How to … build resilience as you face change or progress in your career

How to … build resilience as you face change or progress in your career

Blog by Pamela Taylor, Executive Coach, Taylor MacPherson

Pamela Taylor is the founder and CEO of Taylor MacPherson. She works as an accredited executive coach with a variety of clients and as a Non-Executive Director on a number of boards. She has over 17 years’ experience in the energy sector, including at the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets and as a director at FTI Consulting. We are delighted to welcome Pamela to our blog series with this article based on the popular workshop she ran at our Annual Conference in May.

Working unsustainable hours to be promoted? Putting off progressing your career because you want time with your family? Lacking the confidence to make change happen for you?
Whatever the change – good or bad, sought or imposed, internally or externally triggered – being resilient helps equip us to take it on and to manage any resulting stress.

So how do we develop resilience?

According to the Oxford Dictionary resilience is ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness’. Here are my tips on how to develop it.

  1. Understand how we perceive ourselves and our situation

Our emotions, our reactions and our beliefs about ourselves and the situations we find ourselves in are key pieces of information for beginning the process.

Emotional intelligence was defined by Professor John D Mayer as “an ability to recognize the meanings of emotion and their relationships, and to reason and problem-solve on the basis of them“. Sounds simple! Yet, often we label ourselves as ‘stressed’ without understanding the underlying emotion (e.g. fear, sadness, etc). Once we understand that, we can understand more about how we perceive ourselves.

However, identifying emotions is easier for some than others. So, noticing how we react (or want to react) and the language that we use to describe how we feel can help. For example, if we are musing about running away or talking about fighting our corner, then it is likely that we feel threatened and fearful. The fight or flight response is a psychological response to perceived threatening situations.

Another useful source of information is understanding our beliefs. We construct an inner narrative, which is informed by previous experiences, to protect ourselves. These beliefs can empower us or be self-limiting. To understand our beliefs, it is important to delve beneath the narrative about the situation to how we perceive ourselves. For example, we might believe that a colleague doesn’t listen and is difficult to work with, but the insight is what we believe this means for us, we might feel that we are failing because we find our colleague difficult.

  1. Support ourselves with empowering beliefs – we control our fate!

One thing happy, successful people have in common is self-belief. That doesn’t mean that they never get discouraged, make mistakes or suffer setbacks. They do. Greater insight and self-awareness often come from mistakes and setbacks. However, the reason the happy, successful bounce back is they choose self-belief and self-acceptance. Yes, it is a choice. We can choose what we tell ourselves.

For example, before setting up my own business, I had a strongly held belief that I would fail. It took time to change my inner narrative from ‘I will fail’ to ‘what will I need to succeed?’. Once I acknowledged the fear and challenged it, I could start to see myself as the CEO of my own business and devise strategies to make it happen. I also had to challenge my belief about what failing meant (e.g. was it defined as not making a certain amount of money?). I had to accept that there would be ups and downs and that I would undoubtedly get things wrong but that was ok, I’d learn, and succeed!

A recent study of female CEOs and how they explain their career success revealed that self-acceptance – i.e. processes by which female CEOs accepted their own leadership potential and learned to cope with their own and others’ expectations about their priorities on work and family – was the first necessary step to leadership.

  1. Be our own best friend

When we are facing a difficult situation, recognise that it is tough. Resilience isn’t about pretending all is well when it isn’t. It is being authentic and compassionate when we suffer setbacks, make mistakes or feel pain and not being hard on ourselves. It sounds simple. Yet, often we show ourselves less compassion than we would others. By reminding ourselves what we would tell a friend in the same situation helps us to gain perspective, forgive our mistakes and build self-acceptance.

  1. Focus on our strengths

We tend to focus on what we need to improve and take for granted what we are good at. How many of us have received feedback at work and the thing that remained with us was the one thing to change?  Re-training our minds to value our strengths helps to build self-belief and acceptance. A useful exercise is to keep a journal of what we are proud of or have achieved each day.  Valuing who we are can help us to be resilient in turbulent times.

  1. Communicate assertively

A common source of work stress is our relationships with colleagues, clients and stakeholders. We know that if we constantly bite our tongue and hold back resentment builds. Yet, it is common to avoid speaking out for fear of offending others. We’ve all experienced offloading our anger and frustration on others and know the consequences of unleashing a tirade. Assertiveness is the ability to express ourselves without undermining others. It is a learned response to threats that differs from our natural ‘fight’ (aggressive) or ‘flight’ (passive) reaction. Resilient people learn and practise assertive communication.

Developing habits that build resilience takes time and commitment. But with these steps – understanding ourselves and our situations, building self-acceptance and self-belief, valuing our strengths and being assertive – you can begin to take charge of your career journey, learn how to bounce back from setbacks along the way and achieve a positive, successful and less stressful working life.