Planning for the Unexpected

As a project manager by trade, I always advocate drafting out a good plan to reach new goals. Setting objectives, analyzing scenarios, and executing tasks will make it easier for you to get to that final destination. When the going gets tough, you can oftentimes go back to your plan, evaluate how to fix any roadblocks, and then move forward.

Of course, life doesn’t always follow a script, which is why it’s important to plan for the unexpected. That sounds impossible. How can you plan for something which you cannot anticipate? The truth is, you can’t plan the details, but you put yourself into a certain mindset that will help you succeed.

My friend Evan* had this mindset. Evan is not from the United States, but he wanted to work here full-time (and perhaps become a citizen). He thought he had everything planned out when his first postgraduate job promised a green card in two years. But when the economy tanked in 2008, so did his company, and they let him go. He spent almost a year finding new work: networking, filling out job applications, and learning new skills to make himself more marketable. He almost ran out of money and had to return to his home country, but he decided if he did that, he would save up again and return Stateside in a year or two. Fortunately, he found work at the eleventh hour, got his green card, and now he’s even engaged to an American woman.

If Evan’s story sounds straightforward, it isn’t. I watched Evan struggle throughout that year looking for work. American citizens were having a hard time landing decent jobs after the recession hit. What odds did he have of finding a job, especially without a green card? But instead of succumbing to the glum outlook of his situation and returning home, Evan pushed through and managed to find meaningful work in the States. Without having that “I can do it” mindset to push through the unexpected, he would have given up long before his money ran out.

So how can you plan for the unexpected? A few things I’ve found useful over the years:

1. Keep positive. Just because you believe something will happen doesn’t magically make it happen. On the flip side, if you tell yourself you can’t do something, there is zero percent chance it will happen. Keeping a positive attitude will help you weather unexpected hurdles and obstacles. If you are not naturally good at being positive in the face of adversity, find others who are. Their positive attitude and/or their belief in you will help push through the hard times.

2. Know your priorities. If you are truly determined to reach a goal, it should take precedence over others. New entrepreneurs struggle with financial stability over bringing their product to market. The key to jumping the hurdle is having faith in the product over a dwindling bank account. If you find other priorities getting in the way of your goal, you may need to reassess if the goal is really right for you.

3. Favor the long haul over the short-term. If you know what goal you’ll want to reach, you’ll find the means to get there, even if prospects aren’t good in the short term. Evan was determined to stay in the United States. Even if he hadn’t found that job in 2009, he had plans to return to try again. If you aren’t determined to meet your goal, then in the face of uncertainty, you may waver and fail.

4. Keep up with current events. If you are forced to take a break from your goals, put aside some time to stay current so you can jump back in the game later. One of my friends got laid off from a sports marketing job he loved and had to work retail for several years. He kept his skills current through networking, reading, and job searching and finally landed a new position several years later. He’s now a director in the company he works for, due largely in part that he didn’t just “take a break” from his old career.

5. Take time to recover from a crisis. Sometimes tragic events happen. The death of a good friend or family member, for example, may justifiably warrant our time and energy. As much as possible, don’t feel bad about taking time off to recover from a personal crisis. Just like your physical health, your emotional health is worth carving out time for. Ignoring emotional turmoil could result in further disaster, compounding the problem and making it harder to reach your goals.

All plans, even the best ones, will change once paper meets reality. So don’t despair if everything isn’t going to plan. Instead, go with the flow, and find new solutions to unexpected problems by having the right mindset.

Do you have any suggestions for planning for the unexpected?

*Name changed for the sake of anonymity.

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