As part of this blog, I’m publishing the transcripts from my podcast. I hope you find them a useful adjunct to the show. Please listen, leave comments, and rate it on iTunes, Spotify, Google, or wherever you found it!
Guest: Diane Grimard Wilson, LCPC
Read what Diane writes about pivoting in your work life during these challenging times.
Diane talks about Dearborn Denim as an example of a company that made a major pivot due to the coronavirus, and found success.
Link to the show: Episode 12
Saul: Across the world, pandemic-related restrictions are starting to lift. That means plenty of people are going back to work, but work has changed, perhaps forever. Many jobs have disappeared, and people are finding themselves suddenly unemployed. Other jobs may have unexpectedly different expectations. Before this spring, few people thought that grocery jobs would be in the front line of a pandemic. With all of the changes, it isn’t surprising that more people are reporting significant anxiety related to work, both about the safety of their jobs and about whether their jobs will continue to exist. Many of my clients are talking more about their work anxieties. They’re afraid to go into work but also afraid they’ll get fired if they complain or don’t go in. Others are suddenly finding that their jobs no longer exist. I’m Dr. Saul Rosenthal, and this is Life in the Time of Corona.
Welcome to episode 12 of this podcast. Today, we’re talking with Diane Wilson, a licensed clinical professional counselor, career counselor, and executive coach. She has recently written about career pivoting during the time of the coronavirus, and I was curious to hear what she has to say as more and more people return to a very different and quickly changing workforce. Diane specializes in using neuroscience to help her clients achieve peak performance. She is frequently interviewed for print, television, and radio about optimizing our careers and making the most out of work transitions. She’s also the author of Back in Control: How to Stay Sane, Productive, and Inspired in Your Career Transition. Diane, welcome to Life in the Time of Corona.
Diane: Thank you, happy to be here.
Saul: Really glad to have you as well. One of the questions I’m always asking people who come on is, “What are some of the biggest changes that you’ve been making these past few months in response to the pandemic?”
Diane: In response to the pandemic in the last few months, I think the biggest concern that I have and my clients share is just safety, first off, safety, like how can they be safe at work. Most of the people I am working with in my coaching practice are working from home, rarely go in, and I think I see there is a slow movement and not an eagerness to go back into the work setting, so I think many of us have become acclimated at home and have a certain amount of fear that’s just kind of keeping us close to home.
Saul: Yeah, I’ve noticed that with my clients as well, and even to some extent myself, just not really wanting to go back in. It doesn’t quite feel safe yet.
Saul: Now you had recently written about pivoting, and that’s making a sudden change in direction, usually in response to changing circumstances. Now modern times have never really seen circumstances like these, so in the time of Corona, in this time of pandemic, what does pivoting mean?
Diane: Pivoting means taking a different perspective, changing your movement on where you’re going. In many of us, the movement has been stopped by the pandemic. Jobs have been lost or hours have been cut, so the whole employment situation looks different, and for some people that will be a panic, especially people that are cognitively rigid, people that can usually only see things more in terms of the black or white. We like things that are more reliable and predictive, and all this has been thrown up in the air, and so there’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of between, so the pivot means finding something else that suits us. And if our framework is rigid, then we can’t usually see past that.
I know as a career coach I often would see people that would say, “I’m a human resources person. I’ve always been a human resources person. I don’t know what I’ll do without my job,” and so I think the invitation is exciting and life-changing but usually not at first, so my advice for listeners is that if things around you are changing, you know, just recognize that you’re not alone in this and that for some of us it will be easier than others, but, you know, we’ll get through it, and a lot of it has to do with our perspectives and being able to find advantage in the situation.
I’m not saying it’s easy because losing your job, especially if you have family, children, expenses, that’s very challenging, but I do think that often good things can come from it, and it has to do with how we approach it. Certainly, it’s important to spend time dealing with the anxiety and the fear, the anger that can be part of this situation, but also I mean acknowledging mindfully our fears and concerns are real rather than trying to press them down and ignore them. So leaving room for feelings, and then also knowing that the task is to stay cognitively flexible, to try to take the situation and look at it differently to take really good care of ourselves so that we can be the kind of person that’s going to see opportunity where we didn’t see it before.
My favorite story about this is the Chicago denim company who made denim jeans, the kind that every pair feels great on you. That’s what they are known for, and then when the pandemic hit in March, their business was gone, you know, especially the retail where it was completely closed, and in turn, they started to produce masks, a need, a sorely felt need, and made masks for their friends, the community, hospitals, and made a huge business, if we can call it that, certainly commerce around making masks, and I just think that’s how we need to think, look for the opportunity, look for where we can help and where our skills can help.
Saul: So that’s a company that probably had never thought about making PPE and yet was able to be cognitively flexible enough to make that shift, that pivot.
