Recovering From A Major Setback

Hurricane Michael Aftermath
If you’ve never experienced a Category 4 hurricane, I urge you emphatically – don’t do it. Do whatever it takes to pack up your valuables and get out of town. Hurricane Michael caused a setback of enormous proportions for the Panhandle of Florida.

The Shock of Setback

After the harrowing experience of riding out Hurricane Michael in the safest small space we could find in our house, we ventured outside to survey the wreckage. Ours was relatively minor – nine majestic oaks down, barn blown down, debris everywhere. Initially, everyone who felt the wrath of the destructive storm was in shock. We all checked on neighbors and realized cellular communication for the area’s major carrier was completely knocked out.  With no electricity or phone service, it was days before we could reach friends and family and get news of the utter devastation left behind by the storm.

Functioning Through Grief

As the days have turned into weeks, we feel the deep loss of everything familiar in our lives. We’ve dealt with the reality of grief-level functioning. Some of the hallmarks of grief-level functioning include less clarity in our thinking, slower response time in decision-making and in the everyday tasks of life; and fatigue that sets in and may stay awhile. Grief-level functioning is a lower level of our ability to operate as ourselves in everyday life. Yeah, that explains a lot.

Many days later when power was restored, my adrenaline kicked in and I set to work in the massive relief efforts taking place. Before the national crisis response teams got here, it was a bunch of locals inexperienced with disasters but with a heart to help. It didn’t take long for me to become overwhelmed with the pressing needs of almost everyone I was in contact with. A local mental health counselor suggested we need to realize recovery is going to be a marathon – not a sprint. And we need to run like we can finish it. Which means pacing ourselves.

The Parallel Between the Stages of Grief and the Process of Navigating Change

I chuckled last week when my calendar reminder chimed telling me I should be preparing for the next day’s workshop on Navigating Change. There would be no workshop since the business was not operable and the building location damaged. But it reminded me that the process of navigating change has parallels to the moving through stages of grief.  Most of us are familiar with the five stages of grief and not merely from an intellectual perspective.  If you’ve ever lost a loved one or gone through crushing disappointment, you know the roller coaster ride that is part of the journey to healing and restoration.

It’s interesting that most of what is published about navigating change refers to the kind of change that is personally initiated; like breaking bad habits or battling addiction. Dealing with the storms of life, the unexpected challenges over which you have no control, is another matter.

Agility and resilience are leadership qualities in high demand in every sector of our society. Typically, the hardest circumstances refine us the most. Seasons change, relationships break, business models become outdated, jobs end, responsibilities shift. Learning to keep your balance through it all is a key to success.

The Five Stages of Adapting to Change

Learning the process of navigating change with grace includes recognizing the five stages. These five stages are: Denial, Anger, Deliberation, Action and Acceptance.

Denial – The denial syndrome is most sharply defined in how people react to disaster. On board the Titanic, hundreds of guests danced and demanded first-class service while the ship went down. I’ve  heard stories from people who began the day of October 10th thinking that they were going to have a hurricane party – just as they had done through many storms in the past. Any spirit of celebration and fun dissipated as soon as the reality of sustained winds of 155 mph arrived and shook everything in our world. Roofs were lifted off and windows shattered as Hurricane Michael raged. This was not like any hurricane any of us had experienced before.

In the moment following a catastrophe, something happens in our brains that affects the way we think. We behave differently, often irrationally. Consider those who had the terrible misfortune to be in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, who dithered at their desks, calling relatives, turning off computers, and pondering which mementos to rescue from their desks as the inferno raged.

All of these are illustrations of the first response to change–denial. It is one of the greatest obstacles to effective action.

Anger–The second stage of responding to change is one in which emotions reign. Anger can be manifested through accusation, frustration, and blame. Though none of these are productive, it’s important to recognize the need to vent emotion. Sometimes the anger directed at oneself is the most dangerous of all. You can beat yourself up to the point you lose your self-confidence. If you don’t recognize anger as one of the stages of adapting to change, there’s the risk of a downward spiral through regret to despondency. Not a good place to set up camp.

Deliberation–The third stage is the place of decision-making. Weighing options, strategizing, and making a plan–even if it doesn’t seem like the best plan–spells progress. Stress causes tunnel-vision, so learning to consider all available choices is a valuable skill. There are always choices. The most basic of all is the choice between hope and fear.

Strong leaders are credited with the ability to make quick decisions under pressure. With repeated opportunities to think on our feet, we learn to respond with confidence.

Action–This stage finds you moving. Overwhelmed people become paralyzed and fail to take action. Motivation to get going come in the fourth stage of navigating change. Mistakes will be made, but  in the words of General George Patton, “a good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.

A word of caution is due here. Hanging onto the old while moving into the new is not uncommon but highly ineffective. Imagine if you try to keep one foot on the ground and one foot on a train that’s preparing to leave the station. You must choose–are you staying or going? If it starts moving while you’re undecided, you’re going to suffer some serious pain. At this stage, you may not be happy about what’s happening, but acceptance is not far off once you’re in motion.

Acceptance–The fifth stage positions you in a place of strength. Acceptance opens your mind to new possibilities as you once again find hope, restore vision, and see possibilities.  You are able to make necessary course adjustments as you go.

It’s important to recognize that progress isn’t likely to be sequential. Sometimes, you’ll take one step forward and then get knocked back two. It’s vital to team with people who believe in the promise of a brighter future to help you keep your perspective. Leaders are dealers in hope.  It’s comforting to know that most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.  Major setbacks can be the launch pad to incredible comebacks. Panama City and the Panhandle of Florida can use your prayers and practical assistance as we find our way to restoration.

NOTE: As a way to support those working on a comeback, I have organized a FREE closed Facebook Coaching Group called Win from Within. This is a private group offering networking and support for businesswomen who are navigating extreme change. I am inspired to offer encouragement and practical resources for recovering from a major setback to those in Panama City and Florida’s Panhandle in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. The group is open to others staging a comeback from whatever circumstances life has thrown them.  And it’s free. Email if you would like to be part of this.

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