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Unpacking resilience: Thriving amid career challenges

by Niamh Moynihan on

Explore the essence of resilience and how it can transform your career trajectory, even in the face of adversity.

Understanding (and accepting) risk and uncertainty in your career

Careers are like relationships: no matter how well you prepare, there are always elements of risk and trust involved in accepting a new role or project. Job changes, industry shifts, technological advancements—just look at the impact AI has made over the past 18 months. While risks can be mitigated with calculated moves, uncertainty remains the fog that obscures the path ahead, making it difficult to predict the outcomes of your choices.

I advise educating yourself as much as possible and learning to recognise the factors that lie within your control and those that do not. The saying “You can't always control what happens, but you can control how you react to it” holds some truth. However, controlling your reactions requires significant work in self-awareness, emotional regulation, and rationality.

This awareness and objectivity can help you prepare contingency plans and develop a mindset that can adapt to various career scenarios. By doing so, you equip yourself with the foresight and flexibility to mitigate risks and embrace uncertainty as an inherent part of your career growth.

Let’s investigate these ideas further.

The relationship between risk and opportunity

Risk and opportunity often dwell on the same spectrum, presenting a dual-faced coin in your professional life. Embracing risk can lead to opportunities that might otherwise remain hidden. For instance, a career change might carry the risk of stepping out of your comfort zone, but it can also open doors to new skills, networks, and paths for advancement.

Understanding this relationship involves assessing potential risks against possible rewards. It's about making informed decisions where the benefits could outweigh the uncertainties—or, as we usually refer to it, a pro/con list.

Beyond making this list, consider these strategies to balance risk and opportunity effectively:

  1. Scenario planning: Think through various scenarios that could result from your decision. What’s the best-case scenario? The worst-case? What are the most likely outcomes? Preparing for different scenarios helps you develop contingency plans and reduces anxiety about the unknown.
  2. Pilot testing: Try a smaller version of the risk before committing fully. For example, let’s say John feels his career is stagnating and wants to join an exciting start-up. John could take on freelance projects or part-time work with a startup while keeping his full-time job, providing a taste of the startup environment without fully committing initially.
  3. Network leverage: Connect with people who have made similar moves. Learning from their experiences can provide valuable insights and help you avoid common pitfalls. Reach out to former colleagues or mentors for advice and support.
  4. Skill building: Proactively develop skills that will be valuable regardless of the outcome. (In the example above, John could take entrepreneurship or business management courses before making the leap to provide a safety net.)
  5. Mindset shift: Embrace a growth mindset. View challenges as opportunities to learn rather than threats to your stability. This psychological shift can make the process of taking risks more rewarding and less daunting. Obviously, if you can build a financial buffer, this will give you extra peace of mind. 

Decision-making in uncertain times

Making decisions when the outcome is uncertain is an art form that requires both intuition and strategy. It involves not just gathering information and weighing scenarios but also understanding your own biases and emotional responses. In uncertain times, developing a decision-making framework that allows for flexibility and adaptation is crucial.

Here are some advanced strategies to enhance your decision-making skills in uncertain times:

  1. Embrace iterative decision-making: Instead of seeking the perfect solution from the outset, adopt an iterative approach. Make small, reversible decisions that allow you to gather feedback and adjust your course as needed. This method reduces the pressure to get everything right immediately and allows for continual learning and adaptation.
  2. Leverage data and analytics: In today's digital age, data-driven decision-making is a powerful tool. Use analytics to inform your choices, identify trends, and predict potential outcomes. Being proficient in data interpretation can give you a significant edge in navigating uncertainty. For example, create a decision matrix to evaluate your options systematically. Assign weights to different factors based on their importance and score each option accordingly. This structured approach can help you make more balanced and objective decisions.
  3. Think outside the box: Encourage input from a diverse group of colleagues, mentors, even thought leaders,  industry experts and professional organisations. Diverse perspectives can uncover blind spots and provide innovative solutions that you might not have considered on your own.
  4. Commit to decisiveness: Indecision itself can be a significant risk. Cultivate the courage to make timely decisions, even in the face of incomplete information. Set yourself a deadline to make the decision by and stick to it. Confidence in your ability to adapt and correct course if necessary is key to navigating uncertainty effectively.

Building career resilience

Career resilience is built on a foundation of lifelong learning and a growth mindset. Just as some people can sleep better and handle stress well, some people are, by nature, more resilient. But the good news is you can teach yourself to have a thick skin, pivot in response to industry changes, learn from your experiences, and keep moving forward. 

Figure out what’s stopping you from taking a risk or feeling more confident at work. Then, find a solution.

For example;

  • Self-doubt? Reflect on past challenges to draw strength and insights, leveraging previous obstacles as learning opportunities.
  • Difficulty moving outside your comfort zone? Push yourself to confront emotional barriers. Focus on the long-term goals. 
  • Negativity? Practice daily affirmations and maintain a gratitude journal to foster positivity. Surround yourself with people who will motivate and support you as you grow, creating a conducive environment for continuous personal and professional development.

The journey to resilience is all about embracing changes and challenges as opportunities for growth

Supporting your well-being in times of change

Change is a constant in the professional world, and it can really affect your well-being if not managed effectively. Supporting your well-being involves creating a healthy work-life balance, setting realistic goals, and practising self-care. Train yourself to identify the signs of stress and burnout and understand which proactive steps work best for you to address theses issues.

Developing coping strategies such as mindfulness, exercise, and hobbies can enhance your resilience to change. Don't hesitate to seek support from colleagues, friends, or professionals. Remember, prioritising your well-being is not a luxury—it's necessary to sustain a long and fulfilling career.