I learned the hard way, but you don’t have to. The truth is that many of us will, at some point, face an urgent personal or family situation that requires considerable time and energy away from work. But your work commitments won’t just magically disappear. The key is to ensure you don’t erode your personal brand while you attend to what’s important to you personally. Here is the situation I found myself in and what I did to emerge with my brand intact.
One minute I was enjoying a short break from a crazy schedule and winter, soaking up rays on a glorious beach just north of San Diego. The next I was learning that my mom would be going into the hospital for an emergency quadruple bypass, as soon as her doctor could get her in. My own heart stopped for a second. She’d been in the hospital once before for a supposedly routine procedure, and we’d nearly lost her.
Everything else fell away from that moment on. I got home. I packed up a few things and drove her into Toronto for the surgery. I camped out at the hospital with family. We were lucky – things went reasonably well in surgery. Then the next few days became critical and I began a daily commute to the hospital, which took up a good chunk of each day.
I was absorbed in the immediate situation, but worry also started to creep in about my business. It was now week two of being away, and I knew I needed another couple of weeks of leave to help once she was home. How could I ensure my clients would remain happy while I was away so long? Sadly, I had no idea at the time that I’d lose yet another week to the flu.
What I did by the seat of my pants actually ended up being quite successful. Here are the five steps.
- Make a list of critical vs. non-critical activities. As in, which ones will impact my customers and the current or future survival of my business? Then, focus only on those essential activities. Eliminate, delegate, or postpone everything else.For me, that meant I cancelled a bunch of non-essential social, community and volunteer activities. This is a great way to find out what you’re really, truly passionate and energized about. I found I easily ditched my boring Dreamweaver course but nothing was going to get between me and my djembe drumming class (great therapy!).
- Figure out what you can reasonably do and what you can’t, with the understanding that you need to get some rest and take extra care of yourself during a stressful time. I had over a thousand emails/alerts in my inbox, most of them to satisfy my endless cravings for information. Without mercy, I deleted everything that didn’t require action.
- Set expectations up front. For me, clients consistently identify reliability as one of my core brand attributes. While waiting for hours in the hospital, I sent each of my key clients (and suppliers) a personalized but brief note. I let them know I had a family situation and that I expected to meet my deadlines, but there was a small chance I may need a bit of extra time. All thanked me for letting them know. Turns out I met every deadline.
- Be authentic (but not needy). Many of my client and peer relationships have turned into valued friendships. People in my network genuinely wanted to know how I was doing. Although it would’ve been easy, I refrained from giving them an aloof, conversation-closing “everything’s fine.” I showed them the real me and shared what I truly felt – fear, hope, exhaustion, gratitude, imperfection. In less than 30 words (they want to know you’re OK, but enough already).
- Ask for help from your support system. It doesn’t need to be big. It doesn’t need to be lasagne. Despite my fierce need for independence, I asked my mastermind group, my friends and some of my close clients to send their positive, healing thoughts, if they were so inclined. They were grateful to feel like they could help. I was grateful to feel supported. Strangely, it made us all a little closer.
Bonus Tip: When things are good, make regular deposits to your brand bank account. Meet your commitments, live your brand, and be good to your customers. You never know when you might have to make a withdrawal.
P.S. In case you’re wondering, Mom’s home and recovering. Slowly but surely.
By Harp Arora