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This column is called Leading Change and is written for people taking the reins in their hands, whether by choice or not. In organizations today it is often the latter.

Circumstances are not what we would like them to be. Profits are down. People are being laid off. Leadership is forever asking us to do more with less. We are in the process of systematically and persistently discovering what can be dispensed with and what is critical.

There are days when simply making it through without a catastrophe feels like an accomplishment.

How do you deal with change when imposed from outside, whether by leadership or an unfriendly environment? How do you screw your own head on differently so you are up to the task, and help others do the same?  How do you move from stress to engagement? What opportunities are there in a mess like this?

I worked in a large, decentralized bureaucracy for thirteen years. This situation came around in some form or other every few years like the moon cycling around the planet, causing the tides to ebb and flow.

Those of us who were in it for the long haul recognized the cycles of stress and developed our particular ways of coping.

Some put their heads down and got to work, thinking the best way to avoid a layoff was to be busy generating real value, demonstrating our worth through actions. Mostly it worked. But, sometimes the axe came through without regard for rationality, common sense, or even political correctness.

It is a time of real stress, and that must be dealt with.  Many turn to distractions that are less than healthy: drink more, smoke more, party more.  That is a cycle that leads to personal health crises, eventually creating more problems than it resolves and even permanent damage.

Get support and make it the kind that works deep magic on your psyche. Spend more time with your children and close friends. Go to the gym more often, or take long walks. Get into music, painting, dance, poetry, theater. Turn toward your soul.

At work, look for the unique opportunities presented by stressful times. Believe it or not, once you get past the anxiety, there are real silver linings in these dark clouds, and a few can be cashed in personally.  Here are some:

When many are anxious or down, they are distracted and their energy is low. It is an excellent time to move forward with new ideas, to be seen as a champion. Almost everyone is trying to fade into the woodwork, and those who want to shine have ample opportunity.  Standing out in the crowd can help your career in more ways than one.

Make Your Move
We are in a reshuffle in the marketplace. The same is true inside organizations. Those at the top are hauled off or disappear. Those at the margins move into the mainstream. Some who were barely known are suddenly major players. What’s your move? Now is the time.

Even if you do end up in the job market, why not go out in a blaze of glory? If departure is inevitable, now is the time to push through that radical idea you want to be known for. Then add it to your resume and include it as a given in your next job, which will be that much more interesting. And if, by chance, you stick around, you will have used this time to shift perception, raise your esteem and your position.

Master the Basics
Whether we like it or not, work gets boiled down to what is essential. This can be a time of great discovery as the fundamentals surface. They are, after all, a real platform for growth. Do you know your basics? Are you a master of core practices? Now is the perfect time to get your chops up. This will help you in every aspect of life.

Find Yourself
Develop a rhythm. Get to core progress. Raise your performance. You will be noticed… most importantly by yourself. But, others, too, will recognize new leadership. Everyone’s looking for rising stars. Especially in dark skies.

- Seth Kahan,