We’re currently in the heart of the pandemic, and most people are longing for life to return to “normal.” And, even though “normal” will look drastically different post-pandemic, humans are incredibly resilient and will work hard to re-create what was lost. The brain thrives on making sense of new input, categorizing it and building habits. Habits enable humans to be more efficient and comfortable. So, it’s not a surprise that in the midst of ambiguity and change, our old routines seem consoling and we’re in a hurry to get back to them. And while there are some things we can go back to like the simple pleasures of gathering with friends and getting a haircut, your career is a bit more complex.
Now that the market has transformed for the long-term, resist falling back into the same comfortable routines with your career (as tempting as it’ll be — and we’re all exhausted, so it will be very tempting).
Everyone believes that after a life-altering event they’ll permanently change. However, there are many biological and psychological factors plotting against you, and these (and likely past personal experience) show that even the best intentions are fleeting when challenged by the solace of old routines.
Much has changed in the economy and whether you’ve realized it, within yourself. You’ve learned to do things differently and to adapt to unprecedented circumstances. So while it’s okay to slide back into old habits when it comes to reuniting with your barber, as it relates to your career, it’s critical that you proactively maintain these changes for long-term success.
Accept the Wake-up Call
Whether you’re currently unemployed, furloughed or one of the lucky still on the payroll, it’s statistically likely you’ll experience an unexpected career set-back at some point in your life. Most are shocked the first time because they believe that strong performance guarantees job security, but that’s a myth. Mergers, acquisitions, industry downturns, technology advances, and now viruses can impact your role at any time. I’ve seen some of the most in-demand employees furloughed over the last few weeks. It’s beyond your control, and if it’s your first layoff, it may not be your last. What’s not beyond your control is how you build job security within yourself so that you’re prepared for future disruptions. No, you don’t need to constantly worry about chaos, but rather building internal security enables you to sleep easy at night. Here’s how.
Become a Tech Guru
While it’s not necessary to get certified in Python, this pandemic has taught us that technology is king and that if you can’t adapt, you’ll be left behind. Being tech savvy wasn’t optional before the pandemic, and certainly is central now. If you’ve gotten lax and let your tech skills slide, now is the time to invest in your career and become savvy. Join a new social media platform, try a different webinar tool, or take a few classes on Codecademy. Even if it feels futile at first, press on. As you encounter new systems, interfaces and platforms, the neural connections in your brain are forming ties that’ll help you to recognize and learn new technology in the future. Make this a regular habit and realize that if you’re not somewhat uncomfortable, you’re not stretching enough.
Visibility is Key
Outstanding work is half the battle, but if the decision-makers aren’t aware of your abilities, you’ll get left in the dust. In dire situations, leaders need employees who are versatile and can flex with the needs of the economy, customer or latest hurdle. If you’re quietly doing your job while knocking it out of the park everyday, but only your boss is aware, you’re not going to be in a great spot when she gets laid off. Develop a sponsor, collaborate across departments, raise your hand for projects outside of your role and never stop learning. No one is irreplaceable, but some are more essential than others. Strive to be in the latter group. Here are more ideas.
If you’re currently putting all of your proverbial eggs in one employer basket, the pandemic should be an eye-opener — that strategy isn’t sustainable. Even if you’ve been called back from furlough and are feeling a sigh of relief to be able to pay your rent, realize that this can happen again. Tomorrow. Build a portfolio career where you’re able to earn your total income from a variety of sources so that you’re not reliant on one employer. Start a side hustle, invest in property, learn affiliate marketing, or find seasonal work. There are so many ways to build alternate income streams and the pandemic has created novel opportunities if you just pay attention.
Keep Up the Connections
If you’re like many, you’ve reestablished contact with several dormant contacts – people who you once knew well but have lost touch with. In an effort to combat the feeling of loneliness caused by isolation, several people have rekindled old relationships through social media and other ways. If you haven’t, read this. This is a fantastic side effect of the quarantine for your career because it means that your connections are expanding. It’s likely your dormant contacts have built many new circles since your last interaction (as have you!) so by re-establishing contact, everyone is benefiting from a larger network. Keep it up, even after the shelter-in-place orders have lifted. It’ll be tempting to get distracted by the “normalcy” of life, but don’t allow your new networking efforts to dwindle.
Recognize the Changes
It can be difficult to see major changes in ourselves, especially when they’re gradual. However, whether you realize it or not, you’ve gained critical skills in adaptability, resilience, creativity, contingency planning and many other areas that can be valuable in your professional life. Take a moment to reflect on these and process how they can make you more marketable in the new economy. When we return to work, simply being in that familiar environment will coax our brain to defer to former ways of operating – don’t. When we’re allowed to freely socialize, our neural connections will reinforce call how we interacted before – but stay alert. And when we have a new problem to solve, we’ll be tempted to go with the easy tried and true solutions – so be careful. We’ve learned a lot, but it’ll take focus and conscious effort to maintain these new habits once we return to our regular environments.
While we’ll all be tempted to dive back into our old routines with both feet once we’re able, try to resist the urge to let go of all that you’ve gained in your career. Humans are creatures of habit. Habit is comforting, especially when we’ve all been significantly inconvenienced, some much more than others. Don’t allow this opportunity to pass unnoticed and unacknowledged. These lessons would be incredibly hard to come by any other way than a forced quarantine in a global pandemic, so be proactive and take from it what you can to catapult your career success.
Dawn Graham is a licensed psychologist, Career Director for the Wharton MBA Program for Executives, and host of the weekly “Dr. Dawn on Careers” show on SiriusXM business radio channel 132. Her first book, Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers & Seize Success, was published by HarperCollins Leadership and is available on Amazon. This article was originally published by Forbes.com. Read that post here.