How to Get Better at Riding the Chaos Wave

Change isn’t going away so let’s get good at dealing with it.


Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

The era of the job for life ended before my generation joined the workforce. Most of us know that our employment situation could change with little warning. Maybe it was the recent layoffs at Buzzfeed and Huffington Post, or the government shutdown in the U.S., but I’ve been thinking about how the average person can get better at dealing with change.

I don’t pretend to have the definitive answer to how to do this. I DO have an approach. I call it riding the chaos wave. There have been long stretches of my professional life where my role, my boss, and my entire company structure has changed every few months. This is how I surf the wave.

Learn Fast

My goal in any new role is to start functioning nearly autonomously by the end of the first week. Some people drink and know things–I talk to people, read, and write stuff down. This is how I learn.

You may learn a different way. Figure out what works for you. Learning how you learn can make change less scary. You may not know everything now, but you will have confidence in your ability to succeed in your new situation.


Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash

Don’t Take the Drama Personally

Everyone around you is anxious. It has nothing to do with you. It will look personal because people will question your decisions. They may even act resentful or cold.

For me, it helps to pretend that I’m wearing my ‘newbie’ hat and that people are reacting to it, not me. Remember that the person who keeps a cool head the longest, wins.

Do Take Time to Grieve

Most job changes and restructurings mean losing things and people you like. Give yourself time to process your feelings. Think of your grief as a forest fire–it’s better to hold a controlled burn.

I am not a therapist or a mental health expert. I do know that going for a run helps me process many things. Find what works for you.


Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

Make New Connections

This one can be hard if you’re grieving. Or perhaps your company has gone through so many changes that you’re burned out on change. You may also have some survivor guilt if you kept your job when others didn’t.

Make connections anyway. I have never, in the history of ever, learned how to excel in a job by reading the company manual and doing exactly what I was told. In my experience you get the real scoop from the people around you. Even if everyone else thinks they’re clueless, you can start to get a sense of the bigger picture by putting together the little bits everyone knows.

Change is Like Coffee

It’s an acquired taste. I don’t like losing coworkers. I do like learning new things, and pursuing new challenges. If you can’t stop change, then it makes sense to try to find something to enjoy about it along the way, even if you have to do the metaphorical equivalent of dumping a metric ton of cream and sugar into your change cup before you choke it down. Do this often enough, and change may not taste so bitter.


Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Change is Also a Chaos Wave

It can come at you from any direction, and if you stand still it will crash into you. I believe that each one of us can learn the skills to ride the wave instead. This is my approach to riding the wave. Do you have a similar or different approach for dealing with change? I’d love to hear about it.