Workforce transitions: When unexpected changes happen


Work transitions happen. Sometimes they are planned, such as taking a new job or retirement. Sometimes they are unexpected, such as being laid off. The Great Recession that began in 2006 certainly brought many unexpected changes to industry sectors as well as the affected workforce.

I recently read an article by Margie Warrell, a Forbes contributor, author and speaker titled, “Plans Derailed? Eight Ways to Turn Unexpected Change Into a Win.” Here are two of her insights:

1. Go easy on yourself. Warrell advises, “Cut yourself a little slack as your new reality sinks in … it can take a little time to regain your footing to step into a future you hadn’t reckoned on.”

2. Reframe your loss into a win. She writes that, “Turning an unexpected change you didn’t ask for into a win requires changing your mindset; consciously deciding to shift your focus from what could be lost to what could be gained.”

Have you been faced with derailed plans related to your work or livelihood? A local community leader recently told me her family’s story. Kathy Zehringer’s coaching business, A Shift Happens, grew out of derailed plans. The business name came from learning to make small mental shifts with a specific vision in mind.

“I love to support my clients in creating these shifts as I have in my life,” she said.

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Kathy and her husband, Tom, moved to Colorado Springs from California with two small children in 1989 seeking a better quality of life. Kathy’s background is in business operations and Tom’s as a satellite communications operations manager. Both were employed by Stanford Telecommunications where Kathy worked her way up to become the vice president of operations and was instrumental in building its division here.

By 2002 with children in middle school and desiring more margin in her life, Kathy left the corporate world to pursue her passion for real estate by investing in properties. After a few years with the investments doing well and their children now in college, she and Tom moved to North Carolina, teamed up with a local builder there, and got involved in building residential and vacation homes.

“We did very well. Then along came the Great Recession,” Kathy said. “Vacation properties weren’t selling, home prices tanked along with our 401(k) savings, and suddenly, so did our net worth.”

The unexpected derailed plans.

With their financial portfolio decreasing they were forced to liquidate, facing severe financial losses.

“This was very humbling for us but we had created wealth before and believed we could do it again,” said Kathy, and this mindset seems to fit with Warrell’s “go-easy-on-yourself” advice.

Then came their “reframe your loss into a win” phase as they set new goals — to become debt-free and to come out the other side of this unexpected change with more abundance in all aspects of their lives.

That brought Kathy and Tom back to Colorado Springs in 2009. Tom continued his 40-year career in satellite communications and Kathy dived into the community with gusto. Today she is an active entrepreneurial and life coach and is involved with many community initiatives including Peak Startup, 1 Million Cups and Thrive Colorado Springs. She is also a graduate of Leadership Pikes Peak and the Colorado Springs Leadership Institute.

The Zehringers are living proof one can reframe losses into wins. Their passion for real estate also continues, but with a pivot. They bought a house on the Westside of Colorado Springs that was built in1893 and are designing their version of an “age in community” concept. They are just completing a cottage they built on the property which they plan to Airbnb. However, one day they will flip the housing arrangement, live in their “Boomer bungalow,” rent the big house to a young family and share resources such as child care, gardening and maintenance.

Kathy and Tom have sage advice to offer people facing unexpected changes, adding that they have been extremely blessed throughout the process. My favorite nuggets from their story: Life is not a dress rehearsal. Live your vision. Ask yourself what small steps you can take today that will lead to the life you want to live with no regrets. And, for us aging adults — don’t be so focused on your financial portfolio that you bankrupt the rest of your life.

Warrell would be very proud of the Zehringers. In case you wonder, Warrell’s additional six tips to turn unexpected change into a win are: Acknowledge your fear of the unfamiliar; take a moment to breathe — deeply and often; find reasons to celebrate change; choose faith over fear: mind your language; and proactively pursue change.

BJ Scott, an advocate for age-friendly workplaces, is the former CEO of Peak Vista Community Health Centers and its foundation. Contact: