Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Creating a meaningful work and life balance – 8: when the unplanned forces decisions and change

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on May 7, 2011

We can and do plan for the future but sometimes events intervene and force us to reconsider, and to develop even a sudden Plan B. I was working at The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as their webmaster on September 11, 2001 – I was driving to work with my radio on to get a weather update and hear the news when I first heard word of that first plane hitting the World Trade Center. The Society had an updated strategic plan laid out going several years forward with at least general goals and directions for the more distant quarters. All of this evaporated as that first plane hit and the world that nonprofits operated in changed for the entire nonprofit sector. Nonprofits bring in revenue towards meeting their missions and visions, and for maintaining their organizations in doing so from donor discretionary income and their revenue streams all dramatically shifted course towards addressing this sudden unfolding tragedy. For most nonprofits, their revenue dried up by a collective several to many billions of dollars.

What holds here for businesses and organizations also holds and certainly as general principle in our individual lives as well. Sudden events and unexpected changes can and sometimes do happen and our carefully laid out plans can suddenly need revision or even replacement. This is my eighth installment in a series on creating a meaningful work/life balance and so far I have focused on planning and on following through on it. This posting is all about the unexpected, and in this, the unexpected can be open ended as to its details.

• What would you do if you or your spouse or one of your children were seriously injured or received a serious medical diagnosis? This is not a question about insurance coverage or other short-term and immediate response. This is a longer-term question of work/life balance and of how you would address your plans and say goodbye to them if needed, to replace them with new ones that would help you as you move forward.
• What would you do if you or your spouse were suddenly and unexpectedly laid off or downsized? When Northern Japan was hit with earthquake and tsunami recently and with devastation both directly from them and from damage to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, production and distribution of automobile parts was disrupted, and both for the immediate period and for the foreseeable future and assembly plants in several continents and many countries were affected with layoffs and shut-downs. The economies for some of these countries are still recovering from the recent Great Recession and some of these jobs may never return. This was and is not, of course, simply limited to affecting the automotive sector.
• The list of possible scenarios here, as I said above is essentially open-ended and it is of the nature of this topic that an event that does happen is probably one that at least in detail was not anticipated.

It is important to plan and to prepare but at the same time it is vitally important to retain a measure of flexibility in this, and openness to the possibility of change. Plan for the quality of life work/life balance you see as best for you and your family but always keep the possibility of needing a Plan B available. This certainly applies for your financial investments where markets can be depressed and value lost; don’t just invest assuming the markets will always stay high and go higher. Plan for change so as to be as prepared for it as you can be, and with allowance for at least some unexpected in where change can happen in that too.

This means planning with a cushion – if your financial projections would require that you work until you are 65 but you get laid-off at 62, know the consequences and plan for them, and be prepared to revise your plans. If you find yourself with an unexpected and unplanned for late arriving child with the expenses that brings review and revise your plans again. Be ready to develop a percentage of resources above your plan’s basic needs so if circumstances change, your plans are not going to be instantly disrupted. Plan as if that extra percentage cushion were necessary in case it becomes so.

As a final thought here in this posting, we do invest in and put our hopes in our long term work/life balance plans and when something happens to force a significant change we do mourn what we have lost. Accept that, understand what this means and think and talk this through with your family so you can move on. What I write of here is not easy, but it is important to remember that anyone can be laid-off or downsized and for reasons that have nothing to do with them or how valuable or effective their work contribution was. Anyone can be stricken by the unexpected and then have to pick up the pieces and move on. And if I end this with anything else it is the simple observation from my own experience and from that of my colleagues that it is possible to move on. Where life continues, plans can be remade and you can move on and with a still ongoing goal of developing and maintaining a quality of life. This may not always be simple or follow a straight path but it does work.

You can find the first seven installments to this series in my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development as postings 150-156, along with a variety of other single postings and series on jobs and careers.

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