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WORKING STRATEGIES A COLUMN BY AMY LINDGREN

How to handle a detour to Gilligan’s Island

Friday, November 30, 2012 - 11:00 am

Do you remember “Gilligan's Island,” the television show featuring seven castaways from the SS Minnow? As a child watching this goofy sit-com, it fascinated me to think one could set out on an excursion trip (“a three-hour tour, a three-hour tour”) and end up on a tropical island for years on end, keeping company with people you would not normally have spent 10 minutes with.

Sometimes changes in course are only detours, but occasionally they are life-altering.

I was reminded of this last month while watching coverage of Superstorm Sandy. Tens of thousands of lives were disrupted by this storm, some for only hours when a flight was changed, but others for a lifetime when homes were destroyed or family members perished.

Of course, superstorms aren't the only life-disrupters. We can get blown off course by almost anything if it hits at the right time or with enough force. If life were a board game, some of the squares would say, “Laid off: Go to Gilligan's Island to live with your in-laws” or, “Boss cuts your hours; go to the Island for a weekend job.”

However you end up there, one thing seems certain in this life: We will all take at least one trip to Gilligan's Island, detoured from our “three-hour tour.” Since there's almost no point in trying to prevent these disruptions – you can keep some at bay, but not all – it makes sense to hone your survival skills so you can make the best of the situation when it does happen.

Here are some of the basics for your survival toolbox.

•A support system. For some, support systems are a natural part of life. But for others – are you one of them? – asking for help is exceptionally difficult. It will be easier later if you nurture some relationships now.

•Someplace to belong. Even if you're not a natural “joiner,” you'll reap the rewards later if you belong to something now. Your group could be a professional association, a house of worship or even a hobby group. If you lose your job, having no place to feel welcome will add to the blow.

•Financial reserves or at least, flexibility. Of course, we all know this. But it's still good advice: Do what you can to strengthen your finances so you can ride out at least the milder disruptions to your pay.

•A contingency mindset. When you take a new job it makes sense to throw yourself into learning the position. But you must also reserve attention for contingency planning: What if things don't work out? Even an hour a month spent networking can create a cushion if the job ends unexpectedly.

•A sense of perspective. Whatever's happening to you, remember that it has already happened to someone else and probably in a worse way. In addition to keeping you humble, this viewpoint will make your own trials easier to bear; you might also be embarrassed into working harder, since self-pity is difficult to maintain when you have perspective.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at alindgren@ prototypecareerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.