How to Cope with Change at Work Without Stressing Out

While each person’s experience in 2020 has been unique, I bet many of you lived through some version of the following:

One day you were in an office, shaking hands, having in-person meetings, and serving a known set of customer needs. And the next day, your home was your office, Zoom was your conference room, handshakes were lethal, and customer needs were being completely reinvented.

Feel familiar?

Change has become our everything. Get ready to be stretched.

Prior to 2020, you could still get by as a great performer at work even if you were a little resistant to change. But now? Not so much. Change has become our everything. And if it’s not something you naturally lean into, then the time has come to fix it. Stat. 

So if you’re someone whose default has been 'I don’t want to learn this new system, process, or way of engaging with customers…', then get ready to be stretched. If you want your career to continue to soar, you’re going to need to be able to roll with change.

Resisting change is natural

If you find it hard to get comfortable with change, you're not alone.

When my kids were babies, getting them to try new foods was an experience. After they spit spoon after spoon of strained peas or carrots back into my face, I talked to my pediatrician. I learned it would take seven to eight experiences with a new food before my baby would begin to like it, or at least stop spitting it at me.

In our work lives, we’re not always offered a grace period of seven to eight exposures to a new idea.

This is due to the mere-exposure effect. While we may like or appreciate some things out of the gate (hello, chocolate fudge sundaes), our natural inclination is often to resist anything that feels different. But more exposure equals more comfort. We're wired to prefer the familiar and comfortable.

But in our work lives, we’re not always offered a grace period of seven to eight exposures to a new idea before we have to adopt it.

So let’s talk about actions you can take to open your mind and expand your comfort zone with change.

1. Scope the change

Sometimes “a change is coming” can sound like “the sky is falling.” But usually, the blue abyss above stays put. So let’s start by putting change into perspective.

Before you panic, check the sky. Is it still there? Phew! You’re OK.

Your boss just told you that you’ll be reporting to a new team. Or you’re switching to a new people-management system, or you’ll be managing a new product or account. Before you panic, check the sky. Is it still there? Phew! You’re OK.

Start by asking yourself what's really changing and what’s staying the same. You may have a new boss or new relationships to manage, but your day-to-day responsibilities aren’t shifting.

You may have a new system to learn, but the data it’s tracking, the reporting it offers—how different will they really be? Your skills will carry over.

So start by putting some boundaries around the change. This should help you take a deep breath. Now, let’s charge ahead!

2. Find your bright spots

When my kids—the spitters of pureed peas and carrots—began remote schooling this year, the change was all kinds of unwelcome. They missed friends. Their new homeroom teacher (yours truly) was highly unqualified. Everything felt messed up.

But I asked them to spend a few minutes finding and focusing on the bright spots. Because every change has bits of sparkle.

Focusing on bright spots helps open your mind, readying it for the change ahead.

They came up with extra sleep (don’t we all need it?!), jammies all day, and breakfast and lunch in bed. (Yes, we've let go of the reins a bit here at my house.)

Maybe for you, it’s the opportunity to add fluency in a new system to your resume, or to build your reputation with a new leader, team, or customer base. What’s something you can get excited about?

Big or small, focusing on bright spots helps open your mind, readying it for the change ahead.

3. Acknowledge the pains and challenges of change

Do focus on the upside. But not at the expense of acknowledging and preparing for the challenges. Don’t put your head in the sand.

If this triggers mild concern or anxiety, don’t push that down. Give it space. Address it.

We resist change for a reason. There will be growing pains. Transitioning to a new system does provide you with new opportunities. But there will also be a learning curve. It will take time, focus, and effort. You’ll be pushed out of your comfort zone. If this triggers mild concern or anxiety, don’t push that down. Give it space. Address it.

Part of gaining comfort with change is giving yourself a chance to master it. The only way to master change is to resolve and repair pain points. We can’t resolve what we can’t see, so give yourself the space to list out every single thing, big or small, that scares or challenges you.

RELATED: Why Negative Emotions Aren't All Bad

What might live on your list?

  • Finding time to learn a new system
  • Having to build new relationships virtually
  • Feeling like a novice after years of feeling like an expert

4. Identify actions within your locus of control

Part of what makes change feel scary is the sense of losing control.

