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Essay: Finding Pearls in a Crisis

The current economic funk doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. But it feels this way for the millions affected personally. I know it’s very hard to see, but many of you will eventually thrive more as a result.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not out whistling a happy tune every day. However, research has found that in stressful business environments, 35 percent of us will become stronger and better at what we do. With this experience, we will be able to achieve more and perform better in the future. I want to be part of that group.

Stress is an interesting thing. It can devastate some, but invigorate others. Those who approach stress with a sense of curiosity, hard work, fortitude, and the characteristics of resilience can unveil aspects of themselves that they didn’t know previously existed. If we are able to fend off despair, we can enter a period of self-renewal. This process plants the seeds of new growth and new opportunity.

Let me give you an example from my own life. I lost a great deal of money in the tech crash of 2000-01. My hope of someday having the freedom to figure out what I really wanted to do was quickly dismantled. From this disappointment I had to make my way through the stages of grief (i.e., shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, depression, reflection, reconstruction, acceptance).

As a result of this experience, I realized I was putting off developing what I really wanted until some future arbitrary date. This deferred hope was not a reliable platform on which to build my future. I realized that I needed to start doing what I really wanted to do in the here and now. Where I once was feeling loss and despair, I was now feeling a new found self- renewal … an opportunity. I became excited about learning, growing, and ultimately carving a new path with renewed vigor.

While I learned a lot from this crisis, I constantly have to relearn this lesson based on the new circumstances that come my way. This same principle applies to organizations.

For an organization, it is easy to become inwardly focused during a time of difficulty or crisis. While some of this cannot be avoided, it is important not to lose sight of the horizon. There is a future out there, and that future will one day become your organization’s reality.

If 35 percent of us get stronger and better during difficult circumstances, doesn’t it make sense to identify who those people are in your organization and support their efforts? I’m not talking about preselecting those who are going to survive. That doesn’t work.

Instead, I’m suggesting you notice which of the people on your team are selecting themselves by displaying the transformational coping skills of commitment, control, and challenge. These are the people in whom you should invest resources. Your investment will pay a big dividend in future performance and increased commitment to your organization.

Is your organization the only one suffering challenges? Of course not. Some of the 35 percent mentioned above are being arbitrarily jettisoned from their organizations. There are others who are not getting adequate support and opportunity from their organizations (i.e., some employees are getting their hours cut).

These are talented survivors who have been dealt a difficult hand. Like me, many will need to go through a process of grief and self- discovery. But at some point, their batteries will be recharged and they’ll come out with guns-a- blazing. Will you be there to find them?

If you’re too inwardly focused, you won’t be able to engage these individuals. Besides, they won’t be attracted to organizations that have their “heads in the sand” anyway. Progressive companies are always recruiting. Survivors know where the escape hatches are.

David Mashburn earned his doctorate in clinical psychology in 1986. He is in private practice in Bellevue, Washington. He is also a partner in a Seattle-based company, Tidemark, a provider of workforce staffing solutions. He writes and speaks on the science of human flourishing. See his blog at workpuzzle.com.By David Mashburn
David earned his doctorate in clinical psychology in 1986. He is in private practice in Bellevue, Washington. He is also a partner in a Seattle-based company, Tidemark, a provider of workforce staffing solutions. He writes and speaks on the science of human flourishing. See his blog at workpuzzle.com.

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