Thriving Through Chaos: How to Turn Unexpected Changes into Opportunities for Growth

Maggie Karshner
9 min readMar 24, 2023

Are you ready to deal with unexpected changes? None of us really are, but there are practical steps we can use to handle such situations. This is a story from the front lines of a self-employed business. And this isn’t on my best day — oh no. This is an example of when you’ve been thrown a significant curve ball, and chaos ensued. In hindsight, this was just a pivot, but in the moment it felt more like a panic. Let’s uncover how to move through it either way.

The path through chaos is not comprised of revolutionary steps. The five steps here won’t blow your mind. And, they can serve as a point of reference and comfort. I hope that my example of putting them into practice will guide you through your own challenges. The five steps I’ll be talking about are (1) pivot vs. panic, (2) explore a few options, (3) decide, (4) plan the transition, (5) implement the transition

By following these steps, I was able to make the best decision for my business. You can apply these steps to any situation in your own life where sudden changes occur.

Step 1: Pivot vs. Panic

Let me paint the picture. I log into a tool that all my clients have access to and many need to use to keep making progress in their businesses. It’s also something a prospective client could enroll in at any time. I discover that, of the six courses that should be published and available, only one is. Worse, I can’t re-publish the others. There’s not a documented site outage and I have no emails discussing any changes to this service. In my head it was, “sound the alarms, it’s time to panic!”

Whenever there’s a sudden change, it’s natural to experience a bit of panic. It’s normal for a change, especially one we didn’t necessarily initiate, to generate a lot of feelings. The great thing about feelings is that they pass.

In this stage of a pivot, it’s key to notice what feelings are coming up. Feelings are often connected to stories or self-talk. Negative stories and self-talk can inspire the same unpleasant feelings to come up again and again.

You can approach this negative self-talk similarly to the catastrophizing I talked about last month in the article, Don’t Let Rejection Plunge you into Despair! How to Prevail with Resilience! Remember the problem of pervasive, permanent, or personal self-talk? This change is not pervasive — your whole business doesn’t have to change, just the one thing that’s at issue. This present state of change is not permanent — every change comes to an end somehow. This change is also definitely not personal. Even if someone you’d hired to provide you a service quits you, this is not a you-problem. The only thing you actually have to address is the lack of someone to do the work you need done.

Take some time to process the immediate emotions. Also, check in with your emotions throughout this process. Change is a journey. It’s reasonable for new stages to bring up different emotions.

Step 2: Explore a Few Options

From the get-go, I had a sense that this was not a simple oversight that could be quickly resolved. After all, I’d been on a legacy plan that afforded me unlimited free users which I made liberal use of. They were not making enough money from me to even trust they’d reply to my help request!

With my read of the situation not yet verified, I started working through my options. They boiled down to these three:

  1. I could stay on this platform and pay $60 per month.
  2. I could go to one of the competitor’s platforms, but they have similar pricing.
  3. I could use a different model for how I deliver this content. This would mean more upfront decisions to make. Though, in the long run, it would cost less and involve less administrative time.

I thought about the many features in my existing platform and which aspects I used and which I didn’t. It’s a robust online teaching interface that I far from fully utilized. The interface broke up the materials into courses and lessons. It then guided users through the lessons in a linear way. It all makes good sense. But most of my clients are non-linear thinkers, so was this the best way to present my information?

I thought about my goals and priorities for this corner of my business. I wanted to be able to have my content in a central location so that I can direct current clients to those resources. I also wanted to be able to sell this to non-clients who want to DIY their business-building. This means I’d need a pay-gate, but also the ability to grant current clients free access.

I also considered the things I didn’t like about this system that could be improved. Every ongoing client had to be manually added to each course I wanted to give them access to. And the interface to do so wasn’t even streamlined! Could there be a better way?

At some point in this journey, it’s tempting to dive into the research of alternatives. In a quest to find the best solution, you start by exhaustively tracking down ALL solutions. I would have been more tempted to go down this path if I didn’t feel the urgency of not having something I used to have. Avoiding the research path has its benefits. It saves time and more info does not actually protect you against a poor decision. However, more info does increase your risk of decision paralysis. The key is research with moderation.

Here are questions you can ask yourself that will help you navigate your own situation:

  • How have you been filling this need?
  • How critical is this to your business?
  • What features are you most utilizing?
  • What changes would make using those features even easier?
  • What features of your old system are most frustrating?

If after considering these factors, you want to see what alternatives are out there, go right ahead! I’d still keep it to the top 3–5 easiest-to-find solutions rather than an exhaustive list.

