According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of risk. In simple terms, we might describe resilience as the ability to bounce back when something goes wrong rather than crack under pressure. The good news is that everyone has some resilience, only in varying degrees. It’s important to note that a person with resilience still feels the intensity of a difficult situation—they’ve just found a better (and quicker) way of dealing with it. Fortunately, resilience can be learned, and not surprisingly, it can make or break your career.
Resilience can be learned
Research has shown that while some people seem to be naturally resilient, these behaviors can also be learned. How do you learn to be more resilient? You need to get knocked down—a lot. Resilience is like a muscle. You can’t exercise it unless you have a stressful event to react to. The more you get knocked down and get back up, the stronger and more fearless you become. Kristen Costa, lead faculty in behavioral science at Northeastern University whose research focus is resilience, says, “My work has shown me that deliberate, intentional effort to cultivate resilience can bolster our inclinations for it. When we think of it that way, we can understand that there are specific habits, behaviors, and mindsets that help us foster it.”
Resilience can be cultivated
Work environments today are often uncertain, complex, volatile and ambiguous. Whether your company is being downsized or you got passed over for that juicy promotion, many scenarios could threaten to derail your career. Resilience is fundamental to successfully navigating those inevitable career challenges. Following these four strategies will help you to cultivate resilience and achieve career success:
1. Develop an effective network
Having an effective network can help buffer you from potentially adverse career events. This means nurturing your existing network and establishing new connections over time. Adam Grant, a professor at The Wharton School and author of Give and Take, believes that giving your time and energy to people that you care about is the best way to build your network. Networks are not built on a transactional basis, but rather on goodwill and paying it forward. Most importantly, remember to focus on building relationships, not contacts.
2. Manage your career like a business
Own your career and manage it as if you are running your own business (i.e., “Jane Smith Inc.”). Think like an entrepreneur and focus on building your personal brand. A personal brand is the combination of skills and experiences that make you unique. It is how you present yourself to the world. Be sure to clearly communicate who you are and what you do in order to stand out to prospective clients and employers. Set short and long-term career goals for yourself and continuously reevaluate them over time.
3. Become a lifelong learner
Continuous learning is a key component of career resilience. Stay up to date on the latest technology, take online courses and attend industry conferences. Take charge of your development and hone your skills. Knowledge is something you can carry with you for a lifetime. Anything you can do to develop your expertise will help to increase your self-confidence and resiliency.
4. Look at setbacks as opportunities
What may seem like an adverse event could present a potential opportunity. When I was laid off for the first time in my career, I used that as an opportunity to go back to graduate school and get my MBA. After another layoff, I was able to secure a position with a higher salary and greater responsibility because I wasn’t willing to settle for less. Foster an optimistic mindset. It’s not what happens to you but how you handle it that makes all the difference.
The most successful people in the world are also the most resilient. J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter manuscript was rejected by 12 major publishers before being accepted. Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Sir James Dyson (who by the way doesn’t have an engineering degree) went through 5,126 failed prototypes over the course of 15 years before creating the best-selling bagless vacuum cleaner that led to a net worth of $5.4 billion. The next time you experience a career setback, just think back to a time in your life when you were able to persevere. You are more resilient than you realize.