Many of my coaching clients who have identified their North Star have been saying things like, “I think I still have PTSD from the last recession…” or, “I’ve been through a recession before but…”
And this moment feels the same but is also different. We still don’t know what’s going to happen. There are unknown unknowns. That’s almost the hardest part. If you, like me, have a Type A part of yourself, that loss of control, of knowing what to expect, what to do, or how to prepare is one of the hardest things too.
In a downturn, there is suffering. There are coping strategies too. Workers stick with a company even if they don’t love it. They take lower pay. They work extra hard to prove their value. Businesses take on bread-and-butter work to make their numbers. They hold back on making investments. They focus on making payroll instead of making strategic investments.
It’s good to respond dynamically to changing conditions. That makes you resilient.
But there’s a danger here if your coping response becomes a permanent state of being—a mindset you are stuck in rather than a choice.
I’ve seen it happen. You probably have too. You’ve seen it in your depression-era relative in her collection of plastic bags. I saw it in the narratives of mid-career women I interviewed when developing my Next Level program and in the women I’ve coached. It was an amazing economy for people like them. Midlevel people were being headhunted left and right. It was a good time to see what else was out there and find a next-level role—or take risks and negotiate for your next level at your current company.
But many of these women felt stuck, and the setbacks they faced in their career during the last recession seemed to linger in their stories of self.
And there’s deep irony here because when we’re stuck with a recession mindset in a good economy, we actually lose the opportunity to build the assets that will get us through the next downturn.
We lose the opportunity to move up or to move on towards our North Star. To renegotiate our salary. We end up with depressed wages which keep us from saving more (which will help us get through the next rainy day.)
We’re stuck on habits of overwork because we don’t want to be expendable. And then we burnout, fade into the background at work and neglect building the diversified networks that will have our backs when the chips are down.
We’re too scared to make the investments that will level up our businesses and lead to a higher level of client or break into a new market.
I don’t know if another recession is coming. I don’t know if it will affect your industry. And I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I wish I did. I wish I could reach through the screen and give you a real virus-free hug.
What I do know is that a recession strategy—when you need one—is a good thing. A recession mindset is not.
And because I don’t know what’s coming, but I do know a lot about mindset, I want to share a few mindset orientations that will ensure that if you do experience a Plan B moment in your career, it won’t evolve into a Plan B mindset and Plan B life in the long term.
Choose to See the Nuance & the Opportunity
There are all kinds of opportunities (and we’re not talking about scalping toilet paper here) in times of crisis.
Lonny Rossman, head of the recruiting firm API Partners, recently told me about an architecture firm principal who aggressively recruited during the last downturn because he “didn’t want to waste a recession.”
The principal explained that in a good economy, talented staff that he’d love to bring on might not even consider an exploratory conversation with him about his firm. During a recession, they were at least willing to pick up the phone.
It was during the last recession that firms with cash on hand made strategic acquisitions and bought other firms.
On a personal level, there’s time to do the things you’ve long put off—to do that organization project or write the client testimonials. There are new opportunities to invest in the support you need as other businesses align to serve differently. One high-level coaching program I’ve been saving towards has combined their program with their higher-touch $25k level program but are offering it for the lower program price.
There are opportunities to show up and serve differently.
Emily Gorbaty, one of my Next Level clients, has stepped up to leverage her experience with engineering and supply chain to try to get more personal protective equipment produced. She came to me originally because she wanted more autonomy, flexibility, and impact. Called to step up during this time, she may just find that.
Another client held her initial site review consultation via video call. She realized she might be able to do more of that in future projects, making her process more efficient.
Some industries might be slowing down, but some aren’t. Many of my coaching clients are in affordable housing which hasn’t slowed down because it’s so essential (and projects are funded already). They’re rapidly adapting and creating ways to gain community input from afar.
I’m still seeing hiring in tech. Your onboarding might be remote now, but hey, I believe this moment is going to change a lot of consumer habits and get a lot of people more comfortable with doing a lot more things through technology.
Choosing to see the nuance is like that moment when the clouds part and a ray of sunshine makes its way through. It doesn’t mean avoiding the fact that there is suffering. That you might be suffering. It means remembering that there’s never one story at play. There are always other things afoot.
It’s remembering how to see those glimmers of possibility.
Hold on to Your North Star
One of my clients hired me before COVID-19 was a twinkle in anyone’s eye (or a cell in anyone’s body). She had defaulted to Plan B due to a lack of confidence and clarity. It was time to take the risk and find her Plan A, her North Star.
And then… COVID-19 hit. And her current job, which was a little shaky, fell through.
So she’s doing two things. She’s spending the majority of her day working on her Plan B—a job that she can get. It’s hard because the first week no one was making any decisions. Then she got an interview. It’s up and down and she’s networking and applying.
But I asked her to spend at least an hour daily on her Plan A. A North Star power hour. That’s also networking and research. And it serves two purposes. It gives her a break from the anxiety of needing to solve ‘now’ and reminds her that even if she ends up with a Plan B job, to have the stability and financial cushion she needs, it will be a step on the path—a backup plan, not a backup life.
Because when we know what our Plan A is, we can leverage our Plan B to get there.
If you know you want to be a partnerships director in a global nonprofit but right now you need to take an account management job at a startup, you can leverage that job. You might lean into becoming an expert at relationship building. You might move from account management to a role in business-to-business sales so you can get better at negotiating complex agreements. And you might join (or start) a working group focused on community relations. You might join the board of a local nonprofit working on the kind of issue you might eventually want to be working on.
That North Star—that vision of who you want to be and what impacts you want to make—can’t be taken away from you. No matter where you are, you can choose to let its light guide you.
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