How to Survive a Professional Panic Attack

don't push the panic button

Yesterday, I received an SOS message from a former colleague. She is in considerable distress: Her company is failing; the staff is shrinking; the survivors are exhausted; and she’s dying to jump ship.

She is panicking, and needs my help.

Her note began with her kicking herself for not doing anything sooner, and spiraled into many regrets about the past. She berated herself for pigeonholing herself into a specific career, and worried she couldn’t break out of it in the future.

She was all over the map, and the one place she wasn’t was where she needed to be–in the present moment. That’s where you take control.

In this ever-shifting world of work, many professionals find themselves in a similar position of panic. They guilt over the past and worry about the future. I call this problem-generating, where you go around and around in your head and spin out of control. Hallmarks of problem generating are phrases such as “I should have” and “What if.”

Problem-solving is the antidote to panic. It’s where you take control.

Here are a few steps to help you:

1.   Give yourself permission to feel anxious. Know that it’s normal to feel angst when you’re facing change, especially unwanted change. Often, just recognizing this defuses the panic bomb.

2.   Get in the present moment. Don’t waste your energy guilting over the past—what’s done is done. We all make mistakes—why pay for them twice?  And don’t let your mind run so far in the future—you will drive yourself nuts! Accept where you are right here and right now.

3.   Begin to talk to yourself in a calming, compassionate way. Never forget the strength of your own “change muscle” and how you’ve flexed it successfully in the past. Whether it was starting school, moving to a new neighborhood, or entering the job market, you’ve survived and thrived. You know that these awful feelings pass, and you can get through this.

4.   Start asking yourself better questions. Instead of “Why is this happening?,” “Why didn’t I do something sooner?,” and “What if I fail?,” ask “What is the next positive step I need to take?” and “Who can help me?”

5.   Get busy. Put a plan of action into place and take that next step. Don’t get overwhelmed—just take one step at a time. Remember: Activity counters anxiety. The more you take control and move forward, the more confident you become. And finally….

6.   Don’t forget your sense of humor. This is your joker card when you begin to feel a bit crazy. It’s all how you see it, after all, so stop the drama and start the laughter! Find the humor in how you have reacted to your problems. The sound of your own voice can help break the spell of panic and propel you in a positive direction.

Copyright 2014 Michelle Kerrigan

Confidentially speaking….

confidentially speaking

If your power comes from your title or salary, then your power comes from the company that bestowed them on you. If these are ever taken away, then you become powerless.

Have confidence in yourself, first and foremost. That kind of power comes from within and can never be taken from you.


Copyright 2014 Michelle Kerrigan

Quick tips and tweets!

  • Don’t let social media make up your mind for you. The confident person takes in what they want, and decides for themselves.
  • Are you a follower on social media or a leader?
  • Someone asked me: what does confidence sound like? My answer: That’s up to you.
  • Know that, as your skills rise, so does your confidence.
  • Once you’re grounded in the practical, the fear of the technical subsides.
  • Small shifts in perception can have huge impact. Try looking at things from another angle today.

Copyright 2014 Michelle Kerrigan

4 Calming Tips for Technophobes

I remember being handed my first smartphone years ago– a Blackberry—and staring at it anxiously.  I had just started a new job and had no idea how to turn the thing on. Seriously! Here I was, with a rich history of working with people in high-profile companies, and this little piece of plastic in my hand had me second-guessing myself.

Let’s face it: Even the most deft hand can become putty in the face of changing technology. Trying to keep up with it—hardware, software, techniques, tools, social media–is tough enough. Trying to understand and use it correctly when you’re in the midst of a hectic workday can be quite intimidating.

So, let me put your mind at ease with a few helpful tips:

  1. First—take a deep breath and remember: no one knows it all. No one. Some techs may know more than you, but don’t let that scare you. They’re supposed to know. This is not your area of expertise, so jump to #2.
  2. Ask and get off the worry treadmill. Most people are uncomfortable asking questions about technology because they hate to admit when they’re confused. But, when you’re afraid to ask, you lack clarity and understanding. Your world becomes a guessing game, and you begin the run on the worry-mill. How tormenting is that? First, you worry people will know that you don’t know. Then, you worry that you’ll never grasp whatever it is. Then, you worry things will go wrong, and you worry that you’ll fail! Enough already! Learn what you need to know. Ask.
  3. Find someone who doesn’t speak in tongues. When you have the confidence to ask questions, ask them of people who can explain in easy terms. Many people like to dazzle with a lot of geek speak. Some aren’t aware they’re doing it, and many use it as a security blanket to insure they’re needed. Don’t let that fool you or scare you. Find someone who can explain in the simplest terms possible. If they can’t do that, they’re not worth their salt. Communication is all about being understood.
  4. Know that, as your skills rise, so does your confidence. I’m thinking of that first Blackberry and smiling. Once I learned the basics, I became more comfortable with the device, and started experimenting with less fear. I’m on my 4th phone since then, and have moved to a touch screen. You may think—“yeh, big deal”—but, for me (I thought I would die without that teensy tactile keyboard), it is! Once you’re more grounded in the practical—the hands-on how-to—the fear of the technical subsides.