According to the Harvard Business Review:

Many employees have had to abruptly accept fundamental changes to their work routines. And these changes have been stressful… because [they have] stripped people of their autonomy… [which] is detrimental for employee performance and well-being.

In other words, it’s normal to crave a sense of autonomy, of control. So here is where you focus on what you can control, and you make it happen.

Look at your sources of anxiety or discomfort. Identify tangible actions you can take to close the gap or minimize the pain of change.

When I left the world of full-time employment to start my own business, I was terrified of managing that change, even though I’d been the one to initiate it. But as a taker of my own medicine, I followed this very process. And when I arrived at this step, I identified a series of actions in my control.

Here’s a sampling of what I came up with

  • Invite every small business owner I know to coffee and pick their brain
  • Read one book per month on a relevant topic—consulting, marketing, pricing, etc.
  • Hire a coach to help me learn to build
  • Hire a lawyer to ensure I don’t step off a cliff

You get the idea. I was stepping into the unknown. But by identifying a series of actions designed to get me incrementally closer to known, I was re-establishing a sense of autonomy and control.

Maybe you have to learn a new system and you’re afraid it will be complicated. What steps can you take to close the gap? What can you control?

5. Commit positive change experiences to memory

I reflect on the days of smushed peas and carrots. Mostly, it was gross. But once in a blue moon, a baby would accidentally swallow a mouthful. And I was nothing but jazz hands. 

Turns out, my jazz-hands-enthusiasm was accidental genius because now, baby associated mush with entertaining Mommy gymnastics. For her it became fun. And over time she downed more mush.

And really, that’s kind of your goal. 

When you have your first positive experience with that new system, even if it was an accident, make a note of it. When your first client lights up at the description of that new product feature, capture that.

These winning moments add up over time. And suddenly one day you realize: Hey, these smashed peas and carrots are kinda delish! Who knew?

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The 2021 Career Wisdom You Need from Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Well, we made it. To 2021. The earth, moon, and sun each did their thing again. But somehow this year feels different. Because 2020 was a doozy and so many of us are deeply ready for a fresh start.

RBG fought, she believed, and she persevered—all actions that feel deeply relevant as we look to the year ahead of us.

Last year left many of us with a lot to mourn. For me, and for many, that includes the loss of a national treasure, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The diminutive woman, known affectionately as The Notorious RBG, served as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice from 1993 until her death on September 18th, 2020, at age 87. RBG was the breaker of all kinds of ceilings. She fought, she believed, and she persevered—all actions that feel deeply relevant as we look to the year ahead of us.

Before I charge too quickly into the spin of 2021, I plan to reflect on some of the amazing life and career lessons RBG left behind. She gifted us a legacy of wisdom that will remain relevant for years to come.

So today, let’s reflect on some of what she taught us and consider how it might apply to our own adventures in the coming months.

1. To persuade others, don't react, respond!

Ruth Bader Ginsburg achieved tremendous things in her lifetime. Much of her success required that she persuade others to share a point of view that may not have been popular.

And persuasive she was. Never one to steamroll or shame others onto her side, RBG was artful in how she changed hearts and minds.

She once shared with the New York Times some wedding-day advice she received from her mother-in-law: “In every good marriage, it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.”

And she goes on to say of that advice:

I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I believe she was telling us not to ignore or excuse unkindness or incivility but to label and rise above it in our response.

In 2021, we are all going to be processing and wading through the heaviness that was 2020 as we face the challenges of the coming year. Careless words are likely to be spoken. But when they are, try not to let them trigger a reaction. Respond as the version of yourself you’re most proud of.

Respond as the version of yourself you’re most proud of.

The absence of your emotional reaction will make the intelligence of your response stand out even more. This is one way to bring hearts and minds to your side.

2. Disagree with an idea but respect the person who shared it

RBG maintained lifelong friendships with colleagues sitting on both sides of the political aisle. She was asked about her success at this many times throughout her career.

She spoke with NPR about her friendship with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and shared that while they disagreed deeply on many issues, she respected him enough to listen to what he said. And although he rarely changed her mind, his thinking pushed and challenged her own, making her even better.

When an idea doesn’t land with you, take a pause. Can you find the positive intent behind it? Can you empathize with the person suggesting it?

