You know that feeling when you dive into deep water and there’s an invisible but unmistakable line where you pass from warmth into significantly cooler water? In one instant, I passed through one level where I was managing one of AOL’s call centers, an operation of 250 people, seven days a week, to a completely different experience as the head of corporate training.
I thought I was gearing down to have children, become a stay-at-home mom, and stay in a functional, though not joyful, marriage. We even bought a five-bedroom house in the suburbs. And I had a new minivan to go with it.
They say that the one thing that’s constant is change. During my three and a half year stint as corporate training manager for AOL in the late 1990s, the company mushroomed from 1,200 employees to 12,000. Revenues went from id="mce_marker"00 million to $2 billion. We grew from a small, domestic company sharing an office building to a multinational organization with over 12 major locations throughout the world.
This was the height of what I called AOL adrenaline. It was exciting. It was explosive. And, it was a daily challenge. I wanted to be a part of this amazing experience so I was determined to learn how to thrive on shift and change for my career. Here are three strategies I found worked that anyone can use.
Expect Some Initial Discomfort
Not only did I experience environmental culture shock all alone in my quiet training office, I had to create my new job from scratch. Fortunately, nearly all of my previous positions required some level of invention. Still, I’d never built a training program for an entire company. My ability to perform would be seen by nearly every employee.
Shift and change. It comes with the territory. “The first task of transition management is to leave home,” says author William Bridges. Your own personal transition management challenge is to convince yourself to leave home, whether “home” is a department at work, old personal habits, or a home life that has become toxic.
You will feel uncomfortable for a time. Old weaknesses and insecurities that you managed to efficiently camouflage in the old systems suddenly make themselves obvious. The stress of change can lower your immune system and cause you to catch the flu, a cold, or a case of hives. You may temporarily feel like a mess. Do you best to take care of yourself and keep going.
Lead with Your Value
Trust that you can be resourceful. As you research options, look beneath the surface. The alchemy of your passions, combined with external needs, may create an opportunity for you that hadn’t existed before.
When I started looking around AOL for alternatives to my 10- or 12-hour days in the call center, I didn’t know the HR vice-president was considering including a Corporate Training Manager on his team. I just believed I could make a difference and had what it took to do it. The vice-president saw that. He recognized my package of skills, dedication, and experiences, and knew he could leverage them in a way that would benefit the entire company. So he offered me the job.
Create Change in Half Steps
At AOL, we were creating change in giant strides, but in my personal life, I discovered the best way to change was in manageable half steps. Half steps help you test whether the change process is giving you desired results. When we lose weight gradually, we stand a better chance of keeping it off. When we give ourselves half-step goals, we can stop, acknowledge our progress, congratulate ourselves for any improvement, and then step up to the next level.
I could have decided to leave AOL entirely in hopes of saving a marriage that already was strained and not getting better with my current efforts. And I considered it. The half step of finding another position within the company as head of corporate training allowed me to still be part of this adventure while reserving my time and energy to nurture my marriage.
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