resilienceResilience is a soft skill that is essential to career success and work happiness.  We may not talk about resilience often in the context of career success, as we typically expect work /life to treat us fairly. However, a recent experience reminded me that life and work are not always fair or reasonable. It also reminded me that when life gives me a lemon, I can choose to be a victim or be resilient and make lemonade.

My 3 year old daughter’s Mandarin immersion preschool – Language-in-Action – abruptly announced 2 weeks ago that they will be closing mid-year. All the parents and teachers were stunned, and no explanation was given to us.  We had exactly 10 days to respond and find another suitable spot to continue our children’s Mandarin education.  Usually these things take months of research, and the middle of the year is the hardest time to find any openings.  What a holiday “gift” to receive.

You may not easily relate to my story if you don’t have kids, but this kind of news to a parent is similar to any of the following bad news you could receive in your career:

  • Being laid off unexpectedly right before the holidays – This is what’s happening to the teachers at this school without any warning.
  • Being passed up for a promotion you expected – This school’s director told us only last month how committed she was to this program.
  • Not getting a job offer after you aced all the interviews – None of the teachers or parents knew this was coming.  Everyone was happy and thriving at this school.
  • Being blamed for something you did not do at work – Teachers and parents were given no choice but to accept this decision. To this day, we still don’t know what went wrong. The school director declined to explain, nor will she show her face any more.
Could any of the above examples happen?  Yes.  Work, similar to life, is not always fair, and sometimes sh*t happens at the worst time.  This is why resilience is so important to our long term career success — we have to be able to recover from these obstacles in order to move forward in our careers.
As I face this in my life, I want to share my definition of resilience to remind myself and you how to best deal with adversity and “make lemonade.” I agree with Professor Rao’s definition of resilience — it is the “ability to recover quickly from adversity.” That sounds very straight forward, but it’s not that simple.  Being resilient is not just a skill but a process that you need to go through.   I live by 3 simple rules that help me be resilient in life and at work:
  1. Stay Calm – This is harder than it sounds. When we are “wronged,” it sill make our blood boil, and fill our head with anger and thoughts of retaliation. Resist! None of these thoughts help. What happened already happened, and it probably can’t be changed any further. What we need to do now is accept that it happened and keep a clear head so we can focus on how to overcome this unexpected obstacle.
  2. Take Productive ActionFocus on the critical actions that will help you overcome the unexpected obstacle, instead of spending too much time and emotional energy convincing yourself and others how wrong it was that this happened. We may get many people to sympathize with us, but at the end of the day, we still have to deal with this issue.
    For me, productive action is focusing our time on doing things that help us overcome the obstacles in our lives. Just like the picture above, there is always a way to move on and thrive — if we focus our energy the right way. For example, if you are laid off, start figuring out your finances and plans for finding another job.  If you were wrongly blamed at work, then find people with power/influence and start your own campaign to find out what happened, and start rebuilding your reputation. The goal is not to reverse the blame, but to learn from it and see how you can prevent it from happening again, whether it be at this job or a future job.
  3. Be Thankful and Move OnThis is perhaps the most counter-intuitive tip of them all — “how can I be thankful at a time like this?” We can always find something in our lives to be thankful for. I am thankful for my family, my new baby, good friends, and the ability to help others through this newsletter and my career advice blog. Thankfulness is something we can draw on all year ’round. It is what can inspire us to see the good in our world in the face of unfairness, and give us the energy to become even better people and professionals.
    Dwelling on the negative will only drag us down and become a burden upon our subconscious. The longer we dwell, the harder it is to move past it and grow from it. Life continues as long as we are breathing, so it’s best to focus on the positive and move forward.

What happened to me is not work related, but the same principles of resilience apply. If you look at anyone you admire in your career, I bet they could all tell you many stories of great adversities they and to face and overcome. At the end of the day, it was their resilience that kept them achieving. You can do the same. I am always in your corner.

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P.S.  For those interested in the outcome of my school story:
1) After two weeks of scrambling, we finally found a temporary spot for Isabel to attend, starting next Tuesday.  It worked out beautifully, because Isabel ended up liking it much better.
2) We, as a parent group, plan to voice our opinions in all social networks to warn other parents about any future dealings with Language in Action.
3) We formed a much closer bond with all the parents and teachers through the same plight – our version of making lemonade.

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