Alanna Shaikh, M.P.H., shares insights on the global pandemic in a straightforward and approachable way. She makes it clear that our collective experience is the new normal, and stresses that while we cannot escape the multifaceted impact of this crisis, we can admit our vulnerability to it and appreciate its influence on our global ecosystem. 

This, to be clear, is the first logical step in confronting any kind of change and initiating the way forward.

2. Explore your feelings about dealing with changes.

In the midst of juggling competing interests, it’s equally important to sit with your thoughts as you navigate change. Become intimately acquainted with what you feel will help you see things clearly and make better decisions about what matters the most. Because the enormity of the change itself can be so distracting, seldom do we take the time to self-reflect and explore our emotional well-being, including our self-awareness and self-management. When you prioritize your internal experience as you process change, you ensure your emotional well-being, as well as your overall progress.

3. Prepare for it.

Taking appropriate action in the direction of change will help make certain that things go more smoothly for you—and the earlier, the better. Preparation requires asking yourself key questions about where you are now and where you intend to be as you deal with change and reimagine yourself in the “new normal.” What resources will you need? What sacrifices will you need to make? How much time will be required? Will you need help to effect the outcome? Get clear on the strategy and tactics that will help you overcome any roadblocks to your success. Then, without hesitation, execute.

4. Rely on your support system, or create one.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, remember that you don’t have to go it alone. Managing change can be burdensome, but even more so when you try to do everything by yourself. Instead of flexing your misanthropic muscle, reach out to your support system—those valued individuals who are ready and willing to help in your time of need. Don’t have a support system? Create one! Resources are everywhere. Imagine the incredible new connections you’re capable of discovering and the wealth of opportunities that might follow.

5. Give yourself grace as you deal with change.

One thing is for sure: Change is a process. It’s chock full of ebbs and flows, fits and starts. At times, you may feel on top of the world—like nothing can stop you. During others, not so much. When you find yourself on the lower end of the totem pole, don’t beat yourself up. Give yourself the grace to move forward even when you are not feeling or performing at your best. A bad day is not a deal breaker, but rather an opportunity to step back and begin again. Remember that.

No matter what change you’re experiencing in life, know that you can move through it successfully. After all, “every cloud has a silver lining”—you might as well give it your signature, too.

This article was published in March 2020 and has been updated. Photo by imtmphoto/Shutterstock

A leading authority on leadership development and organizational performance management, Karima Mariama-Arthur brings more than 25 years of comprehensive, blue chip experience in law, business and academia to every client engagement. A shrewd advisor to distinguished organizations from DC to Dubai, her expert insights help clients to successfully navigate today's ever-changing and competitive global business environment. Karima is the author of the internationally acclaimed and 2019 NAACP Image Award nominated leadership guidebook, Poised For Excellence: Fundamental Principles of Effective Leadership in the Boardroom and Beyond (Palgrave Macmillan), which launched at the United States Military Academy at West Point. As an extension of her work, she speaks regularly both nationally and internationally in her areas of expertise and serves in an advisory capacity on select corporate boards.