#1 Secret to Career Success

resilienceWhat do you think is the #1 secret to career success is?  You may say good communication skills, people skills, or a pedigree education.  Well, I would argue that there is another skill that is critical to your career success above all else: a self-management skill called Resilience – the ability and courage to recover quickly from unexpected situations and adversity.

If you look at anyone you admire in your career, I bet they can all tell you many stories of great adversity they had to face and overcome.  At the end of day, it was their resilience that kept them achieving.   This is why I believe that Resilience, above all else, is the #1 secret to career success.

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

What happened to me recently is not work related, but the same principles of resilience apply.  My 3 year old daughter’s Mandarin immersion preschool abruptly announced 2 weeks ago that they will be closing in 6 weeks. All the parents and teachers were stunned.  No explanation was given.  We had exactly 10 days to find another suitable spot to continue our children’s Mandarin education.  Usually these things takes months of research, and mid year is the hardest time to find any openings.

You may not be able to 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 may encounter in your career:

  • Being laid off unexpectedly and with little notice.
  • Being passed for a promotion you expected.
  • Not getting an offer after you aced all the interviews.
  • Being blamed for something you did not do at work.

Could any of the above examples happen?  Yes.   Work, similar to life, is not always fair, and sometimes “sh*t happens” at the worst times.  This is why resilience is critical to our long term career success.  You can have all the people skills in the world, but if unexpected adversity knocks you down, only resilience can give you the motivation, courage, and confidence to move on and thrive.  As I face this in my life, I want to share 4 tips on how to be resilient in work and life, to remind all of us how to best deal with adversity and “make lemonade.”

Tip 1: Stay Calm – This is harder than it sounds.  When we are “wronged,” it will make our blood boil, and fill our head with anger and thoughts of retaliation.  Resist!  None of these thoughts help.  What happened already happened.  In all likelihood, it cannot be changed any further.  What we need to do is accept that it happened and keep a clear head so we can focus on how to overcome this unexpected obstacle.

Tip 2: Take Productive Action – Focus 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.  The latter may be our instinctual response.  We can get many people to sympathize with our plight, but at the end of the day, we still have the issue of how to respond and move on.

To me, productive action is focusing our time on doing things we can control to help us overcome this obstacle.  Just like this picture, there is always a way to move on to 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 are wrongly blamed, then find people at work with power/influence, and start your own campaign to find out what happened and rebuild your reputation.  The goal is not to reverse the blame, as what was said is already out there.  The goal is to learn from it and see how you can prevent it from happening again at this job or in any future jobs.

Tip 3: Be Thankful – This is perhaps the most counter-intuitive tip of how to be resilient — “how can we be thankful at a time like this?” Well, we all can, and I say it’s the best thing to practice.  It is what will separate those who succeed or fail in their career in the long term.

Dwelling on the negative of what happened 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.   We can always find something in our lives to be thankful for.  I am thankful for my family, for my new baby, for good friends, and for 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 still see the good in our world in the face of unfairness, and give us the energy to become even better people and professionals.

Tip 4: Stay Confident and Move On – Many times, when bad things happen, we can become critical of ourselves, and start questioning our own abilities.  If you were laid off, resist the temptation of thinking that you are somehow less competent.  This will not help you be resilient.  Sh*t happens, and sometimes the job is just not a good fit for you, or the manager could be petty and used you as a scapegoat.  Guard your self-confidence, and don’t let external events shake your belief in your abilities.   An adversity is just a chance to learn and change in life, but it doesn’t mean you are any lesser because it happened to you.   It can happen to anyone.  Moving on with your confidence in tact is critical.

I strongly believe that anyone can choose to be resilient.  We can choose to see the opportunity and silver lining in any adverse situation.  Choose to interpret adversity in a way that inspires you to move on and continue achieving.   As the old saying goes, if there is a will, there is a way.

Your comments: Do you agree that Resilience is critical to your career success?  Why or why not?  Add your comments below and let’s have a discussion.

Like this post? Help me out by sharing it on Linkedin, Email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.

I am always in your corner.  Best wishes to your career success.

– Lei

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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DJ Miller

Great article! Thank you! I have recently faced such adversity causing a career change from something I loved doing to something that is perfect for my personality and core. Resilience is what gave me the courage to move on to a new challenge immediately rather than waddle. Life is not fair. But one closed door doesn’t mean all are closed. It’s just a challenge to open a new one.