You’re probably familiar with the idiom “like a deer in headlights”, a phrase used to describe someone who is paralyzed by surprise or fear. Just like actual deer that tend to freeze in place when illuminated by the lights of an oncoming vehicle, people are dumbstruck in a similar way when surprised by unexpected news, business issue, production problem gone awry, or an upset customer.
Unless the deer can shake off their surprise or the driver has very good reflexes (and even better brakes) being frozen by fear could spell the demise of the creature. While a human being caught unawares by a business problem likely won’t result in literal death, it could certainly be the death of a professional career or the personal relationship with a co-worker or client.
The best way for you to avoid this situation in your career is to remain alert and aware, and to expect the unexpected — though I’d argue that most people aren’t even prepared to expect the expected! If it’s after dark and you’re standing in the middle of the street, perhaps you should expect a car with headlights to come barreling down the road.
Here are some other things you should expect to happen (and thus avoid being the deer that gets caught in headlights)…
- If you have clients expect competitors to steal some of them away.
- When you absolutely nail a sales presentation you should expect the prospect to say No.
- When you’re producing a project on a tight deadline you should have a plan if it gets delayed.
- If a client awards you a project you should be prepared for them to call and cancel it.
- When you have an airplane flight booked, you should expect it to be cancel, delayed, or to get bumped from the flight entirely.
- When you’re delivering a speech to a large audience you should be prepared for your laptop to install a new software update and to crash your slide show program.
You obviously can’t prepare for every eventuality, but you should also expect that realization as well. Things go wrong at the worst possible time (that’s what makes them the worst times!).
Cars have headlights.
Expect them to shine in your eyes from time to time and stop being paralyzed when it happens. It delays your response and recovery time.
And maybe carry a pair of sunglasses just in case…