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Playing the Long Game to Win

by David Giersdorf

Editorial Note: This article is an excerpt from David Giersdorf’s Hard Ships: Navigating Your Career, Industry, and Life through the Fog of Disruption, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers March 25th.

Individuals struggling in a disruption can still play the long game to win—even if much seems lost in the short term.

If the good jobs aren’t open, your living situation changes abruptly, or some other type of crisis threatens everything you hold dear, think through your first step, what I call your “First First”. I’ve written about this mindset previously. Then you must also consider your last step. What do you want your world to look like when the fog is far behind you?

Commit the period of time, (however long the disruption you are facing is expected to last) to study how the near and further future will be shaped by the event. Your preparation will enable you, your organization, or your family to reach the right place at the right time—all in due time.

Perhaps your job or career has been badly impacted by events beyond your control. Consider these numbers: Most industries grow at a relatively steady rate of 3 to 4 percent per year. But, if your industry or career was severely impacted and reshaped by disruption, the recovery rebound can mean an exceptional period of growth. You’ll rarely see the levels of rapid opportunity expansion that can occur during a rebound. Your experience and skills will be needed.

In that case, everyone in a position to benefit from a rebound will. You could stay the course in your industry, earn a promotion, seek and accept a new position, and prioritize performance-based compensation or equity as part of your go-forward plan. Soon, those may be more valuable to you than your earning opportunity before the disruption. The point is, you can look beyond the current setback and set your sights on new ways to be valuable and to become more valued.

In the broader world beyond work, think about what else is possible for your life given your knowledge, skills, and abilities. Think about what your next steps could be as you restart from a personal disruption. I’ve had to do that several times in my life, and I always seem to end up with the same priorities. It may sound selfish, but I always make my health and state of mind my first firsts when I’m thrust into a personal crisis. Without my body or my mind, I can accomplish nothing for myself or anyone else.

The clarity of mind and spirit that comes from a healthy foundation and vital relationships is the key to forging ahead and opening up new choices, no matter the situation you face. Health and vitality is motive power. Knowledge is strategic power. Powerful people outlast disruption. Every time.

“The clarity of mind and spirit that comes from a healthy foundation and vital relationships is the key to forging ahead and opening up new choices, no matter the situation you face. Health and vitality is motive power. Knowledge is strategic power. Powerful people outlast disruption. Every time.”

If your first focus is finances, do whatever it takes to stabilize the situation. Are you looking to get a new job, to start a business or side hustle, or to take training that sets you up for all the above? It can be difficult to know where to start, I freely admit. With the disruption from COVID-19, many industries faced their own “no sail” restrictions; lockdowns shut doors on businesses in staple industries overnight. How do we keep the lights on when we’re prohibited from opening?

While you may not be trying to restart a fleet of cruise ships, the thoughtful step-by-step approach outlined here will work for you as it has for me and the companies I’ve worked with as an executive or advisor over the decades. The level-headed decision to pursue one step at a time and proceed to the next only when you’ve satisfied the demands of the previous will put you in an advantageous position. What if, instead of focusing entirely on how to get back to where you were, you spend some time examining all the possibilities of the place you’re in right now? And then mapping out a longer-term vision.

COVID-19, like other major disruptions, will prove to be a once in a generation opportunity to people who see it as such and are willing to embrace the discomfort of change and uncertainty. All the forces of change will be accelerated. The recovery will be accelerated. That must be your mindset as you plan your restart. A lot can change in a day. Position yourself to benefit.

What steps can you take in a new direction that might have otherwise been impossible without this disruption?

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