While life has certainly taken a 180 degree turn for most over the last few months, it wasn’t in a way that was planned or expected.
Change can be exciting, which is why people take adventurous vacations, switch careers and relocate to new places. However, forced or unanticipated change, like what we are experiencing now, tends to elicit feelings of stress and anxiety. Worse, with so much uncertainty about what is to come over the next few months, it feels like all plans are on hold indefinitely. With nothing concrete to look forward to, the days blend together in an endless string like the movie Groundhog’s Day.
But it doesn’t need to feel that way. Whether you were bored with your job or had fallen into monotony before the pandemic or have more recently succumbed to the daily ambiguity that surrounds us all now, you can create ways to wake up to new opportunities tomorrow and rekindle that excitement about seizing the day.
Whether you’re looking for connection, inspiring work, or new opportunities, you have the power to make that happen with these two steps.
1) PLANT SEEDS. Actions get reactions, so if you want to wake up tomorrow to a new opportunity, set the ball in motion. And a good rule of thumb is to plant more seeds than you think you need or can handle. Not all will take root and you’ll experience less anxiety over opportunities that don’t emerge when you’re focusing on the ones that DO. Here’s how:
- Take the next step. Getting beyond your comfort zone takes effort, but it’s a fantastic way to create more opportunities and build momentum. Ideas to get started: If you’ve joined an association, take the next step and speak on a panel or lead a committee. If you read online content, take the next step and comment or share. If you’ve started blogging, take the next step and submit your writing to a variety of relevant publications for consideration. If you attend an event (live or virtual), take the next step and connect with the speakers afterward. Since you’re already halfway there already, these extra steps are an easy way to create novel opportunities.
- Reach out. Talking to new people (or someone you haven’t spoken to in a while) can change everything. Just one conversation might open the door to a new idea, connection or opportunity. Ideas to get started: Scroll through your text messages to see who you’ve not contacted in a while and send a quick hello. Look at your emails from a year ago to see who you may have lost touch with. Scroll through your 2nd-level contacts on LinkedIn and send a personalized introduction to interesting professionals. Use your time at home to join online communities and connect with members who share common interests. Get to know your neighbors while you’re outside (we’ve been having socially distant “Hallway Happy Hours” in my condo since shelter-in-place began and it’s been a fun way to meet several new people!). Look for opportunities to help promote other’s content or leave a positive review for someone you admire. Get creative — these small contact points can open the door to new circles of connections that can be beneficial for all involved.
- Quiet the voice. We can sometimes be our own worst enemy by convincing ourselves that we’re not good enough, don’t have a chance or would be wasting our time. Ignore it! Ideas to get started: Apply for that role. Post your article online. Ask for the promotion. Start that side gig. Take the risk. Say “yes” even when your impostor syndrome is hovering in the background beckoning you to question your competence. The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work out as you hoped and you’ll learn something valuable, but chances are it’ll be just fine. It’s a common phenomenon that the more expertise we gain in our field and the higher up the ladder we move, the fewer risks we’re willing to take for fear of damaging our reputation or looking silly. This is the pesky human condition called “loss aversion” that I’ve written about before. But when you stop taking risks, you also stop learning and growing, and eventually you’re losing ground anyway. So go for it! The more you stretch outside your comfort zone, the more interesting opportunities you’ll receive. However, if you do nothing, the result is always the same — you get nothing.
- Do something different. If what you’re doing isn’t working, change it up. Sometimes small tweaks can have a major impact. Ideas to get started: Post on a different social media platform. Refine your target audience. Learn a new technology or technique that you’ve been afraid to tackle. Use video instead of written content. Ask someone with a completely different expertise than you for help with your idea to identify innovative options. Try something that you’re not fully convinced will work (you’ll learn more through trial and error than analysis paralysis). Reward levels tend to follow risk levels, which means that the more risk you take, the more reward that is possible. So, if you have a choice between an easy answer and a harder path, recognize that you’ll likely see less traffic and many more benefits on the road less travelled.
2) REMOVE WEEDS. In the same way action can create momentum, obstacles and unnecessary hurdles will slow you down. So, it’s worth assessing any energy and time vampires and putting them to rest. Here’s how:
- Get rid of clutter. Clutter can be mentally draining and highly distracting, taking a lot more of your time and energy than you realize. Whether physical, digital or mental clutter, you’ll be better off if you clear it out. Ideas to get started: Unsubscribe to emails you rarely read. Automate processes you use often so you don’t need to keep recreating the wheel. Toss stuff you no longer need, but hold onto “just in case.” Put things away immediately so they don’t pile up. Make a plan to solve the worst-case scenario (which rarely happens) for those situations where worry is consuming you (which can manifest as poor sleep, headaches, digestion issues and other physical ailments). Keep lists so that you don’t have to remember to-dos. Get your workout (or other dreaded task) done first thing so the guilt is not weighing on your mind all day. Stop engaging in active laziness (e.g., distractions that you rationalize as important like cleaning every day or reorganizing the spice rack, but really are an attempt to justify avoiding the tough stuff). When you de-clutter, you’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish.
- Diversify. While you may have some specific goals, there may not always be a direct path, so be open to detours, stepping stones and bridge opportunities. When you put all of your eggs into one basket, you can become myopic and miss peripheral opportunities that will help you to reach your ultimate goal. Ideas to get started: Say “yes” to lesser opportunities to build up your credibility and connections. Compromise if it opens doors and leads to additional opportunities. Offer pro bono options if there are other relevant intangible benefits. Start as a temp and then work hard to get the permanent role. Most need to earn their stripes on the way to their ultimate goal. Plus, it can be beneficial to make mistakes along the way to help us perfect our craft before getting to the main stage.
- Let go of expectations — both good and bad. Expectations are just bad news all around. Negative expectations cause us to avoid taking action, and positive expectations cause us to be disappointed if things don’t work as planned. Both can be crushing in different ways, so be careful about how much real estate you allow expectations to take up in your brain. Ideas to get started: Don’t allow expectations to generalize to other situations causing a self-fulfilling prophecy (e.g., “I knew I wouldn’t get it and it would be a waste of time to try again”). This will lead to taking fewer risks, and consequently, fewer opportunities will emerge. Recognize that there are things we can control (very few), and many things we cannot. But the more seeds you plant, the more buds that will grow, so be careful not to stomp on your own garden.
Newton’s Third Law isn’t just for physics majors, but rather applies to all things in life. For every action you take, there is an equal and opposite reaction, even if it isn’t always what you anticipate it to be.
If you’re feeling paralyzed in the ambiguity of the new normal, you’re not alone. Situations that once had a level of certainty now have none, and we’re learning that we control much less in the world than we once believed. However, that doesn’t mean that you need to stand still. Take a step forward into motion and you’ll soon see the ripple effect.