Challenge: Just Another Word For Opportunity

My client was a junior associate at a big deal NYC law firm.  She was working like a dog-60, 70, 80 plus hours a week.  Sure, she was making good money, learning lots and surrounded by smart, challenging people, but she was miserable. No balance, no personal life, no light and not much of a sense that the relentless pace would ever end. 

Then it happened-she got called into the hiring partners office.  She had heard that they were planning to thin the ranks of a bloated associate class.  Her reviews had been great -- stellar as a matter of fact.  She went to a top-notch law firm (and undergraduate as well).  She got along with everyone and often did pro-bono work for the managing partner of the firm (a big deal for a junior associate).  So, she walked into the hiring partners office with a mix of trepidation and confidence.  And then he spoke the words:  “You are valued here.  Thank you for your service to the firm and the clients BUT, your skills and assets will be better utilized at your next employer.”

The partner’s lips were moving but the words were not registering.  The hiring partner offered her a severance package, six months of use of her office to figure out next steps and a positive recommendation.  And within 10 minutes, it was over. 

She walked out in a daze and sat down at her desk -- thoughts of failure and feelings of shock and anger swirling around her head.  She shut the door, put her head down and let the tears flow. 

Then, she raised her head, took another deep breath and decided to make a choice.  She decided that whatever just happened would not get the best of her.  She remembered that in fact, she had not been happy in this position but was too scared to let go of a “plum” job.  With that realization, she decided to march back into the managing partner’s office, look him straight in the eye and say, "Thank you for the opportunity to work with you.  I have learned much, want to keep learning and land in a great next place.  You have trusted me with your clients.  Will you mentor me through this transition out of here and onto the next part of my career?"  She wasn't sure where the courage came from to be that direct, but she was grateful for it.  And he was blown away by it.  He stood up, walked over, shook her hand and said, "Absolutely!  Let's go!"

The young associate client was me.  Yes, it was painful, shocking, overwhelming, embarrassing and everything else in-between but in the end, it was a true gift, a catalyst for some amazing growth.  It was a wake-up call and an affirmation that indeed, I was stronger and more resilient than I could have ever imagined.

We all face challenges each day – at home, at work, and at school. But there’s a difference between those of us who succeed in the face of these difficulties, and those of us who don’t.

People who succeed respond differently to challenges. As illustrated above, they use the experience as an opportunity to grow and learn. They take the energy created by adversity, and they transform it to gain momentum to solve the problem at hand and move forward. This is the winning formula for a successful journey.

So, how can you transform your challenges into an opportunity?

1.    WHAT ARE YOU FEELING?  Start by identifying the feelings presented by the challenge.  Don't deny the hurt, fear, anger, frustration, sadness etc.  "Lean into" the feeling but resist attaching a negative narrative/explanation as that story will only deplete your energy and won't serve you well. 

2.    PUT SOME SPACE BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR OBSTACLE/CHALLENGE.  Next, objectively look at what appears to be an obstacle. Step back, create some space or separation, observe, and be curious about this difficult situation. Figure out what it is, how it’s making you feel, and what it’s triggering inside.

3.    HOW CAN YOU REFRAME?  Once you've allowed yourself to explore those things and really understand what the challenge is all about, explore other ways to look at the situation. Make a choice as to the thoughts that you will believe-the ones that help you move forward.  Identify ways to reframe it as a learning opportunity. In other words, look for the teachable moment inside of the challenge.

4.    GET CLEAR ON WHAT YOU WANT.  From there, ask yourself what YOU actually want?  What would the ideal scenario look like unfettered by the challenge presented.  This clarity will help you reset and shift from reacting to what just happened and focusing on the challenge (with all the negative, self-defeating thoughts) to the opportunity presented to create what it is that YOU want (with positive, self-affirming, optimistic thoughts).

5.    HOW DO I GET FROM HERE TO THERE?  Identify the skills you need to develop in order to respond and move forward to the next opportunity.  Don't be afraid to ask others to help identify those skills, leverage their network on your behalf as well as encourage you along the way.  And don't forget to celebrate how this new expertise, group of mentors and expansion of your network will enhance your life professionally and in other ways.