How To Answer a Wake Up Call


Wake Up CallThe results on her 360 feedback were troubling… for her boss… but apparently not for her. Susan was delivering great results, and she knew it. She had successfully led the effort to launch three new products since she had joined the company two years earlier. Bright, ambitious and well-educated, Susan had a clear career path in the company.

She was surprised her direct reports had rated her so low on empathy, managing emotions and providing feedback, and she reluctantly agreed when her boss suggested she work with a coach.

Susan hit the snooze button on her wake up call.

After a few coaching sessions, Susan decided she was too busy to continue and that she could resolve the issues on her own. Indeed, things did improve for a while, and Susan was given additional responsibilities.

Fast-forward three years:  Susan is no longer with the company.  The company did not continue to tolerate her behavior despite her marketing brilliance.

Snooze and you lose!

Recently I wrote about how Alfred Nobel answered his wake up call, and in the comments section I shared a personal wake up call of my own.  We all get wake up calls at some point.

The question is: how are you going to answer yours?  Here are four tips:

1.  Pay attention.

First listen to the message in your wake up call.  Set your inner critic aside and listen with objectivity. If you’re beating yourself up or defending yourself, you won’t get the message. You can’t respond if you don’t hear the call.

2.  Create space.

Most likely you won’t know what to do right away, and your first impulse might not be the best one. Jumping to action might relieve your anxiety, but you might be jumping out of the pot and into the frying pan. Before you start doing something, just stop doing what is inconsistent with the message.  Susan could have backed off from giving so much direction for a bit.  If your wake up call is about a career change, it’s difficult to think about options if all of your time is filled. The point is to take some time for reflection and stay with the message until it has been digested and understood.

3.  Show up.

Sometimes an alchemy occurs when you are clear about what you want and create space. You don’t necessarily have to figure it all out.  On the other hand, sitting back and just waiting for magic to occur is not a good idea either. It’s important to show up and be present so when opportunity arises, you’ll recognize it.  Susan could have started listening more to her team. She could have asked for more information to better understand the feedback or even asked for their thoughts on how to proceed with the current project. If your wake up call involves a career change, you could talk with people who are doing things that look interesting about what their work really entails, what they like about it and what they don’t. This is a time to ask lots of questions.

4.  Make your decision visible. 

Once it is clear what to do, make a commitment to take action. When I decided I was only going to work within a 100 mile radius of my home, I didn’t just sit and wait for the phone to ring. I let people know my intention. And I followed up on their suggestions.  Making it visible serves two purposes:   1) It activates your support network, and 2) It holds your feet to the fire and makes you accountable to take action.  If you don’t feel comfortable making it public, write it down and put it somewhere visible to yourself.

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22 comments to How To Answer a Wake Up Call

  • When I get a wake up call I… wake up! Seriously, I do all of the above and then take action. Truth is I usually get up “before the alarm goes off.”

    • I love your comment about actually waking up. I have the same experience – it’s a kind of cold, bracing sense of being totally alert. Your comment that you usually get up before the alarm goes off makes me wonder if there is some sort of “not wanting to look” that can cause us to miss the early warning signs. I explored that idea a bit in my post on Leadership Drift. But I think there’s more to be explored here. Thanks for deepening the conversation, Shep.

  • These are essential tips. The first two are vital. Attentiveness is the only way we will notice the rings of change, and we need to create space in our life to be mindful to what the calls are trying to tell us. The wake-up call can come in tangible ways. We may want to hold on to these as a reminder of the call.

    For me, it came in the form of an article, and I kept it in my desk drawer as a reminder of how I need to plan a different career route than the one I was on. At the right time, I made the switch and went to get my MBA. Oddly enough, the writer of that article spoke at the university, so I went. I caught him in the hallway and thanked him for writing that article.

    Thank you!

    • What a wonderful story, Jon. You remind me that we each have the ability to GIVE a wake up call – sometimes without even knowing who it is meant for. How lovely you were able to tell the professor how his wake up call affected you.

  • Tammy Stoner

    This is a great article. I find that when I am too in it, I need to step back, then I can hear the clarity again. Stepping back can be so healthy.

