Planning and preparation is often the best strategy for most things in life. It works when preparing for college, job interviews, buying a house, getting married, or running a marathon. But there is no way to plan for the unexpected, which is where resiliency and the ability to cope stem from.
Like life, careers rarely go as expected, and the more resilient you are, the better you will weather the ups and downs of your professional life. Fortunately, resilience can be learned.
This article focuses on how you can build your career resilience and cope when the unexpected happens. We explain what resilience is and the mindset that resilient people use to navigate a bumpy career path.
The unexpected at work can take many forms. You might be let go or forced to quit because of an unreasonable boss. A pandemic might force you to change careers. You might become ill, or decide to switch careers because of burnout. How well you cope with whatever adversity is thrown at you, physically and psychologically, is a measure of your resilience.
The American Psychological Association describes resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of risk.” It’s how well we bounce back when something goes wrong rather than falling apart under pressure.
Everybody has some resilience, albeit in varying degrees. How resilient you are depends on your personality and life experiences, but the most important thing is that resilience can be learned.
For more on finding direction, read "Halp! I don't Know What to Do For My Career"
Unexpected career events can send us in unforeseen directions. A career shock is an impactful event that triggers potential career changes, such as seeking a new job, acquiring new skills, switching careers, or retiring.
The shocks will affect what you do in your career, but they can also affect your mental state positively or negatively. A promotion will have an uplifting effect, whereas a firing will have a damaging effect.
It’s important to nurture a growth mindset for career success. Part of a growth mindset requires rebalancing your career goals after the shock. Your priorities may have to shift. Developing a plan at this stage can be helpful in managing the emotions caused by a stressful event. You may feel overwhelmed. Here are the steps to take.
Re-evaluate your position
Plan short-term and long-term goals.
Plan the steps you need to take to reach your first short-term goal, bearing in mind the overall long-term goal.
Take the first step.
To give an example. Let’s say that you are suddenly let go from work. Your short-term goal is to find a way to meet your financial obligations. Your long-term goal is to secure a position that aligns with your career aspirations.
If you have some savings, you might decide to take a part-time job and attend college in the evenings to be better qualified for another position. If the job market looks good, you might decide to take out a loan to help you financially while taking classes to boost your marketability. If you decide you want to change careers, you might do voluntary work to gain work experience in that industry.
By taking positive steps, even just the first step (in this case, finding a part-time job, securing a loan, or gaining experience in a new industry), will give you a sense of control to encourage you to move on with your life, whatever the shock.
Now is not the time to curl up in bed and feel sorry for yourself. Instead, practice self-awareness and self-care. Eat a good diet, exercise, and get enough sleep. All of these things will keep you mentally and physically strong so that you can manage adversity. At the same time, allow yourself to feel shocked, sad, or exhilarated.
Don’t beat yourself up, but be kind to yourself. Process your emotions rather than denying them. It’s natural to feel sad, fearful, or exhausted when the unexpected happens. Reaching out to others and seeking support is crucial to your well-being when you are experiencing a difficult event.
For more on losing a job, read "What Are the Implications of Being Fired Vs. Laid Off?"
Coping with a career or personal shock can be even harder if you feel alone, so a strong support network can provide valuable sustenance while you build resilience.
Family and friends can help you to see things from a new perspective. They can also distract you from ruminating on setbacks. If you have a professional network, you can reach out to your contacts and ask their advice, or ask them to refer you for other jobs. You will not be the only one to experience a career setback, and it can be reassuring to hear how other people coped in a similar situation.
How do you build a network? Invest in others by giving your time and helping them. Maintain connections with past colleagues and supervisors.
Consulting a career professional, mentor, or mental health professional can also help you with problem-solving. A different perspective can reframe your thoughts so that you can move forward with your life and career after a setback.
Career professionals are experts on advising individuals on how to reach their career goals. They may have ideas and suggestions that would not occur to you. The wider your network, the more people you can tap for advice, guidance, and support.
For tips on building a network, read "Building Your Professional Network to Land a Job"
Ok. So, you can’t plan for the unexpected, but you can take steps to strengthen your situation so that if the unexpected happens, you are in a better position to have a successful career. For example, build a strong personal brand and learn new skills.
Make sure your LinkedIn page is updated and professional, and keep your resume updated. Build your online personal brand. Even if you are happily and gainfully employed, you might be sought out by a headhunter or someone who sees and likes your professional profile. You will also be better positioned for a career change.
Always seek self-improvement. Take online courses in your spare time. Learn a language. Become certified in a programming language. Doing so will increase your competencies and value to an employer and boost your career development. You will gain self-confidence and resilience.
With a growth mindset, a setback can be viewed as an opportunity. Being forced out of a job can lead to a better one or an entrepreneurial venture. It’s how you react to an event that will determine the outcome of your own career, and your resilience is what will make any transition smoother and easier.
Resilient people accept that tough times are part of life. Rather than asking, “Why me?” they find ways to move forward with their professional development, even if it is just taking the first step. Follow the advice in this guide to increase your adaptability. Most importantly, don’t try to do it alone. Reach out to family, friends, mentors, and professionals.
Make investing in yourself and your career a priority, whatever your circumstances. Practice lifelong learning. With the right mindset, you’ll have the strength to withstand anything your professional career throws at you.