She also spoke of their finding common ground through shared interests and humor. She was able to separate her friend and colleague from the opinions he held. And this too feels like a useful skill to cultivate for 2021.

None of us knows what shape the workplace will take in the coming months. We will all hear many predictions, suggestions, and opinions. We will like some and hate others.

But when an idea doesn’t land with you, take a pause. Can you find the positive intent behind it? Can you empathize with the person suggesting it? Is there something useful you can find in it?

Keep the idea and the person in separate corners.

3. Never stop learning

Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, responding to a letter from an 8-year-old girl

RBG never lost her appetite for more information, for expanding her mind. As much wisdom as she had acquired, it was never enough.

And in this, she wasn’t alone. According to Inc. Magazine, many of the world’s most successful leaders—from Warren Buffet to Tony Robbins to Mark Cuban—are voracious readers.

As we continue to navigate the uncertainty ahead, learning new ways to do things will be critically important. So make continuous reading and learning a priority in 2021.

Not sure how to make it happen? Here are a few ideas:

  • Choose your sources wisely. Don’t try to read everything. Explore different books, publications, or blogs to see which resonate most with you.
     
  • Schedule reading time. Put reading time in your calendar. Maybe it’s 10 minutes a day. Maybe it replaces what used to be a commute before many of us started working virtually. Get creative.
     
  • Try audio. Hey, like podcasts or audiobooks? They're a great source of inspiration, motivation, and knowledge. Maybe you can listen while you’re cooking or working out.

4. Prioritize self-care

RBG was so famous as an exerciser that her personal trainer published a book of the workouts she was still doing into her 80s. Once asked who the most important person in her life was, she famously responded, “My personal trainer.”

For RBG, intense exercise gave her the energy she needed to deliver her most impactful work. This is a lesson we all need to carry into 2021. As stress and burnout continue to threaten and plague us, we must all be mindful of how we manage our energy levels.

Working endless hours isn’t the most effective or fulfilling path to success. Working well is what delivers results. So find ways to care for yourself, to recharge your tank, every day.

You too may enjoy some intense exercise. Or you may choose to walk, meditate, journal, or call a friend. There is no right way to practice self-care, but doing it in some form is a must!

If you want some self-care guidance when it comes to fitness, nutrition, and coping with stress, here's where I shamelessly plug podcasts from my amazing Quick and Dirty Tips colleagues:

  • Get-Fit Guy with fitness pro Brock Armstrong
  • Nutrition Diva with nutritionist (and renowned nutrition myth-buster) Monica Reinagel
  • Savvy Psychologist with clinical psychologist and sleep expert Dr. Jade Wu

Search for these wellness experts on your favorite podcast platform or visit QuickandDirtyTips.com.

I hope these nuggets of wisdom have helped you feel empowered to take on 2021. These are only a few of the countless gems RBG left us with. They feel, for me, entirely relevant in this moment. So let’s honor and celebrate Ruth Bader Ginsberg's life together by letting her wisdom guide us through some murky months ahead.

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How to Explain a Gap in Your Résumé

My first job out of college was with a recruiting firm run by three women who had nearly a hundred combined years of experience in the workforce. They taught me everything I needed to know about how to read resumes, including the warning signs to look for. A gap in employment was, according to them, the kiss of death.

Today, a hot minute and three U.S. presidents later, I truly believe that wisdom is as outdated as my prom dress. It was fine in the moment, but the moment has passed.  

Each of us is complex and unique, and our personal stories should reflect that.

The rules of employment history have changed, and the story you craft about your timeline is yours. Whether your employment gap happened because of a layoff, becoming a caregiver, taking a sabbatical, exploring entrepreneurship, or even just a mental health break, let's talk about how you can own that gap in a way that will want a prospective employer wanting more of you!

1. Lead with transparency

As poet Walt Whitman said, “I am large. I contain multitudes.” Each of us is complex and unique, and our personal stories should reflect that. There are no right or wrong plot points as long as each point is truthful.

When capturing your history (employment and otherwise) on your resume, be honest and transparent. There's no need to flag a gap in employment in bold print, but neither should you try to hide it.

Our journeys are complex and diverse. The trend toward inclusion will only grow in 2021. And beyond diversity in terms of race and gender, I believe companies are ready to lean into a diversity of experiences in the workforce. Companies must look beyond the traditional one-directional career path, and search for talent whose life experience reflects that of their customers.

