How to stay nimble and ready for unexpected change

content climber career nimble

While being nimble includes maintaining a fresh CV and being brushed up on the latest interview techniques, more importantly, it's about regularly understanding where you are, where you want to be and how well you can create a variety of possibilities for getting there.

Being nimble can be summed up as being ready for anything, which in uncertain and unpredictable times is a good thing, especially from a career perspective.

But being nimble takes effort.

‘We’re all paradoxes. We’re highly adaptable as a species, but we do suffer from intransigence. Our habits can mean it is often difficult to move quickly, easily and lightly,’ says Dominic Atkinson, CEO of social enterprise career coaching platform Stay Nimble.

Don’t fear change

Change is inevitable. ‘Somewhere between 60% and 80% of people have experienced an unplanned event that significantly influenced their life. People are often completely surprised that, despite all their hard work at being a model employee, there are often events, whether global health crises or company closures, that disrupt their plans,’ says Atkinson.

And despite being acutely aware that change is a part of life, and even though being highly adaptable is a distinct human advantage, we still like to leave things to the last minute.

To combat this and be ready for unexpected change, Atkinson recommends preparing as if for a race without a date – you accept the need to ‘train’ regularly to be race-ready whenever the date is announced.

This requires putting in a small amount of effort each week or month – for example, writing down achievements and what you’re proud of. This will also help you understand any skills gaps and new ones you need to acquire.

Get race day ready

When race day is announced, often suddenly, start training with more intensity.

‘Your training has given you loads of great reference points to guide you through the change. Examples of what you’ve achieved, new skills you’ve developed, a deep understanding of your personal values. All of which give you a focused approach to tackling the next chapter in your story,’ says Atkinson.

‘Your regular training gives you a foundation to respond to change more quickly and with less pain than not training at all. It’s how you can stay nimble; you’re able to move quickly, easily and lightly.’

So rather than waiting for changes to occur, staying nimble is about testing your abilities against the different possible directions you might head.

‘You end up with a series of scenarios by considering different things that might happen in life and how you will respond to unexpected events. And don’t forget to think about the positive things that may occur,’ says Atkinson.

‘If you are able to support yourself by taking some of these actions, the more likely it is that you will be happier and able to adapt with confidence.’

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A new dawn

The pandemic has caused people to reflect on and re-evaluate their lives, with many realising they want to make a change and to redirect their paths towards goals that really matter to them.

‘According to Prudential’s recent worker survey, one in four workers are preparing to look for opportunities with a new employer once Covid-19 has passed. And more than 40% of people who responded to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, a global survey of over 30,000 people in 31 countries, said they are considering leaving their employer this year,’ says Atkinson.

In the past, people who danced between companies, staying for only short periods, would likely have been perceived as incapable of loyalty and commitment, as not knowing what they want from their careers.

‘But this is changing,’ says Atkinson. ‘Companies are beginning to truly value people with varied life experiences for what they really are – people who are brave and able to take risks, as well as being committed and responsible.’

In a long war for talent with no end in sight, employers are far more concerned with a person’s experience meeting a role’s requirements.

‘They care about whether they will be a good fit for the team. They think about how much training someone will need. They’re looking to see if there are advanced skills that someone will bring with them. Employers are thinking about how quickly someone will be able to work without supervision.

‘They’re hoping to see traits of people that will work hard, collaborate with others and bring creative solutions to the team. They do care about whether people are keeping up-to-date with changes and updates in their industry.

‘They aren’t too concerned about where and how people are achieving these things. Don’t be concerned about being seen as “flighty”. Be more concerned about why you are applying to work for this particular company and whether you will be able to thrive in the work available there,’ says Atkinson.

The ‘gigging’ option

A gig economy or portfolio style way of working, in which people effectively work on a freelance basis taking on tasks or projects for clients, is an increasingly normal way of working, which for those with the right personality can lead to a lifestyle of their own making.

‘Staying open to possibilities is incredibly valuable, but knowing yourself is probably even more valuable. Work is being organised in so many different ways now that it is possible to design a life that works for you. For some people, this will mean thriving in the uncertainty and pressure of juggling a series of roles in a portfolio approach to work. While many can thrive in this approach to life, it isn’t for everyone,’ says Atkinson.

‘The most important thing is to keep understanding yourself and how you are changing. From this, you can build scenarios and try some of them out. Don’t just plan. Take action, try things out, meet new people, keep reflecting and writing (literally) your story as it unfolds. It will give you the foundations to respond to change with a little more speed and ease.’

Stay Nimble

Stay Nimble has helped thousands of people find rewarding careers, often while dealing with unexpected and unwanted change, such as redundancy, new caring needs, pandemics, or other significant life changes that cause people to re-evaluate how they want to spend their time and what they want to experience in life.

A key Stay Nimble tip for handling unexpected change is not to do it alone.

‘Broadly speaking, many of us aren’t well equipped to do this solo. Having someone in your corner, a “qualified friend”, who can objectively guide and challenge you leads to better and quicker outcomes. Seeking out and accepting support can be tough, but tough situations often require tough responses,’ says Atkinson.

Author: Neil Johnson, journalist

This article was first published in Student Accountant in October 2021

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