Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a car enthusiast. Imagine my excitement at the age of three when my mom, Kathy, announced we were going to the car dealership to pick up my grandmother’s brand new 1979 Chrysler Cordoba.

My sisters Heidi (age 4), Amy (age 2), and I had fallen asleep during the ride to the dealership. Upon arrival, instead of waking us, Kathy decided to park within eyesight while she and my grandmother checked out the new car.

Having woken about five minutes later, I climbed over the front seat and decided to commandeer the vehicle by pulling the gearshift into neutral. Screams of sheer terror rang from the backseat and permeated the surrounding area. Much to Kathy’s dismay, the commotion centered on her car, which was slowing rolling downhill from the customer parking lot toward the showroom floor.

Without hesitation, and eight months pregnant with my sister Jamie, Kathy dropped her handbag, flung off her heels, and dashed for the moving vehicle, which by this time had picked up some speed. In a flash, Kathy arrived at the car, flung open the driver-side door, jumped in the front seat, and engaged the emergency brake. The almost three-ton vehicle came to a screeching halt within mere inches of the showroom’s glass facade. A cry from the group of assembled spectators exclaimed, “that woman can run really fast for a fat lady!”

Albeit not always as dramatic as an out-of-control car, everyday each of us encounter unforeseen situations that require us to make split-second decisions. It is these moments that truly define our personal brand. Encompassed in the situation, we neglect to recognize that onlookers are paying close attention. How we comport ourselves can not only have a significant impact on our course of action, but more importantly solidify the trust of those watching from the sidelines.

In the face of the unexpected:

Buy time to think. Do everything within your power to avoid a trigger-happy decision by buying yourself some time. If you’re in a meeting, take a bathroom break. If you’re on the road, pull over. If you’re in your office, get up and take a walk. You’d be surprised how much clarity you can muster in 60 seconds.

Consider available options. Avoid the exercise of wishing things were different or wondering why they are happening to you. Instead, determine the desired outcome and assess the information and resources immediately available to make that outcome come to fruition.

Act. Based on your assessment, decide on a course of action. Even if the decision isn’t ideal, accept that it’s the best you can achieve given the circumstances and act without further delay.

In the words of Helen Keller, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

Jonathan FitzgarraldJonathan Fitzgarrald is Managing Partner of Equinox Strategy Partners.  For nearly two decades, he has coached and trained service professionals on how to drive revenue and increase market visibility. He can be reached at 424.377.3200 or Email.