As I write, Hurricane Gustav is rapidly approaching New Orleans and millions along the Gulf Coast are facing potential wind, rain, and catastrophic losses of property and neighborhoods. One potential additional casualty of the storm--jobs. (Two months after Katrina, the Department of Labor estimated a loss of 230,000 jobs due to the storm.)

I've witnessed the effects of a storm surge firsthand: In December 2005, I spent two weeks volunteering with a Katrina relief effort in Biloxi, Mississippi. My former colleagues, students, and I arrived over 100 days after the storm and joined an active volunteer group of over 150--many of whom had been working since early September. We were shocked by the extent of the damage. One of our first assignments was to replace street signs in a neighborhood. (The official ones weren't ready yet, so we made our own temporary signs.)

If you feel that there is only a remote possibility that you or someone you know will be personally affected by a hurricane--think again. According to the Census, 1 in 2 Americans lives in a coastal county within 50 miles of the sea. This weekend, I wrote a piece for Career Hub on employment-related preparation strategies that you can use in anticipation of Mother Nature's whims. My primary suggestions:

  • Maintain contact with others through an e-mail address/phone number that is portable.

  • Store copies of your resume and other important documents electronically, and

  • Ensure that you have enough identification to complete an I-9.

Given that the window for Gustav preparations has passed, my thoughts turn to "Maxine," a Katrina survivor I met during my time in Mississippi. Maxine and her extended family decided to ride out the storm in her apartment: "My building is made of bricks--it isn't wood, and it isn't a mobile home. We figured we'd be fine if the water didn't come in. At first I thought I'd be okay if my car survived, then I thought I'd be okay if the house didn't get any water. Then I saw the refrigerator floating in the living room, and the room filling up, and I thought I'd be okay if the family just lived through it."

Maxine and her family survived, but she lost all of her possessions and ended up living with her mother. "It isn't great, but it's okay," she said at the time. Her long-term plans were to stay in her hometown through the rebuild--though her father had already moved to Texas--and pursue a job in customer service using her previous experience as an accounting assistant (a position she did not enjoy).

Last week, I wrote about taking time out to address minor annoyances in life and work (see Jason Alba's post, "I Hated My Lawnmower"). Today, I am thinking about challenges at work or in life that start small, grow larger, and that we convince ourselves that we can get through without addressing head-on. Have you experienced the mental equivalent of having a refrigerator float through your workspace--"If only I can get through today, it will be okay?"

Once they committed to riding out Hurricane Katrina, Maxine and her family had very limited control and a finite amount of choices to make as the storm surge seeped through their quarters. On the other hand, you may have more options than you realize. Are there situations you are living which have steadily gotten worse and that you can take control of? Anything small that you can tackle now before it becomes a groundswell?

To paraphrase Robert Schuller's oft-quoted gem: "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?"