I threw out the possibility of switching to a competitor’s system almost immediately. I realized I needed a simpler system and not a migration from one complicated system to another. My desire to easily grant my ongoing clients access to everything steered me towards a different model all together. If I went with a subscription site, I would have the most control over how I presented resources. It would also give everyone more access to everything.

Step 3: decide

Decisions can be a major roadblock to progress. I’ve only written a few other articles dedicated to decision-making… Decisions When Self-Employed: Can They Come with Clarity and Bravery?, How to Shift Internally to Make the Best Decisions, Creating Forward Movement When You’re Stuck on a Decision …and I’m sure I’ll write more because it’s just so complex!

The astute reader will note that in the last paragraph of step 2, I was sounding pretty clear as if I’d made my decision. But it wasn’t that clear at the time. Everything had happened so fast. Steps 1 and 2 happened all within a few hours of me discovering the site was down. I held off on taking any real action for two days waiting for confirmation that this was not a quick fix. Once confirmed, I told my virtual assistant (VA) to get to work. Yet it wasn’t until a full week after receiving confirmation that I made the decision.

I know you’ve been in a similar place. You’ve ruled out option 2, option 1 is overpriced and not good, and option 3 is a reasonable price and has the features you want. And yet, that seemingly obvious decision is remarkably hard to commit to. You just don’t feel *ready*, you know?

So how do you make a decision? How do you go from not ready to ready? It takes two things: time and talking. Your brain and nervous system need time to process the change and come to terms with it. That process cannot be accelerated; it’s going to take the amount of time it takes.

It also helps to have others witness the new reality that you’re tentatively imagining for yourself. We do this by talking to people, and it’s easiest to talk to trusted ones. My change didn’t feel like a set-in-stone decision until I talked about it to a business colleague. This was a week AFTER action toward the change had already started. It was in that conversation that I finally noticed a good feeling about the new system. Option 3 would build a little bit more generosity into my business. It was when option 3 felt in line with my personal values that I was actually able to let go of option 1.

Change is like a hurricane. It moves at its own pace and it’s easiest to take action in the eye. Plus it helps to have someone to talk to. As with any act of nature, be kind to yourself while you wait for it to pass and pick up the pieces on the other side.

Steps 4 & 5: plan the transition, implement the transition

Under more calculated circumstances, I’d carefully plan the transition before implementing any piece of it. In this case, I felt the pressure to restore this part of my services asap. So, yeah, I didn’t do it the “right” way and these two steps became one. Sure, a more guaranteed approach to success would be to plan it out first, and then implement. But sometimes we just don’t got time for that. Also, mixing the two together added some adrenaline to the process. Adrenaline shouldn’t be a long-term solution, but in the short term, it helped it all happen a little faster.

I’ve had some clients tell me that implementation is less fun than the planning part. For me, it’s the more anxiety-provoking part. The key to this planning is to be clear on who is affected. This could be the users/consumers of the tool/system. In my case, it also included my VA since this would change some of his workflows.

Since I wasn’t doing an orderly plan and then implement, I did a lot of circling back. I started by drafting template notification emails to user groups. This required me to imagine what they’d need to feel supported and cared for in this transition. Thinking through this helped me clarify what information they would need. It also clarified what setup I’d need to do in the new system to make it work.

Repeating the same process with my VA clarified changes to his (and my) workflow. It also illuminated where paperwork, email templates, and other documentation needed to change. This led to figuring out details like subscription levels and pricing within my new system. These changes and decisions then looped back to the drafted client emails. I made sure those changes were clear there too.

The last thing I tackled was the sales process. I left this last because I’m the only salesperson and I trust my ability to think fast. It turns out I’m a little overconfident about that fast thinking. But really, it only resulted in a couple of moments of awkward explanations in front of prospective clients. So all in all, not bad!

As I’m writing this, it’s only been one month since I discovered the site was down. The transition is mostly done, but there’s still plenty to iron out. As oversights come up or mistakes happen, I remind myself that these are not a sign of failure. These are necessary parts of the process. As a new favorite book recently taught me: “good enough is perfect and anything worth doing is worth doing half-assed.”

Turn the Unexpected into Opportunities

The real secret to navigating difficult stuff is to be kind to yourself. My story is a reminder that change is a constant in life, and how we respond to it can make all the difference. When unexpected changes occur, it is natural to feel a bit of panic or anxiety. It is essential to recognize and process these emotions. Decision-making can be a challenging and complex process. These practical steps can help you navigate the process. By embracing change and adapting to it, we can continue to move forward toward our goals.

Originally published at https://www.maggiekarshner.com on March 24, 2023.

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Maggie Karshner

Maggie is a business coach who helps launch and grow self-employed businesses. Learn how she could help you at https://www.maggiekarshner.com/