As I write this, I’m sitting in a hotel room with my wife and dog. We’ve had no electricity at our home, and therefore no lights, heat, or hot water since Monday, and we’ve been told it could be another week or more before power is restored. As the temperature dropped steadily, we decided to move to a hotel and were incredibly fortunate. We could afford one, and we somehow got a room. Every hotel within 50 miles of us is now sold out.
Until yesterday, the street in front of my company’s office was flooded — the Hudson River literally poured into downtown Yonkers. I plan to go to the office later today, but it still has no phone or internet service.
On the first day following the hurricane — superstorm Sandy — I felt dislocated and on edge. I couldn’t reach one of my daughters. As in the aftermath of September 11th, it was difficult to find my bearings and focus, when everything around me had essentially shut down and the world seemed to have been upended overnight.
But of course, life goes on. As it’s dawned on me that my life isn’t going to go back to the way it was anytime soon, I’ve actually felt myself relaxing. I can’t control when I’ll get electricity, or when public transportation and phone service will be restored. But I can adapt. I can find pleasure in the adventure of figuring out new ways to make do. Yesterday my wife, daughter, son-in-law and I spent the afternoon huddled together in our hotel room, each of us alternating periods of work with chatting in a way we never get a chance to do in the middle of a work week.
The world in this part of the country has changed this week. And I think we’re looking at a new normal that is far reaching. It’s characterized by by uncertainty, volatility, instability, and the vast acceleration of nearly everything.
This isn’t only about the weather, although the evidence is plainly growing that climate change is part of our future, and if we continue to ignore it, we’ll be doing so at great peril to ourselves and the planet. Even now, extreme weather that disrupts and costs lives feels more commonplace than ever. But change itself is everywhere — economic, organizational, political, social, and technological.
What we need to change most is how we deal with change. That’s an internal challenge more than an external one. It’s about managing ourselves — using our highest cognitive faculties to tame our lowest limbic impulses. For me, that requires first noticing when my reactivity is high — when I’m feeling a sense of threat or danger — and adopting something I call the Golden Rule of Triggers: “Whatever you feel compelled to do, don’t.” Instead, I try to breathe deeply to quiet my body and my emotions, so I can think more calmly.
In fear, our vision narrows. What we need going forward is access to a wider and longer perspective. In the corporate world, the buzz words I’m hearing more than ever are adaptability, agility, flexibility, and resilience — the capacity to bounce back in the face of a setback. For me, the best question is this: What’s the best story I can tell myself, given the unchangeable facts? Here’s mine:
My family, coworkers and friends are all safe. I’ve found a way to get work done and indeed, without phones ringing, I’ve been able to focus better on the most challenging tasks I’m facing. Beyond that, I’m feeling fortified by discovering a new equilibrium reasonably quickly. The prospect of further unexpected turns seems a little less daunting.
What’s the best story you can tell, whatever may be going on in your life right now?