Saul: Now one of the things I think is really interesting about that idea is responding to circumstances. In the U.S., at least, we’re often told to, you know, “follow our dreams,” when it comes to career and things like that, but it sort of seems like there’s a disparity or a conflict between this idea of following our dreams versus responding to the circumstances. How do you reconcile those sorts of things when you’re working with your clients?
Diane: It’s a really good question, so the question being, “How can I follow my dreams when I’m worried about feeding my family, so the realities of the situation don’t allow me to necessarily follow my dreams,” and it puts us into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that maybe some things come before our highest dreams, the safety being a key one and survival, eating, and those things. But also I think the pivot there is to find meaning in being and doing the next right thing along the continuum of our needs so you can live your dream if you find that meaning in it. Some people never find meaning in their work no matter what they do. It’s a very curious thing. It’s sort of like never being able to let yourself love someone, never being able to love your work, but that’s a much longer discussion, but I think that we can find meaning in some of the things that we need to do and that we can do in the short term.
And related to that, I think that again just trying to keep ourselves loose, you know, meditate, walk every day. You have to walk every day. It’s good for your brain, it’s good for your body, but we need to be able to be flexible. Physical flexibility helps mental flexibility. Put your walking shoes on and go walk. But I’m trying to do that, so now I’m an evangelist on that, but it makes such a huge difference. All my clients walk. But related to that, I think that that keeps us flexible and to find where we can make a contribution. It may not be something that we even thought of, like making masks is probably the farthest thing from the Chicago denim owner’s mind. You know, I think a lot of us feel like our calling is so internal that it has to be something inside of us, but maybe your calling is on the outside. Maybe it’s someone needing something that you have, and if you let yourself, that could be something that you truly enjoy. I have a personal example around that.
Saul: Yeah, I’d love to hear what your own pivot story is.
Diane: My own pivot story had to do with – I’m writing this book about an accident I had and an injury and this path that led me into applied neuroscience, and I found in getting close to the end of having this book ready and to look for a publisher that my field, of course, wasn’t that well known, and so I went to a publishing conference, and they said, “You need to do social media,” and it was like, “Oh, my gosh, that’s for those kind of people, not me. That’s not something I could do very much of.” And so I got some good training from excellent people and love it. And now I see. It’s like my field needs help, you know? Scientists don’t usually do social media, and so I love it. It’s exciting. So looking past what maybe we need and what people or things around us need, we can find some matching up of things of things that give us purpose and that contribution.
Saul: And I really love this idea that you’ve been talking about, the idea that when pivoting, it’s not just about what you do, it’s also about how you think and how you feel, so it’s not just a behavioral pivot or a career pivot. It’s also a perspective or perception pivot when you talk about responding to the needs that you see around you, so shifting, for example, from making denim jeans to making masks but then also finding meaning in that career pivot, so it’s not just what they did, it’s also now how they’re feeling and how they’re thinking about it.
Diane: Absolutely, absolutely. I think there can be a freedom with employment insecurity. I have an executive who was let go. Her company downsized massively, and this person is going to try teaching, and the truth is I think that it’s someone who wanted to do this decades ago and would’ve never done it without the push, so it’s exciting. So to take that lens of excitement, you know, of course there’s fear, so breathe in your fear if you can, just look it in the eye, so to speak, and breathe out this sense of pure excitement. I mean you’re shaping your life. You could do something massively different.
The reason I’m telling this is I would wish for people to have an openness about who they are and who they want to be and just to take the risk, the intuitive risk, of looking into something or moving ahead on something that they may not have considered. I think getting close to your own intuition and walking through that can really bring you to a much better place.
Saul: Yeah, I really like the way you’re integrating different aspects of what it means to pivot, and it may be partly responding to circumstances, responding to the needs you perceive, may then lead to more internal pivoting as well as external pivoting, but also pivoting may involve going back to dreams or ideas that you may have left on the road somewhere.
Diane: So let me ask you the same question then.
Diane: How has the coronavirus affected your pivoting?
Saul: Yeah, sure. So, well, this podcast is a result of me pivoting due to the coronavirus. I had been thinking about starting a podcast to talk about some of the topics that I’m interested in around working with my clients but also more generally just about the factors that come together to make our human existence, and so I may have had you on to talk about pivoting or I may have had some of my other guests on to talk about their areas of expertise but more generally. And then the pandemic hit, and it just really focused my ideas, and so I came up very quickly with the title, “Life in the Time of Corona,” and started asking people to bring their expertise in and put it to work with the focus of the coronavirus and the pandemic and how we’re all responding to it, so that’s my own, I guess, personal pivot story.
Diane: Mm-hmm. And didn’t you tell me once that you had done radio?
