How To Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For

Editor’s note:  We’re not big on How-to articles at MidLifeBloggers, but every once in a while, we learn of a book that makes us change our  policy.  In the midst of the enormous upheaval our economy has brought about–not to mention that the essence of midlife is change–we knew we had to share this one with you.


by MJ Ryan

bookcoverThese are challenging times. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re confronting some change you never asked for—perhaps a loss of job. Or some dream. Maybe you have to learn to work in new ways or find a new place to live. I’m sorry if it’s difficult. I’m hoping that within these pages you’ll find the support and the practices you need to successfully ride the wave of this change, whatever it may be.

Take comfort that you’re not alone. In my work as a “thinking partner,” I spend a lot of time speaking to people in all walks of life, from the CEO of a joint venture in Saudi Arabia to a stay-at-home mom who needs to enter the workforce. From where I sit, whether they are searching for a job, looking for funding for a startup, trying to stay relevant at age sixty in a large corporation, dealing with lost savings, coping with a big new job that has one hundred direct reports, struggling to get donations for a nonprofit, or fearing losing their home due to unemployment, people of all ages and walks of life are scrambling to deal with vast changes happening today in every part of the world.

Take the publishing industry, where I’ve spent thirty years, first as an editor of a weekly newspaper, then as an editor of monthly magazines, a book publisher, and now, for the past seven years, an author. None of the companies I worked for are still in existence. Neither are the distributors. One of my dear friends, a top writer at the Washington Post, just took a buyout because the newspaper can’t afford to pay top talent—even the most prestigious papers are drowning in red ink. How we create, distribute, market, and promote media products is completely different from even a few years ago. Where it is all heading we truly have no idea. Phil Bronstein, former publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle, declared recently, “Anybody who professes to be able to tell you what things will be like in ten years is on some kind of drug.”

And that’s only one corner of the evolving big picture. In 2006, creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson, speaking at the TED conference (Technology, Entertainment, Design) stated, “We have no idea of what’s going to happen in the future. No one has a clue about what the world will be like in even five years.”

The only thing any of us can know for certain is that life will continue to change at a rapid pace because the world has gotten more complex and interdependent. Organizational consultant Peter Vail calls this “permanent whitewater,” referring to a time of ongoing uncertainty and turbulence. We can’t see exactly where these changes are headed or where the submerged rocks are, yet when we’re tossed out of the boat, we want to make sure to swim, not sink. Experienced rafters know they’re going to get dumped out at some point. The difference between them and the rest of us is that they’re prepared to get bounced out and to recover swiftly. They expect the whitewater. And so should we.

Have you ever encountered that “life stress” list that rates changes such as moving, death of a spouse, getting married, etc.? The folks who created that list in the ’sixties estimate that life is 44 percent more stressful now than it was fifty years ago, and they came up with that estimate—I have no idea how—before the 2008 global meltdown. I’m not sure we even want to know the new number!

We find ourselves in uncharted waters. How do you cope with the falloff in business of your tiling company due to the implosion of the housing industry, as an acquaintance was telling me about yesterday? Or what should my twenty-three-year-old client do about not being able to drive to work because she can’t afford the gas because she gets paid a pittance at her wonderful social services job? What should my husband’s fifty-five-year-old friend do now that his job has been rendered obsolete because people aren’t buying CDs anymore thanks to the proliferation of downloadable music? What should a sixty-year-old friend of mine do about being upside down in her house? What should a dentist I know do about the huge debt he’s carrying from paying for rehab for his son? Which is the more stable situation—the job that my client has had for fifteen years with a company that has just been sold to a conglomerate and is experiencing a shrinking profit margin, or the opportunity with a start-up with seemingly greater risks and rewards?

When people present me with such dilemmas, I don’t pretend to know the answers. I’m not a crystal ball reader. Nor do I understand every industry trend. Or how a given company should be positioning itself. What I do know a lot about and what I can help you to do, too, is to develop the necessary mind-sets and actions to adapt well to whatever changes come your way. Knowing that you need to change, or even wanting to change, isn’t enough. Without rewiring your thinking and knowing what actions to take, all you get is wish and want and, often, stuckness. I want to help you actually develop the ability to adapt, to get up to speed with the attitudes and skills required to make the changes that life and work require.

A member of Professional Thinking Partners who is recognized as a leading expert in change, M.J. Ryan specializes in coaching high performance executives, entrepreneurs, individuals, and leadership teams around the world to maximize performance and fulfillment. Her work is based on a combination of positive psychology, strengths-based coaching, the wisdom traditions, and cutting edge brain research. Her new book, titled “AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For” was recently released published by Random House’s Broadway Books.


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