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April 22, 2010

Never worry alone

Scott Stockdale

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Adapting to change and facing uncertainty is something more and more people are faced with in these challenging economic times.

In response to these challenges, the Centre for Spirituality at Work, Toronto invited Anne Carbert, a former lawyer and now a career counsellor and transition coach to make a presentation at the Chapel in the Toronto Grace Hospital recently.

After listening to nearly a dozen participants, including a speech therapist, a postal worker, two Ontario government employees, a real estate agent and a recent University post-graduate student, outline their experiences in the workplace, Ms. Carbert said we are all creative, whether we're consciously aware of it or not, and this creativity can be beneficial in our workplaces.

She said this includes determining reasonable limits on how we can be assertive about the level of work we will take on, without risking losing our jobs, while at the same time keeping in mind that our skill sets could be directed in so many different ways.

Acknowledging that facing uncertainty can be unnerving, Ms. Carbert said these are also times when we may realize surprising bits of self-knowledge.

“We feel vulnerable, less in control. We constantly need to adapt so we must use our creative skills. If we don't, we feel frustrated because we're trying to keep something frozen in time.”

Uncertainty can also offer benefits, Ms. Carbert said. A group participant said she experienced this after being laid off from her job as a speech therapist and then starting her own business. 

“I thought working for someone else was more stable. Now I have a different perception. I see opportunities for growth and creativity and different ways to do things. I'm discovering new resources and faucets of myself and developing new skills.”

Using an anecdote to illustrate her point, Ms. Carbert said there can be potential even in frightening situations and as situations are constantly changing, so are the effects we feel from them.

“A farmer's son found a wild horse and the villagers said 'what good luck.' When the son was training the horse, he fell off it and broke his leg and the villagers said 'what bad luck.' Then the army came recruiting and they didn't take the boy (because if his broken leg) and the villagers said 'what good luck.'

She said this story shows that life leads into different situations and we should try to keep our minds open.

“The trick is to consider many possibilities. We're stuck on the worst and most desired scenarios when there are a whole range of possibilities.”

Breaking the participants into groups of three, Ms. Carbert asked us to think of one uncertain thing and then think about what is likely to happen, two or three possible outcomes, what we want to happen and what could happen.

After completing the exercise Ms. Carbert said expanding outcomes is a way to relieve tension. One participant said expressing thoughts and being listened to also helps. Ms. Carbert said the old adage “Never swim alone” can be expanded to “Never worry alone,” in no small part because expressing worries is better than holding them in.

When dealing with worries, Ms. Carbert said we should realize that although we can't change circumstances, we can choose different perspectives and change our interpretation and response to the situation.

“By expanding our sense of options, we feel less vulnerable and we don't feel trapped ... Remind yourself that you have your strengths and you can take your skills elsewhere.”

No matter what uncertainties we're facing, Ms. Carbet said it is important to try to maintain an inner strength and develop a broad perspective.

“Hold on to who you are and what you can do. Remember the big picture of who you are. What's meaningful to you? What's my purpose in life? What's bigger than work? What to you gives life meaning?”

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