Saul: Yeah, a million years ago when I was still an undergraduate. I think that was long before digital. We used to cut tape with razor blades, so that’s how old I am. But yeah, so I was always really interested in the technical aspects as well as the, I guess, in-front-of-the-mic aspects. And in my own career, I trained as a teacher and really was nervous in front of classes and in front of crowds or groups and worked very hard to become a little bit more comfortable with it, so I guess those are ways that different threads of my own professional development, if you will, have kind of come together in interesting and not entirely predictable ways.
One of the things you had talked about was also the challenge of cognitive rigidity, and I really want to hear a little bit more about that, primarily because so many people seem to have it, but also because right now, there’s so much stress, and stress just exacerbates any cognitive rigidity that’s already there. What do you say to your clients? How do you help them move through that rigidity to become a little bit more flexible, which it sounds like it’s a necessary characteristic of successful pivoting?
Diane: Yes, well said. I always tell my clients, it’s good they are there, so if you need a therapist like you or me, then get one because I think talking through it, acknowledging it, shining the light on it, is really the first step in getting past it. It becomes different by talking about it, especially with the right people. Our jobs usually keep us just focused on talking with certain people, and we lose track of the broader network, family, and friends that we would really like to be in touch with if we had more time. If you’re between jobs, this is more time, and really to just encourage yourself to move out of the pattern of a more limited circle and reach out to other people so that anxiety is dissipated by acknowledging it, reaching out to others, and talking about it.
Saul: As we begin to wrap up, there are some “one-thing questions” I’d like to ask, so what is one thing people should take away from our discussion?
Diane: It’s an Einstein quote. It has to do with how the problem isn’t solved in the frame in which it was created, and so it’s not that employment was a situation that we created, but we have to shift our frame and work at that shift to solve it. Simply waking up every morning and doing the same thing and thinking about it in the same way, that’ll be hard, and so the pivot then involves doing different things.
Saul: Back to that flexibility?
Diane: Yes, and so it could be that you start to get up on a different side of the bed, really, and that you drink a glass of water before you have your coffee and that you take a walk before you eat breakfast or – well, I’m sounding kind of naggy about this walking thing, aren’t I? I am. But, you know, the small things that remind us of doing something different can make a huge difference. Drink out of a different cup. All those things that just remind you that neurologically and psychologically and physically, you’re looking for something different. And transition is a very creative phase. It’s creating our lives.
Saul: So making any kind of change, even if it’s as seemingly small as drinking out of a different cup can really help improve flexibility, which in turn makes it more likely that a pivot will be successful?
Diane: Yes. It’s like you’re reminding yourself, “I’m in process. I’m doing things differently.” Major changes involve a lot of different things, but the reminders help us keep the faith. As a career coach, mostly what I do is help people see the stones that they’re walking on. Or they’re like beads on a string. It’s like, “Oh, you did this and this and this,” and then they can see the changes. So if we can see our changes, we’ll do more of them.
Saul: And what is one thing you’re doing to take care of yourself, and walking doesn’t count?
Diane: Oh, no. I am doing a lot of neuofeedback training. I love it. It makes a huge difference. My attention and focus is, you know, different. It’s better. I’m a work in progress.
Saul: And finally, what is one thing that you think the coronavirus experience has changed forever?
Diane: Let’s see, hmm. I want to say working from home, but also I think that there is a collaboration in society. I think there’s more people listening to each other. It’s a very hard time, but you see more people listening across countries, and I see that a lot on Twitter. The communities that develop are awesome. It’s amazing.
Saul: This is a time of crisis, but crises can provide an invitation to make some real and meaningful change.
Saul: So we need to figure out how to manage our anxiety, how to work with our own challenges like cognitive inflexibility, and to really try to find the opportunities.
This is Life in the Time of Corona. You can subscribe to the show at iTunes or wherever you get podcasts. Please rate the show and leave comments. Find out more at my website, saulrosenthalphd.com, and follow me on Twitter and Instagram at DrSaulRosenthal.
Diane Wilson is an executive coach and career counselor who specializes in applying principles of neuroscience to help optimize job performance and professional development. She works with executives, physicians, and others who are struggling with job-related stress, something I think we’re all dealing with right now. She’s also author of Back in Control: How to Stay Sane, Productive, and Inspired in Your Career Transition and a hopefully soon-to-come-out memoir about her experiences with traumatic brain injury. Recently, she’s also been writing about how to get and keep your career on track during the coronavirus pandemic. Diane, where can people get more information?
Diane: My website, grimardwilson.com.
Saul: Great, and I’ll also put a link to the website in the show notes. So thank you so much for joining us.
Diane: My pleasure.
Saul: And thank you, listeners. I look forward to continuing the conversation on Life in the Time of Corona.
Saul Rosenthal, PhD August 3rd, 2020