Valuable Career Lessons From Hurricane Sandy

working during Hurricane Sandy

By Tony Schwartz, The Energy Project

This article originally appeared on HBR.org, with exclusive updates provided to AOL Jobs.


When I began writing this post, I was sitting in a hotel room with my wife and dog. We've had no electricity at our home, and therefore no lights, heat or hot water since Monday, and we've been told that it could be another week or more before power is restored. As the temperature dropped steadily, we decided to move to a hotel and were incredibly fortunate. We could afford one, and we somehow got a room. Every hotel within 50 miles of us is now sold out.

Until yesterday, the street in front of my company's office was flooded -- the Hudson River literally poured into downtown Yonkers. I plan to go to the office later today, but it still has no phone or internet service.

On the first day following the hurricane -- superstorm Sandy -- I felt dislocated and on edge. I couldn't reach one of my daughters. As in the aftermath of Sept. 11, it was difficult to find my bearings and focus, when everything around me had essentially shut down and the world seemed to have been upended overnight.

More: Hurricane Sandy Victims Can Get Unemployment Help

But of course, life goes on. As it's dawned on me that my life isn't going to go back to the way it was anytime soon, I've actually felt myself relaxing. I can't control when I'll get electricity, or when public transportation and phone service will be restored. But I can adapt. I can find pleasure in the adventure of figuring out new ways to make do. Late one night last week, my wife, daughter and I spent a whole day huddled in our hotel room, each of us alternating periods of work with chatting in a way we never get a chance to do during an ordinary work week.

By the weekend, I managed to hunt down a generator in central Pennsylvania. It got delivered to my house in the pitch dark on Friday evening. On Saturday morning, I found an electrician, who hooked up the generator to my main circuit breaker. He flipped the breaker switch and my house miraculously sprung back to life: lights, heat, telephones, even the Internet.

Unfortunately, there was only one gallon of gas in the generator. An hour later, the house suddenly shut back down. There was no gas to be found anywhere near my home. As I write this on Sunday morning, I'm back in a hotel, hoping I can find gas today. Another big storm is due to hit New York and the rest of the Northeast on Wednesday.

The world has changed in this part of the country, probably forever. We're looking at a new normal that is far reaching. It will be characterized by uncertainty, volatility, and the vast acceleration of nearly everything.

More: Sandy's Unsung Heroes: 'Unwatering Team' Drains New York's Tunnels

This isn't only about the weather, although the evidence is plainly growing that climate change is part of our future, and if we continue to ignore it, we'll be doing so at great peril to ourselves and the planet. Even now, extreme weather that disrupts and costs lives feels more common than ever. But change itself is everywhere -- economic, organizational, political, social and technological.

What we need to change most is how we deal with change. That's an internal challenge more than an external one. It's about managing ourselves -- using our highest cognitive faculties to tame our lowest limbic impulses. For me, that requires first noticing when my reactivity is high -- when I'm feeling a sense of threat or danger -- and adopting something I call the Golden Rule of Triggers: "Whatever you feel compelled to do, don't." Instead, I try to breathe deeply to quiet my body and my emotions, so I can think more calmly.

In fear, our vision narrows. What we need going forward is access to a wider and longer perspective. In the corporate world, the buzzwords I'm hearing more than ever are adaptability, agility, flexibility and resilience -- the capacity to bounce back in the face of a setback.

For me, the best question is this: What's the best story I can tell myself, given the unchangeable facts? Here's mine:

My family, co-workers and friends are all safe. I've found a way to get work done and, indeed, without phones ringing, I've been able to focus better on the most challenging tasks I'm facing. Beyond that, I'm feeling fortified by discovering a new equilibrium reasonably quickly. The prospect of further unexpected turns seems a little less daunting.

What's the best story you can tell, whatever may be going on in your life right now?


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