Updated: Sep 29, 2020
It is not common for clients to bring up flying squirrels on a call with me. Actually, it is safe to say that flying squirrels don’t come up in most conversations! When they did, though, during a recent consultation chat, the discussion stuck with me.
As with most clients, this individual (“Sue”) came to me facing a career crisis and needing support — around her resume and LinkedIn, but also in regard to her job search strategy, networking plan and general goals moving forward. A senior finance executive who had also been in CFO roles, she had most recently been controller at a prominent law firm in the Atlanta area. Sue was let go partially due to the Covid-19 pandemic but also because she and a senior partner at the firm did not see eye to eye; it sounded to me like the pandemic provided safe cover for the partner to throw our client’s name into the ring for layoffs.
Throughout our initial discussion, Sue discussed a desire for a career move she felt would resonate with her, in a sector more desirable to her than law, and to not be a CFO. She felt that though she had been a CFO in years past, at this point in her career, she wanted a seat at the executive table without feeling the pressure to lead. Still, despite a sense of direction with the pandemic going on and global recession setting in, she was clearly anxious about the next steps in her career.
Our chat turned to the topic of moving forward in a direction of her choosing but with key strategic steps in place to set her up — taking steps back to reassess her next steps, focusing on key distinguishing wins from her experience, ensuring she had strong professional assets and planning ways to leverage her network. Sue was thrilled. She felt that these steps would prepare her for a targeted, strategic search, and I could feel her begin to find peace in the process. Still, we talked about perspective when facing crisis situations.
“I honestly liken it to being in a tornado,” I commented, a visual I had found helpful for many clients during the pandemic (I wish I had thought of that particular one before!). “All of the obstacles, situations and needs are swirling about; this can feel overwhelming. The goal, though, is to remember that you are in control of where you wish to land.”
“Yes!” Sue replied, the excitement rising in her voice. I assumed it was because she felt connected to the metaphor, but I soon learned I was wrong. “It’s like my neighbor with the squirrels!” she continued.
“You see, he builds American Ninja Warrior courses for squirrels and your tornado metaphor reminds me of the flying squirrels!”
I was hooked! I was also visualizing a squirrel flying through the air with the greatest of ease. In my mind, and mostly just for fun, I imagined the squirrel also wearing those old-timey flying goggles and a scarf. Anyway, back to the conversation.
“Sue, I think I am going to need some more info here!”
“Emily, it is something to see. Basically, the squirrels are trying to get the nuts,” she said. “They have to go through the course to get the food but when they get to the flying part, they are flung out from a mini merry-go-round and look so surprised for a split second.”
Well, yeah, wouldn’t you look surprised if you were suddenly flung out into the world without any warning? Talk about a crisis situation!
“Anyway, I have noticed something. A split second after the squirrel notices it is flying and is momentarily terrified, it does something amazing,” she says. Whips out the card for a squirrel personal injury attorney?, I thought to myself. “It looks in the direction of where it wants to go, its whole little body changes course, and it just lands in the exact right spot. I want to be the flying squirrel. I see the direction I need to go and just want the support to get there, to find that path towards a career I care about.”
Whether it’s the chaos of a tornado or a bushy-tailed rodent careening through the air, successfully handling a career crisis is about controlling where you land and having the support to do so. It’s also about being in a better place once you land than where you started. That, my friend, is not just about resilience; it is also where we, as humans, come in.