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As The World Of Work Changes, Focus On Developing Career Resilience

A close up of a dandelion.

We all know how the weak economy has made finding a job more challenging than ever. But in the midst of constant changes, how can we stay inspired to keep looking for work and make smart choices about our careers? In the article below, Michele Martin, a certified Career Development Facilitator Instructor, argues that in a world where jobs are uncertain, we need to focus on developing career resilience: the ability to adapt to changes, deal with stress, and move forward.

This post originally appeared on her blog, The Bamboo Project.

I wrote a couple of long posts in February on the two major factors most job seekers are dealing with in this economy. The first was on the reality that there aren’t enough jobs for everyone who wants one. The second was on the poor quality of many of the jobs that do exist.

After writing these, though, I was left wondering what it is we can do to operate in this kind of environment. How do I advise people about career and professional development in a world that is so uncertain, risky and, frankly, negative?

Yesterday it hit me. There is only one thing we can do if we want to be successful when change is happening so rapidly and when so much of our work life is about dealing with stress and curve balls.

We have to develop our career resilience skills. 

That’s it. That’s all we can do. We have to develop our resilience skills and use that resilience to meet the challenges that have become a regular part of our work lives.

Why Resilience?

According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is your capacity to deal with stress, adversity and uncertainty. Resilience is about bouncing back, rolling with the punches, getting back up on the horse. It’s our ability to take what life throws at us and use it to grow stronger.

Our careers are no longer a matter of making a decision about what we want to do with the rest of our lives, getting an education and then following a straight-line career path to that dream job. Those days are long gone.

Today’s careers require us to be agile, flexible, and adaptable. To see opportunity in challenges and to develop our capacity to deal with constantly changing parameters and requirements.

When you build your resilience, you are in a better position to adapt to ongoing changes. You accept change as a part of life and see change as an opportunity, not as a series of insurmountable obstacles.

Resilience can also help you feel more in control. You’re able to keep things in perspective and to see yourself as an actor in your life, rather than as a victim. High resilience also allows you to be more pro-active in responding to whatever gets thrown at you.

Four Patterns of Career Resilience

In looking at resilience as it applies to our careers, I see four patterns we need to incorporate into our lives. I see these as patterns, because they are ongoing components of our behavior and thinking that we need to work on. Career resilience is not a once and done eventIt is a way of being that you must focus on developing.

The four patterns I see are:

  • Patterns that support Clarifying
  • Patterns that support Connecting
  • Patterns that support Creating
  • Patterns that support Coping

Patterns for Clarifying

Resilience needs clarity. We need to understand who we are, what we want, and how we bring value to the work that we do. What are our signature strengths? What do we want more of in our lives?

Clarity is also about knowing what’s going on in the outside world. What occupational, industry and economic trends impact our careers? What is the likelihood that technology or outsourcing could eliminate or completely change our jobs? What credentials and skills are needed to be successful?

Most importantly, what goals and plans do we need to develop for ourselves, based on our awareness of ourselves and the changes that we see going on in the world? Clarity gives us a sense of purpose and control because it allows us to know where we stand and to see where we can fit in as new opportunities and challenges come our way.

Patterns for Connecting

Resilience thrives on connections. Resilient people have a core group of individuals they know are always in their corner. They look for who is available, who’s trustworthy and who’s helpful and they go toward the light of these connections. They aren’t afraid to ask for and receive help and they offer their own services in return.

Connections and relationships are also at the heart of what it takes to be successful in a networked world. It is your relationships that bring you information, knowledge and opportunities. Your connections can help you bounce back and spring forward, even under the most adverse conditions. But connections don’t just happen. We must be purposeful and intentional in developing those connections that will most support us in adapting to change.

Patterns for Creating

Resilience is also about action. What steps are we taking to achieve our goals, to learn from our mistakes, to engage in new experiences that can grow our skills and networks? Resilient people have a plan and they work that plan.

We also have to ask ourselves what patterns do we have in place that provide the best structures for creating and experimenting? How do we spend our time? What rituals are part of our work lives? How do we move from insight into action?

Flow needs a framework. If you want your career to flow more easily, you must create frameworks for that to happen.

Patterns for Coping

Ultimately, resilience is about how we cope with life’s ups and downs. How do we manage our emotional responses and maintain an optimistic outlook, even under dire circumstances? How do we nurture and take care of ourselves on a regular basis so that we can bring our best selves to our lives? What stories do we tell ourselves about our work, our strengths and weaknesses and about how people relate to us? How do these stories impact our ability to meet challenges head on?

Resilient people have a generally positive outlook on life and have learned to persevere in the face of challenges. They feel their emotions, but they don’t allow their emotions to overwhelm their ability to act. Effective coping mechanisms are a critical component of developing career resilience.

 Additional Thoughts on Resilience

I see the four patterns of career resilience working together synergistically, each connected to and reinforcing the others. All of them are critically important, although at different times we may find ourselves more focused on a particular pattern. When we’re confused or uncertain about where to go next, we may pay more attention to Clarifying. When we’re overly stressed and anxious, we may need to spend time on our Coping patterns. If we’re trying to expand into something new, we’d be well-served to focus on the Connecting and Creating patterns. And if we’ve lost our jobs, we need to spend time working on all four patterns.

There are two things that feel most important to me about developing career resilience. The first is that resilience should be our goal. We cannot control the people and events that surround us, but we can control our capacity to meet the challenges that inevitably arise at work. By focusing on resilience as our goal, rather than on trying to control what is uncontrollable, we put ourselves into a much healthier position for moving forward.

I also see the idea of patterns of behavior being critically important. Resilience is not something we summon at will. It is something we must build and work on every day. Believe me, we know it when we haven’t paid attention to one or more of the career resilience patterns in our lives. I see this all the time when I’m working with people who lose their jobs. They’ve done little to develop these patterns in their lives, so they are less equipped to move on to their next opportunity.

For me, working on career resilience is a worthy goal. It’s a way to respond to all that is negative and challenging at work and to focus our attention where it’s most needed–on our capacity to creatively and effectively respond to a new normal.

About The Author


Michele Martin is a certified Career Development Facilitator Instructor who works with individuals and organizations on supporting lifelong career and professional development. She blogs at The Bamboo Project and is currently developing tools and resources to support people who want to develop their career.

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