Very few of us go through our careers unscathed. Unexpectedly lose a job you love? Can’t find a new position although you’ve been looking for months? Didn’t get that promotion you have been working for 24/7? Confidence, courage, grit and a growth mindset got you where you are. Resiliency–the ability to reboot and bounce back–especially emotionally, from that “kick in the gut” that has sent you reeling, is key to moving forward successfully. Approached intentionally and through a future-focused lens, this challenge can propel you to the next stop in a rewarding career. Here are some steps to rebound resiliently:
Take a breath: At the moment it happens, a career setback is often accompanied by fear, uncertainty, anxiety and stress as well as perhaps embarrassment and shame. Pause. Give yourself some recovery time. (Achor, S. & Gielan, M., Resilience Is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure (HBR June 2016)). Take some time to process, accept and even mourn what may be the end of one stage of your career. Exercise, meditate and make sure to get enough sleep.
Ask yourself two preliminary questions: Srikumar Rao, the author of Happiness at Work suggests asking yourself two preliminary questions to build resilience when faced with a setback: Is there any possible scenario by which this setback could actually turn out to be a good thing? What can I do to turn this situation into a good thing that I can celebrate someday in the future? According to Rao, simply pondering these questions will take you to a different emotional domain–one rich with possibility rather than foreboding. (Rao, S., To Build Your Resilience, Ask Yourself Two Simple Questions (HBR, June 2017)).
Take inventory: While it may not seem so in the moment, a bump in your career path is an opportunity to reflect upon what you want to hang onto and what you want to let go of. As Crosina and Pratt write in their recent HBR article on the career trajectories of former Lehman Brothers’ employees (Crosina, E. and Pratt, M., How People Redirect Their Careers After Getting Laid Off (HBR, April 2019)), your next step may hinge upon what you want to salvage from your prior work experience and what you want to discard. Are you a recreator looking for a similar position and culture? Or are you a repurposer looking to reinvent yourself and use your strengths in another type of venue or direction. Maybe a bit of both?
To answer these questions, ask yourself: What do I value? What are my strengths, major accomplishments, weaknesses, mistakes or failures? What do I want to do more? What would I be happy to be rid of? Having and taking the time to reflect upon what is important to you is an unanticipated “gift” and valuable and critical part of moving forward resiliently and successfully.
Surround Yourself with Supporters: Who can help you rebound resiliently? It is virtually impossible to build a meaningful career without the support of others. Nevertheless, research has found, that few of us enjoy asking for help, particularly in the workplace, where we are typically keen to demonstrate expertise, competence and confidence. Indeed, for some, asking for help has even been found to activate the same brain regions as physical pain!
Most people are willing to help and even experience emotional benefits–natural highs–from doing so. If you have a personal or professional Board of Advisors, this is an opportune time to reach out to them. If not, this is an important time to push yourself to identify and reach out to potential mentors, colleagues, peers, role models, friends and family for their support, insights and guidance. Allow them the privilege of helping you and don’t forget to “pay it forward” when the time will undoubtedly come that they need your support.
Embrace Change and Move Forward: Flexibility and adaptability are essential elements of resilience. Maintaining a future-focused, opportunistic and optimistic mindset are as well. Consider multiple options. I call this versioning. Bill Burnett and Dave Evans in their book, Designing Your Life, call it odyssey planning. Start by identifying three potential next stop career options, e.g., (i) more of the same (another similar organization); (ii) a variation on the theme (same industry but different organizational environment, culture, size, location); (iii) a completely different industry/organization. Create a written strategic plan with goals and action steps to explore each option. Identify people you know (or would like to know) engaged in each option and arrange informational interviews. (See Knight, R., How to Get the Most Out of an Informational Interview (HBR, February 2016). Explore the market. Once you have additional information, update your plan, goals and action steps to reflect your findings and decisions and home in on identifying, creating and applying for opportunities.
Cultivate Compassion—Be good to yourself. A key but often overlooked aspect of fostering resilience is the cultivation of compassion—for yourself and for others. Compassion increases positive emotions, creates positive relationships, and increases cooperation and collaboration as well as happiness, well-being and decreased stress. (Fernandez, R., 5 Ways to Boost Your Resilience at Work (HBR June 2016)). Being mindful of how your thoughts and actions are impacting your own well-being and mindset as well as that of others and being generous and compassionate to yourself and others during this transitional time will foster your resiliency and ability to bounce back.
In sum, your career is long and will undoubtedly have interesting twists and turns. Rebound resiliently and you will continue moving forward successfully. While there is much you can do on your own, it is often helpful to engage an experienced career coach to serve as a guide. The Attorney Talent Strategy Group (www.atalentstrategy.com) would be delighted to work with you and can be reached at email@example.com.
Lisa B. Horowitz, JD, MSOD, is an experienced career and leadership coach. She founded the Attorney Talent Strategy Group following a robust career as a practicing attorney and senior talent development professional. She currently coaches and trains attorneys on career planning strategies, navigating career transitions, leadership, management and business development.