  • Joe Passkiewicz

    Love this post Jesse! We can really fool ourselves and miss some great opportunities for growth and change. Funny how things can be so hidden when you are in the battle. I try to pull back and view things from different angles- kind of like doing a fly over. Amazing what you will see when you pull back a bit. The other issue you touched on with Susan is sticking with it. The fruit will not always show up immediately- often it takes time. Some great reminders for me. Thanks for your work here!

    • Thanks, Joe. Is is so helpful when we maintain a big picture perspective. One of the ways of doing that, as you point out, is to literally look at things from a different angle. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to seek out people who see things differently than we do. Thanks also for highlighting the importance of persistence.

  • Another great post, Jesse. When the call comes, invited or not, the challenge is to keep fear and pride from hitting the snooze button! I’ve usually found it necessary to take time out to retreat & reflect on lessons learned before I can truly open my thoughts to a new perspective. When I do; when I begin to reconnect with my inner voice and set my intentions, miraculously the world starts to open to new possibilities once again.

    • You raise an interesting point – who exactly is hitting the snooze button? I think you’re right… it’s fear and pride – not our best selves. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Sharon. As always, your insightful comments are most appreciated.

  • You snooze. You lose. That’s true on all levels of life. I love the notion of “space”, too. That’s why I like to take a personal retreat..only I call it an “advance”. As always, good work, Jesse!

  • Stephen Melancon

    Wonderful post, Jesse! The need to “Pay Attention” is so important. It is easy to get caught up in your own inner speak and mistake arrogance for confidence. If that happens, you probably won’t hear the wake up call until it is far too late.

    The ideal situation is like Shep said in his comment about waking up “before the alarm goes off”. You only have that opportunity if you are paying attention.

    Your four tips are great advice. Thanks!

  • Guvenc Altas

    Wake up calls are though as they push us out of our comfort zone.What I learned from your article is a discovery of your new zone ! Thanks for the advice

  • Recently I had my own wakeup call. Decisions to answer the call can be extremely difficult and painful. I think that is why it is so tempting to ignore the alarms. Who wants to run in a burning building? Mistakenly I thought I was the only one suffering. As I have answered the call, I have found relief not only for me but for those who care about me. Thanks for the post.

    • Isn’t it interesting how the wake up call can feel so frightening and yet responding to it ultimately benefits not only ourself but others as well? Your description of your own experience is illuminating and encouraging. Thank you, David.

  • Susan Mazza

    Your advice regarding what to do really resonates Jesse. This is one to file away for future reference for me and my clients.

    I’ve found life has a way of turning up the volume until I finally hear what I need to hear for my own good and the good of those around me in every dimension of my life. The loudness of that wakeup call is often commensurate with just how significant the message is for me to hear.

    Your story has me thinking about what Susan’s boss might have done to prepare her to hear the feedback before she even initiated the 360. You will never hear feedback you did not genuinely ask for. The coach was set up to fail too because there was no authentic request for coaching. Did the boss in this story hide behind the tool of a 360 hoping it would give the tough feedback they were not able to deliver? How might Susan have responded to the feedback if she knew what was at stake?

    • Thanks, Susan. And much appreciation for your insights. Your comment sparked me to wonder if the loudness of the call might also be commensurate with our readiness or willingness to hear it. You raise some excellent questions about support for Susan’s coaching. I think you’re right that her boss did not adequately prepare her. The company was giving her mixed messages about her behavior, and this continued over the next three years as she both disrespected people and delivered results as she moved through the ranks. Each time she caused a disruption, she got feedback, and therefore another wakeup call. But in a sense the company muffled the loudness because there were no real consequences – until a crisis occurred and she was abruptly dismissed. So it is a sad story to tell. For me, the bottom line is we need to take personal responsibility to actively listen for our wake up calls before they get too loud, and not assume our company, friends, or family will turn up the volume for us.

  • Dear Jesse, i had the pleasure of attending Robin Sharma’s presentation in South Africa recently. His wealth of insight, passion and outlook toward life (home and business) was my wake up call! We tread a very fine line, and the need to find a balance has been recognised, as it is not all about working an eighteen hour day. Thank you for your inspiration, it is much appreciated.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your wake up call, Sean. Your comment reminds me that wake up calls can come in many forms – sometimes in the form of an inspiring vision, not always in the form of a problem.

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