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How to plan for what will go wrong in your career

While you can’t always control what happens, you can control how you respond.

How to plan for what will go wrong in your career
[Source image: ayzek/iStock]
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Ever made plans only to have them upended by an unexpected event? Of course. We all have. (Hello 2020!) Things go wrong—it’s life—but instead of being thrown off by change, what if you planned for it? The challenge is that you have to give up your need for control, says April Rinne, author of Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving in Constant Change.

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“Humans want to know what’s going to happen,” she says “It’s how we survive, and it’s not without merit. In today’s world, we’ve been fed messages that we can control our environment. If you have the right device, app, or tool, you can engineer your future in a certain way. Yet, if you think about the last 12 to 18 months, how much of what you thought was going to happen played out?”

Rinne learned a big lesson in change at the age of 20 when both of her parents died in a car accident. “In a moment, my whole world melted, and my future changed,” she says. “Looking back, that was my entry into flux. I started asking existential questions about change, and I’m fascinated about how we relate to change. Everybody has some aspect of their relationship to change they can improve. Our fears and anxieties come from thinking you can control those things you actually have no control over.”

While you can’t always control what happens, you can control how respond and how you contribute to the future you’d like to see. Getting better with unexpected changes require a different mindset.

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Let Go of the Ladder

Many of us assume job security, especially in the current labor market, but any job someone gives you can be taken away. You may also wake up and decide the job you have isn’t what you wanted at all, which is another way things change, says Rinne.

“To thrive in a world of flux, think about your career more like a portfolio you curate rather than singular path to pursue,” she says. “Society tells us that success is at the top of the ladder. That’s not a bad idea, but by and large it’s outdated. It’s coming from a world that doesn’t exist anymore.”

Thinking you’ll succeed if you make it down a predetermined path leads to a lot of hurt, disappointment, and a potential identify crisis when the path doesn’t work out or you decide it’s not the path you want to be on. Swap the idea of a career ladder with an image of a career jungle gym or bento box.

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Assess Your Relationship with Change

A flux mindset also requires knowing there are no silver bullets. It’s re-grooving your mental muscle and how you think about change. Harnessing the opportunities is its silver lining, says Rinne.

“Get clear on your relationship with change and control,” she says. “What things do you love about change and what do you hate? Where are you tripped up with what you can and can’t control? Some people are fine with little changes, but mega meta changes completely unravel them. Others are good with big picture changes, but the small things unravel them. Control shows up in different ways.”

When you find your triggers, level up your self-awareness and get clear that you are in driver’s seat of how you respond but not in the driver’s seat of the actual end result.

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Let Go of the Result

A superpower is the ability to let go of the future, says Rinne. “I’m not saying to give up,” she explains. “But getting so twisted up in our view of what our future must look like means we’re not creating awareness of a possible future that could emerge. Letting go of a need to control can be empowering.”

Rinne suggests scenario mapping, imagining different possible futures that might play out. Shift your mindset from trying to predict future to preparing for many possible futures. Also shift your expectations from the idea that your plans will work out to assuming they will change.

“Thinking of all kinds of ways life could play out provides a sense of relief,” she says. “You could be successful and have a meaningful career in all of them. They could look different, but you could thrive in each one.”

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Look for the Best Case

When change happens, it’s human nature for our brains to default to assuming the worst scenario. Instead, train your brain to look for the best possible thing that could happen from the change.

“You may not expect or want it, but instead of assuming the worst case, try to imagine the best case,” says Rinne. “Something good can come out of it almost any change. You’ll recognize in hindsight.”

To help yourself adjust, look over your lifetime and identify those events that didn’t go as planned yet had good outcomes. For example, you may have lost your job only to find a new one that makes you feel more fulfilled. Or you may have not gotten a job you really wanted only to learn later that the company’s culture was toxic.

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“These events can transform how you think about change,” says Rinne.

Change Your Focus

Another way to get comfortable with change is to shift your focus. “Are you focusing on what you know and what is in front of you?” asks Rinne. “Instead, focus on what you still need to discover. What we don’t know is far greater than what we do know. Every week we put plans into place that change. Your mindset needs to be more fit for a world in flux.”

With so much uncertainty, life provides plenty of opportunities to embrace change and practice letting go and getting outside of your comfort zone. You don’t need to go through a tragedy like Rinne did as a young woman to reckon with the consequences of change.

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“Don’t recoil, but walk through the fire,” says Rinne. “The only way out is through. The great thing is that life gives you opportunities to practice change every day, and the vast majority aren’t bad. The key is knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do. If you can master that, you’ll be fine in a world in flux.”