Beyond diversity in terms of race and gender, I believe companies are ready to lean into a diversity of experiences in the workforce.

So don’t be ashamed of revealing your lived experiences, from caregiving to travel to taking time to pursue a passion. Transparency upfront will help you begin the conversation with a prospective employer on the right foot.

2. Reflect on your gains

Maybe you opted out of the workforce for a year to care for a child or parent or to travel the world. Or perhaps you were laid off in an economic downturn. Whatever your reason and whatever the cause, you were still a person living in the world during this time. Your experience may not have been “work experience,” but this is where life experience gets its time in the sun.

When I spent 2007 at home with my newborn daughter, there were days—many days—that left me feeling like my brain had turned to mush. Baby Beluga had become my theme song and I was spending days calculating ounces of milk digested and … processed. (Yes, I mean poops).

This is where life experience gets its time in the sun.

But as I started gearing up for a job search in 2008, I pushed myself to reflect on the gift of that year. Certainly, it was a privilege just to be with my infant daughter. But it had also given me some new skills and perspective. 

Time management and prioritization become finely tuned when your baby’s naps are suddenly your only windows of productivity. I had become part of a new demographic—parents—which broadened my perspective not only on the world but on any company’s potential customer base.

Oh, and my ability to experience failure but keep on keeping on? That expanded immensely. I screwed up daily with sleep training and sign language and all the mothering things. But I also persisted because I had a new responsibility to manage.

These were some of my reflections. I challenge you to define your own.

Think expansively about how this time has added in any way to the multitudes you contain. It is now a part of your story to shape and own.

Maybe you were laid off during the pandemic. You’re not alone. And remember, you’re leading with transparency. You don’t have to pretend the layoff was some grand gift. You’re allowed to experience disappointment. But shift quickly into considering what you gained during the weeks or months of not being employed.

What have you spent time doing? Being with family? Caring for a loved one? Supporting a working partner? Have you taken any classes? Picked up a new certification? Learned to cook? Think expansively about how this time has added in any way to the multitudes you contain. It is now a part of your story to shape and own.

3. Craft the narrative

So now, armed with insight and reflection, it’s time to craft the story you will proudly tell any prospective employer. This is your chance to package yourself as the most irresistible product on the job market.

I’ve always loved the commencement address Steve Jobs delivered at Stanford back in 2005, during which he said:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.

Steve Jobs

So, as you look back at the totality of your experience—work and life—what is the story you want to tell that makes you the most compelling candidate? How will you choose to connect the dots and help your potential employer see the complete picture?

In 2008, I showed up in interviews not as a new mom hoping desperately for anyone to give me a chance, but as a person with a broad perspective to offer. I still had my pre-baby skills and experiences, but now I could apply a keen ability to prioritize, to think critically about what should command my focus, to learn from failure, and to be successful without having control over a situation.

My conversations with hiring leaders painted this picture of me. I made sure to bring in examples of both work and parenting experience. It made me real and whole. And it ultimately won me a great job.

So, what’s the story you’ll tell? Maybe being laid off taught you that things can change on a dime, which has challenged and enhanced your agility. Maybe you used your time to take classes, brush up on skills, and add a certification. 

Prepare examples of how these insights and added skills will deliver value for your next employer. How lucky they will be to have you!

4. Fake it till you make it

I stand by the logic of everything I’ve said thus far. But there is so much more than logic at play here. There's ego and emotion and anxiety and lots of other messy human things. I’ve lived through, and overcome, all of that. Some days I’m still overcoming it.

Confidence is something that will grow over time. But don’t wait for it; cultivate it.

Are you wondering how I managed to show up with so much confidence after spending a year away from the corporate world? Then let me tell you my secret: It wasn’t confidence at all! It was all my fear and anxiety hidden behind a smile and a firm handshake. (Remember those?)

Confidence is something that will grow over time. But don’t wait for it; cultivate it. For now, if you’re struggling to access confidence, then just play the part. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the real thing will follow.

And there you have it. Yes, whole, complex, messy you. So practice your most confident smile, prepare your firm handshake, brush up your résumé, and get ready to pound the pavement.

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Take the proper steps to thrive while you’re self-employed.

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