Ambition is all about pushing yourself beyond your perceived limits. If you’re not taking on reach goals and slightly terrifying challenges than you’re unlikely to reach your full potential. Which all sounds good in theory, but there’s a little discussed byproduct of this can-do attitude. Sometimes you’re going to get in over your head -- way over.

And because no one really likes talking about their moments of utter panic and fear, we also rarely talk about how to get through them. That makes a recent Harvard Business Review Blog Network post by Whitney Johnson, author and co-founder of Rose Park Advisors, Clayton Christensen's investment firm, all the more valuable.

In it, Johnson shares her own career crisis moments and offers this handy three-step process (complete with the handy acronym SOS) to get a handle on your fear and more forward in a positive way when, as she brilliantly puts it, "your ego cashed a check your skills couldn’t cover."


When panic is setting in the most natural thing to do get busy. But frantic flailing and ill-considered emailing is exactly what you don’t want to be doing when things are looking overwhelming, according to Johnson. "As uncomfortable as it may feel, don’t just do something -; stand there. When you stop, you conserve emotional and physical reserves and preserve your political capital," she writes.


OK, you’ve paused and taken a few literal and metaphorical deep breathes. What’s next? Now that you’re in a somewhat calmer frame of mind Johnson recommends a thoughtful review of exactly how bad the situation really is and in precisely what way. "Organize, assessing the situation and appraising what you need to do to regain your buoyancy," she advises.


Once you know exactly where you are and what you lack, the final 'S' stands for securing. In short, swallow your pride and ask for help. "In the best of situations, you’ll be able to ask for and get the help you need," says Johnson, adding that "even in a less trusting work environment, help from the right people and the right places can make a difference."

If this sounds like a simple plan you could put into use, the complete post, including more details and examples from Johnson’s own career is definitely worth a read in full.

How did you handle the situation the last time you were in over your head professionally?

Published on: Dec 4, 2013