Copyright 2014 Michelle Kerrigan

30-Second Cure for Anxiety

30-second cure for anxiety

Often in the midst of a stressful work week, you can get thrown a nasty curve ball.

It is then that your anticipatory anxiety runs high. In fact, so does your imagination. Yes—anxious people are very creative. Within seconds, we can visualize so many things going wrong. We worry about what will happen, how it will happen, and how it will make us feel.

So—here’s what to do with all that creative energy: Channel it in the right direction. Think positive instead of negative, and turn worrying into goal-setting.

Think: How will I make it happen? What do I need to do? Who can help me?

When you turn worrying time into planning time, you actually use the same creative juices, but in a positive, problem-solving way, not a negative, problem-generating way.

Once you have a plan of action, you dial down the worry, and start to feel good. You may even feel excited! So, get creative in a good way, and throw your anxiety a curve ball!


Copyright 2014 Michelle Kerrigan

Power Posing for More Success at Work!

Woner woman--power posing for confidence and success

I initially shared Power Posing and the amazing work of Amy Cuddy on my blog last year, and her work continues to astound me. Cuddy’s research shows that standing or sitting in a certain way raises the level of the power hormone—testosterone—and lowers levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Power posing is all about “opening up”–expanding and stretching your body to take up as much room as possible, instead of folding up in a low power way. Her science now reveals that becoming more powerful begins during the night, with the way you sleep!

I am sharing this most recent article from Business Insider and Entrepreneur, and urge you to take a look. You too will be amazed—and more powerful!


Business a la Carte: 4 Tips for Better Business Etiquette Abroad

Business a la carte--basic tips for business dining

How you present yourself to others in the business world speaks volumes, and easily can be the most intimidating part of any job. And when you’re travelling internationally, people often form first impressions about you, the company, and country you represent within seconds of meeting you. This is why it’s necessary to ensure that you interact well with others to enhance your brand.

Developing relationships is the key to developing business internally and externally, as well as making positive, lasting impressions on a global level.

With this in mind, here are 4 tips for better business etiquette abroad:

1.  Learn the language of key and polite sayings. I’ve always found phrases such as “Hello,” “Please,” and “Thank you” a great start. Wherever I have traveled, making this effort (and not expecting everyone to speak English) has always been pleasing to my host. It is also pleasing to hotel and restaurant staffs who will remember you when you return.

2. Know, and respect, local customs. Such as dining, tipping, commuting. Never assume anything is “just like home.” You may be very surprised, and run the risk of making an embarrassing error. For instance, did you know that asking for a doggy bag is considered unacceptable behavior in the UK and France?

3. Be up on current events in the host country. It’s always good to be aware of the economic and political environment you are entering. It’s not necessary to comment on local news unless the subject is raised. But, you want to be prepared and knowledgeable in case it is.

4. Act as a guest, because you are. Whenever you travel, this is a great rule of the road. Staying in a foreign country merits the same etiquette as staying in someone’s home. There’s great pride in every culture, and you want to be mindful of that. Just think how you would want people to respect your home.

Remember that, no matter where you are, you are responsible for your behavior. A little common courtesy can go a long way and reap uncommon rewards.


Copyright 2014 Michelle Kerrigan

Business a la Carte is a trademark of Michelle Kerrigan Inc.


Confidentially speaking….

confidentially speaking

Once upon a time, everybody felt safe.

Now, it’s an enormous cultural shift.

Companies aren’t saying “We take care of you”.

It’s “You take care of you.”



Copyright 2014 Michelle Kerrigan

Leader to Leader: Avoiding the High Cost of Conflict During Growth and Change

“Every man is my superior in that I may learn from him.” — Thomas Carlyle

I live and lead by this quote, especially during change, which, in today’s workplace, is often an everyday event. I have led teams through 20+ years of change, and have learned that the most important thing you control is how you react to it. Your reaction is key to your success as a leader because it’s vital to the success of your team. An open mind can break barriers; a resistant one can break companies. To coin another phrase: you reap what you sow.

Conflict doesn’t just come in color, gender or sexual orientation, it comes in generations X, Y, and BB, industry, and corporate hierarchy. In fact, the most conflict and prejudice I’ve ever experienced in the workplace involved areas of operational function and expertise (think marketing vs. finance, production vs. creative, creative vs. legal, technology vs. everyone — at least in this story).

Case in point: When I led operations for a startup, our chief technology officer created enormous conflict between his management team and just about everyone else. He ran his division tightly, and spent most of his time criticizing what other departments were doing. Here was an officer of the company who was intelligent, articulate, and expert in his field, but who disputed everything, so couldn’t learn from anyone. His intolerance and uncooperativeness were a huge drain, and were often reflected in his senior managers. It was easy to see he wasn’t a leader to help an organization grow.

