Managing "Futurephobia" and Gaining Control of Your Organization

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Joanne Dustin

What is it that makes some people cringe when asked, "What are you planning to do in the future?" The reason seems to be that many people are not planning that far ahead. They say that the future is too unpredictable, that they are having enough trouble just figuring out what to do next – or even now.

It is difficult to plan for the future when we have no idea what the future may bring. After all, haven’t we all seen unanticipated changes in recent years – restructuring, downsizing, even total business failures? We are concerned and worried about this economic uncertainty. So many feel this way that it appears we may be experiencing a new epidemic – Futurephobia - a widespread fear of what the future may bring.

While there is no simple cure for Futurephobia, there is hope. Let’s step back for a moment and consider the words of some of this year’s commencement speakers. These words are not only appropriate for those just beginning their careers that can apply to leaders in these current circumstances… in fact, they are applicable to all of us.

Oprah Winfrey, at the Spelman College commencement 2012, said: "You want to be in the driver's seat of your own life because if you're not, life will drive you."

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, in her Facebook Harvard Business School Class Day speech said: "As you start your post-HBS career, look for opportunities, look for growth, look for impact, look for mission. Move sideways, move down, move on, move off. Build your skills, not your resume. Evaluate what you can do, not the title they're going to give you. Do real work. Take a sales quota, a line role, an ops job. Don't plan too much, and don't expect a direct climb. If I had mapped out my career when I was sitting where you are, I would have missed my career."

Jane Lynch, at the Smith College commencement, 2012, said:"My counsel to you, women of Smith College? Let life surprise you. Don’t have a plan. Plans are for wusses. If my life went according to my plan, I would never ever have the life I have today."

Inspired by the words of these speakers, here’s how you can manage Futurephobia and gain control of your life and career.

  1. Don’t just sit still, waiting for something to happen. Be proactive in finding opportunities. If you don’t like the job you have, think about what you can do to change or refocus it into one you will love. If you can’t find any ways in which you can make it a better fit, maybe there is another job within your organization that will be the right fit for you.
  2. Be open to different possibilities and be willing to take chances. Rigid long-term plans are often ineffective because the world is changing so quickly. Flexible, short-term plans can be useful in evaluating possibilities and determining next steps.
  3. Engage in relationship networking – use your relationships to identify possibilities and to find opportunities. Meet in person with those you consider to be your trusted advisors and ask for their ideas and suggestions. In doing so, you may find that you can also help them.
  4. Understand what success really means to you. This is critical because if you don’t know what it means, how will you know when you’re successful?
  5. Discover your purpose (if you don’t already know what it is), and understand how the work you’re doing expresses your purpose. If you find that it doesn’t, it may be time for a change.

Futurephobia may be easily avoided (or cured) by thinking, reflecting and then just doing it! Are you ready to try?