4 tips for career resilience
My friend was up for a promotion at work – a rather long process that spanned almost the entire time of our many Melbourne lockdowns. In the end she was told she was unsuccessful via an email and her only chance for any follow up would be via a Zoom screen.
It was disheartening to say the least, and debilitating at it’s worst. She found she could not focus through her anger and frustration as well as her embarrassment with family and friends who had known she was applying. Her volunteer role as a career mentor to young women also felt shaky as she didn’t feel she could advise anyone else when her own career had stalled like this.
It took her awhile to find her feet again and when we spoke, we both felt it was an important topic to share for others who may be experiencing their own career setbacks in these very challenging times.
There were some really sound strategies that helped her and we hope they will help anyone else who may be in this situation.
1. Own your emotional response
The first step is to acknowledge what you are feeling by naming it, whether it’s shame, anger, disappointment, fury or self- blame. Whatever you are feeling is okay – to have an emotional reaction is perfectly valid. The trick is to dig a bit deeper to understand why you are feeling this way.
It may be that underneath the icky-ness of that feeling is a drive to challenge yourself more, or make your voice heard in a different way. I used to never speak up in meetings when I was first in the workforce because I was so frightened I would look foolish. I found myself feeling resentful and frustrated when people said the very thing I had been wanting to say and were treated like messiahs. I was passed over for key project lead roles until I got past the resentment and realised it was more important to be seen and heard than be right all the time. I finally found my voice in meetings by learning how to speak up in a way that didn’t have me out on a limb ready to fall if the branch cracked, but allowed me a graceful way to disagree or offer alternative viewpoints, and most importantly, not to fall apart if others didn’t agree or follow my suggestions!.
Processing your feelings in this way is helpful in a way that getting stuck in them is not. Instead of feeling the resentment and staying there, explore what is underneath that resentment or anger or shame.
Exploring the resentment and digging deeper helped me grow. You can’t control whether you get a pay rise or the next big project to manage, but you can control how you respond and learn from the experience.
Talking about processing emotions isn’t meant to be a Pollyanna story though – it is also important to express your feelings. Just put a time limit on how long you’ll swear and scream or cry, and balance that out with positive actions too. Grow some vegetables, learn how to cook, watch comedies – anything that uplifts your spirits. Play cards or Karaoke online with friends. We know that laughter is good for us – so let yourself go!
2. Explore what’s next
Career advancement is not a straightforward process – there are politics, biases and hidden norms which mean your ability isn’t the only factor at play. No matter how great a resume you have, or a great elevator pitch, or glowing referees, things don’t always play out as we would hope. However dwelling on possible mistakes and berating yourself endlessly for imagined missteps in an interview instead of taking any lesson and moving on, is a road to nowhere.
Staking a claim, drawing a line in the sand about the kind of leader or teammate, designer or analyst (or whatever it is you want to be), means deciding what you stand for. What do you value? What is the blueprint you hold for your future?.
Job titles, office size, salary packages and the like come and go, but who you are in your essence stays the same. Harnessing that self-knowledge and deploying it allows you to craft your own narrative of career success. Your career is something you do for yourself, not your parents or to impress your friends (though that may well happen by default).
If you take the time to reflect on those moments in your life and work when you are most proud, and find the most satisfaction like my friend did, you might find that they have little to do with getting that promotion or leading a new project.
My friend found it was the times when she helped a friend, shared a win with her team, collaborated on an exciting new initiative or was able to volunteer with a not for profit. She realised that a lot of her highs came from team work, helping others succeed or improve their lives. She also valued having time to mentor and support her own young children. We each have to make our own lists and then see how they align with the paid work we are doing - and how it aligns or not with what is considered success in the organisations we work with.Setting our own standards of success and working to them helps our physical and mental health.
3. Surround yourself with energy givers
Another tip – look around your circle of friends and family members. Make sure you have people around you who encourage you and have your back – not the sister who snipes at you because she’s jealous, the father who wishes you were a doctor instead, or the friend who is dismissive about the field you work in (“Oh – insurance? No offense, but we’d never let our firm do work for an insurance company”). Spend time nurturing those relationships with people who share your values, and appreciate your contributions, whether they are peers, colleagues, friends or family. These are the people who will sustain you in the hard times.
4. Give thanks
And as a final piece of advice from my friend – be grateful for the things you do have. It has been proven over and over again that a daily gratitude practice uplifts and affirms our life choices. You can voice it, journal it, even sing it. However you choose to express it, just acknowledge all the things large and small that you are grateful for in your life: A spring flower emerging in the garden, sunshine on your back, a child’s hug, a partner’s smile. We only have the one life (that we remember any way) and refusing to dwell on the negative events and appreciate the positive no matter how insignificant they may appear truly does bring a grounding sense of self direction.
In the end, the key thing to remember is in the end the only person who can make us happy is ourselves, and we have control over what our “conditions of happiness” are. Maybe that promotion or new job appears to be everything we ever wanted, but there is always another opportunity.
- Breaking news is that my friend ended up handing in her resignation after finding a new position with more flexibility and closer to home (great for when we all stop working from home!). She had discovered that being more available for her two girls (both under 10) was actually her most important condition of happiness - and that changed her expectations around her career.