134. Three Takeaways on Career Continuity and Resilience

June 18, 2020


As I wrap up Season 3, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the conversations that I’ve had and share my key takeaways. I thought this might be helpful as a bookend to a season around career continuity and resilience.

I had other plans.

To be honest, this season started in a frantic way. It was not what I had initially planned. But as I was about to get into the new season, the WHO announced the global pandemic. Life and work, as we knew it, were just beginning to get flipped upside down. The episodes that I had developed initially just didn’t sound right for this moment.

So, I called an audible. At the last minute, I decided to put those episodes on the shelf for now and develop an entirely different season on career continuity and resilience.

Looking back now, eleven episodes later, I’m happy about how Season 3 turned out. I have, for you, a series of episodes that are not only relevant for the current times. It is also a compilation of different sides of a conversation around the question, “How do we stay resilient and take care of our careers during times of uncertainty?” That question is an evergreen topic. And season 3 will always be relevant, no matter what is causing the disruption.

As HR leader Randy Lumia pointed out in Episode 132, there will always be disruptions in the business world that can and will impact our work.

Today, it is the pandemic, economic instability, plus sustained civil unrest in the USA (also being felt globally). Tomorrow, it will be something else. It may not always be as far-reaching as today’s challenges are. It may be more acute for a particular industry or constrained within a specific geography or field of work. It may be slow in the making or a sudden occurrence. But no matter what, there will always be something that will disrupt.

Which leads me to my first (of three) takeaways:

Takeaway #1: In today’s world, resilient practices are not only ideal. They are practical and must form part of our regular habits.

Talking about resilient practices can sometimes feel like talking about insurance or contingency plans. It’s harder to think about them when things are going well. In fact, I opened this year with an episode with Dr. Nayla Bahri on this very topic: career resilience when times are good.

Little did we know that in just three months, I would ask her back — this time to talk about resilience from a very different place. My conversation with Dr. Bahri in March (which kicked off Season 3) happened just as the lockdowns were rolling out, and the full impact of COVID was finally being acknowledged here in the US. At the time that I spoke with her, it felt like “What the heck’s happening?” and we were all deers caught in the headlights.

As I reflect on that conversation now, it’s clear how important it is to practice resilient habits all the time. Not just when things have gone haywire, but all the time — which was precisely the premise of the January episode.

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“There are things we can do to build our resilience. And we should be doing these when times are good, not just when we’ve been kicked to the curb.” — Dr. Nayla Bahri

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Chief for me are three practices that shore up my resilience habits: (1) actively nurturing relationships, (2) creating opportunities for learning new things, and (3) actively pursuing opportunities for experimentation.

My view here is that the more complacent I get, the longer I’m in a comfortable space, the less agile or flexible I’ll be when things go sideways. So, at the core of my resilience habits is an intention to always be moving and to getting comfortable with discomfort.

Takeaway #2: We are all leaders. At the very least, we are leaders in our own lives.

We can all agree on the traditional definition of leaders — those who are in a position or playing roles where they are clearly leading a team of people.

But one thing that this season of disruption has highlighted for me is that many many more of us are leaders that may not fall under the common definition.

We may not have the title or the position in an organizational structure. But if you’re showing up anywhere – with your art, your voice, your creation – you’re a leader. Because you’re in a position to influence, to model a way of thinking, or to show an example of a lived habit or practice.

Community leader Tara McMullin, my guest in Episode 124, recently told me that anybody who creates media has a leadership role. That really struck a chord with me.

I write a weekly publication, Briefing Notes, and I produce this show. Through these platforms, I can reach people beyond my tiny corner of the world. With that comes responsibility: to show up consistently, with thoughtful contributions to ongoing conversations about what’s going on and what impacts our workplaces and our world.

There were times during these past months when I felt that responsibility heavy on my shoulders. Not heavy as in, “I don’t want this” but heavy, as in “I must take this seriously and not take it for granted.” It is a huge opportunity to be able to reach people through my written and spoken voice and to share my learnings, and let’s face it, my view of the world.

This is a significant responsibility in ordinary normal times and even more so during times of unpredictability. Because I too am going through all the ups and downs just like everybody else. So the question “what kind of leadership do I want to bring into this experience?” has been a critical consideration for me.

On this question, there were three conversations this season that were very much on point.

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“The practice of asking questions that don’t have answers is a growth practice. That’s an important part of life regardless, but it’s definitely an important part of life right now. Articulating questions are part of the process of finding answers. If you don’t let yourself articulate the question, you’ll never find the answer.” — Tara McMullin

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Takeaway #3: During times of intense disruption, it helps to have a guiding principle to help us process what’s happening and guide our actions.

I’ve been re-reading The Obstacle is The Way by Ryan Holiday. This book was written, in my mind, to make Stoicism a little bit more accessible and relevant to modern-day readers. It’s like a primer for Stoicism. So, if you’re already a student of the philosophy, you may find it a bit basic or pedestrian. But for people like me, it’s perfect.

I find Stoicism is precisely what I needed to weather this crazy storm that we’re in. Its teachings act as reminders and guideposts so that I can better process and act according to my values during these difficult times.

As I’m still very much a student of Stoicism, I invited Brendan Hufford in Episode 126 so we can talk more about it and specifically, this idea of Amor Fati – or love of fate. it’s about learning to love your fate – no matter what it is. But not in a passive, “okay, I’ll accept this” kind of way but in a way that you let it drive and fuel your decisions and actions.

Brendan shared this personal story with his son that, for me, demonstrated how Amor Fati is in action or in practice.

And then, the next episode with Kristen Girard cemented this idea for me. Kristen did not use the word Stoicism to describe what she’s done to adapt, live, and thrive in her new normal. But in listening to her story, I’m convinced that Amor Fati was one thing that guided her.

Stoicism may not be for you. It happened to be the philosophy that’s appealing to me. But the point or the takeaway is to hold on to a core set of principles that can help you navigate whatever the world’s throwing at you in a healthy, non-destructive, and non-selfish way.

During times of disruption and upheaval, things WILL go up and down. Things won’t always go our way. There will be frustrations. And sometimes, it’ll be downright overwhelming. I’ve certainly felt these during these past months. What’s been helpful for me is the daily reminder of Stoicism (I read a passage from the book every day and I start most of my days listening to the Daily Stoic podcast). These have kept me sane, focused, and positive.

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“Choosing to love your fate sounds great. On a regular day. When you really need a reminder is when something terrible happens.” — Brendan Hufford

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This period of uncertainty appears to be longer-lasting than what we might have hoped for.

Just this week, Jerome H. Powell, chair of the US Federal Reserve, said that the path to economic recovery remains uncertain and warned that a prolonged downturn could widen existing inequalities. He also said a full economic recovery is unlikely until the public is confident that the disease is contained.

And even as things get back to normal, the normal that we left behind in February 2020 isn’t likely what we’re going to get.

I think we’re in a period of disruption, unpredictability, and discovery – which is an excellent thing for all of us who can find a way to find our footing and get some balance in rocking boats.

Let me end this episode with a quote I caught on Instagram the other day. These are the words of Amy Bonsall, CEO of nau – a business dedicated to bringing humanity back to the workplace.

“This is the age of the amateur. The world is open for anyone who can figure out what the new unmet needs are and how to solve them.”

 

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