Our marketing team had launched a premium product a month before I started, a high-ticket item for our VIP elite that included a custom card (similar in look and feel to a credit card), that gained them access to entertainment events, and special backstage access at concert venues. Orders were pouring in, but only the first batch went out, with incorrect information, no less. Why?

In any company, especially a startup, new processes need to be walked all the way through during implementation to ensure all the dots are connected, including who does what and when.

This is where I come in. It’s painstaking and detailed, but it’s necessary and worth it because it’s where barriers to productivity are found, and where revenue can be made or lost. In this case, there were about $500,000 worth of reasons to figure out what was going wrong.

I spoke with our fulfillment partner, who had yet to receive any new or corrected files, and worked my way through every department responsible until I found the problem: data was being generated, but not being delivered. All these new members, and not one file had left the building. The files were stuck fast in the technology department waiting for someone to pull the trigger. Extraordinary!

I also discovered that certain people knew the files were still on our side of the firewall, but they felt it wasn’t their responsibility to push past it and help resolve our problem. What???

The fulfillment house told me they could make up lost time if they received the files that day, but organized the correct way. Our support tech told me it would take only an hour to do, but warned of repercussions from the CTO and his VP. I gave the go-ahead, and got the VP on the phone. All I heard was concern over how the CTO would react … but no realization of how our customers would react.

The CTO was, of course, furious, and wasted even more time arguing his point with anyone who would answer his call. Yes, I did speak with him. Unfortunately, his was a reaction that would repeat itself often, and looking back, quite possibly, cost us the company.

Growth means change, which means the ability to learn, adapt, and shift gears quickly.

Resistance impedes progress — you want a corporate culture that reflects your best strengths, not your worst nightmare. You need all the positive energy you can muster when you’re poised for growth and change. Just think how different things would have been if the CTO’s negative energy was channeled in a positive direction.

How often does this happen in your organization? How often is a line drawn in the sand that stops the flow of progress? How often are business leaders unwilling to yield, making decisions based on resistance rather than revenue?

The chief technology officer was my superior, and I did learn from him. I learned that some managers are not leaders: they overreact, don’t set the right tone, and are incapable of creating a sense of unity. I learned that leaders need to grow, to be invested in expanding their own capabilities, as well as their team’s.

I learned that an open mind is the fast track to change.

It’s not about who makes the final decision, but why it’s made. I learned that you get the behavior you tolerate, and if you expect to have a global dialog in this world of change, you have to learn to be open to (and communicate with) all those X,Y, BBs, designers, lawyers and tech people sitting right in front of you.

One final note: an interesting thing happened when I ran this article by some people I know, prior to posting. When they read the opening quote, they focused on the word “man” which sent up a red flag right away.

I learned from this too…if you only focus on what you don’t like, you may miss the big picture. Wow.


Copyright 2013. 2014 Michelle Kerrigan

Business a la Carte: Basic Tips for Business Dining

Business a la carte--basic tips for business dining

How you present yourself to others in the business world speaks volumes, and can easily be the most intimidating part of your career. People often form first impressions about you (and the company you represent) within seconds of meeting you.

That is why it’s necessary to ensure that you interact well with others to enhance your brand. Developing relationships is the key to developing business, and in this ever-evolving world of work, where the personal and professional continually merge, image and reputation are two of your greatest assets.

Many executives and employees find business dining very challenging to their confidence. So, here are a few basic tips to boost your skills and confidence:

Use your napkin correctly. Your napkin is meant to protect your clothes, so, when you sit down, the first thing you do is unfold your napkin and lay it on your lap. If you need to leave the table during the meal, you can either: a) leave the napkin on your chair, or b) fold it neatly and lay it to the left of your place setting. Both are correct. Whatever you do, don’t use your napkin to blow your nose or blot your lipstick. And don’t ball it up and leave it on your plate at the end of the meal.

Drink to the right and eat to the left. I am often asked “Which is my bread plate?” and “Is that my water?” Well, this is an easy way to remember: Water and wine glass—right. Bread plate—left.

Butter up.  I’ve noticed a trend recently where diners dip their bread into the butter dish, as others look on in horror. Think how unsanitary this is. Please—use your butter knife and bring butter from the butter dish to your bread plate. Then butter up.That’s how it’s done.

Order foods that are easy to eat. I’ve always avoided spaghetti, because no matter how careful I’ve been, I have never been able to avoid splatters and stains. Trust me: You don’t want your guests and/or your boss watching you wrestle with your food. You want to be memorable for the good, not the bad or the ugly!

Remember: etiquette is not just about making you feel comfortable. Its primary purpose is making others feel comfortable.

Bon appétit!


Copyright 2014 Michelle Kerrigan