Keep Calm and Carry On


The Queen is having a moment. As I write this, Queen Elizabeth II of England is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee – 60 years on the throne. Perhaps not coincidentally, an obscure poster designed by the British in 1939 is also having a moment. Keep Calm and Carry On was a poster produced by the British government during the beginning of the Second World War; its aim was to keep the citizenry calm in case the German army invaded. It was almost forgotten after the war until some originals made it onto PBS’ Antiques Roadshow in 2000. Somehow, the poster captured the Zeitgeist of the U.S. at the time, and since reappearing has been selling at a brisk rate as home décor.

Jim Moorhead would approve. He is the author of “The Instant Survivor: Right Ways to Respond When Things Go Wrong.” He writes about how to survive a personal or professional crisis, using some of the tools and techniques that companies use for crisis management. The first step of his survival system echoes the “Keep Calm and Carry On” philosophy, proving that nostalgia for the idea of keeping a “stiff upper lip” is going strong after more than 80 years. (Unless you’re under 30; then I assume you are being ironic.)

Here is Moorhead’s formula for surviving a crisis:

  1. Stay Frosty: keep your emotions in check and work hard to stay focused on the facts, rather than how you feel. Moorhead says you should spend 80 percent of your time on working on solutions and only 20 percent of your time trying to analyze what went wrong.
  2. Secure support: develop a network of friends, family and resources that can help you understand your situation, find solutions, and give you the emotional and material support you may need.
  3. Stand tall: control the crisis, rather than letting the crisis control you. Take personal responsibility for what you may have done to contribute to the crisis. Make good decisions while dealing with the issues and keep your network informed of what’s happening.
  4. Save your future: take an audit of parts of your life that need shoring up, and formulate plans to deal with them. Write out a Plan B in case the worst happens.

Moorhead recommends a written crisis plan for your life that can detail what you’ll do in case something drastic happens. What would you do if your job ended tomorrow? Your list may include reducing expenses as much as possible, making plans to move in with relatives (or have someone move in with you) or taking your brother-in-law up on his offer of part-time painting work.

Once you’ve identified the steps in your Plan B, you can start to analyze which ones you can take or prepare for now. Could you reduce your spending and increase your savings? Is there a room you could make ready to rent out in a pinch? Could you explore the idea of a sideline business that might bring in income if you need it?

Developing a Plan B can help you stay calm when the crisis hits. It’s why people buy insurance and write their wills when they’re young and healthy; it’s easier to think clearly when you’re not overwhelmed by bad news. Write down short-term goals (ask if the kids can stay with your brother), mid-term goals (ask for a loan from my parents) and long-term goals (find a new house that we can afford to purchase eventually.) Make a list of people who can help or agencies to call for situations that may happen, and write down what you feel would be most important to you in that moment (“I won’t ever default on a loan; that would feel like I cheated someone,” for example.)

Finally, Moorhead makes some recommendations for your life audit. List the areas in your life that matter like health, job, family, property value – and anything else that could derail your life. Take a hard look at how stable the situation is now (have you had a health scare? Is your company struggling to make payroll?) Take some time with your family or spouse to list the steps you might take to deal with the crisis and the personal values you’ll stick to no matter how bad things get. Put the plan away with your other important documents, then take some advice from the Queen: keep calm and carry on.

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