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How resilience can lead to more career success

It’s probably no surprise that resilience can help steer your career in the direction of success. You might end up the best in your profession, but if the stress of your job is taking its toll, you’re not working at 100%. Without resilience, you’re at risk of burning out. Build your professional resilience and you’ll set yourself up to succeed.

Resilience is flexibility

We tend to think of resilience as being tough – that being resilient means you can stick out a hard situation. But, although resilience gives you strength, it’s not about being tough. The key is flexibility.

Associate Professor Marcus O’Donnell, Director of Digital Learning at Deakin University, compares resilience to a rubber ball. ‘The reason it bounces is because it’s flexible. It’s pliant. And it’s also incredibly strong. Because of this, it regains its shape very quickly.’ Assoc. Prof. O’Donnell says that while resilience is more complex than the ability to ‘bounce back’ from adversity, the bouncing back metaphor helps keep in mind the idea of flexibility.

Resilience is often associated with recovery from a bad situation. But it’s not just for the bad times, according to Assoc. Prof. O’Donnell. ‘Resilience is usually described as the ability to bounce back in times of stress, but I like to think of it as a quality we draw on in our everyday activities, not just when we’re under stress,’ he says.

Resilience is your personal toolkit to keep you humming along in life. Assoc. Prof. O’Donnell says resilience isn’t one single skill. ‘It emerges at the intersection of a range of skills and attitudes.’ Assoc. Prof. O’Donnell suggests professional resilience can be a combination of:

  • capabilities such as critical thinking and problem solving
  • specific skills like communication and project management
  • self-care practices: exercise, sleep and mindfulness
  • engagement through prioritising collaboration and collegiality
  • values such as altruism.

How resilience can improve your career prospects

We all need to become more resilient to prepare us for workplace pressure and so you don’t buckle under it. Assoc. Prof. O’Donnell says contemporary workplaces are often inherently stressful. ‘Not only can the demands placed on us be high – both in terms of the time we have to complete tasks and the level of task complexity – but workplaces are about teamwork and teamwork is all about balancing often tricky relationships.’

Difficult workmates can be a real challenge to deal with. ‘The resilience skill set helps us manage both ourselves and others,’ Assoc. Prof. O’Donnell says. ‘In all these situations, we need the cluster of resilience skills that help us plan our work, manage our emotions and reactions, and look after our own energy and health.’

Self-management is a key part of anyone’s resilience toolkit, and is a highly-prized skill in employees. Assoc. Prof. O’Donnell points to a DeakinCo. Deloitte White Paper that found self-management one of the top five capabilities in demand by employers. ‘The big gain career-wise is in the confidence that comes from self-reflection and keener self-awareness,’ Assoc. Prof. O’Donnell says. ‘Often we tend to think of resilience as some kind of private, secret power but actually resilience is something we learn by carefully analysing what’s happening to us and actively crafting a response.’

Self-awareness can also lead to better long-term career choices. For example, next time you’re job hunting, you might stop to consider whether the culture of a workplace will suit you before applying.

The daily niggles of a high-pressure job can add up to a bigger picture of serious stress. This can eat away at your energy and productivity. Harvard Business Review’s look at research on resilience highlights a marked difference in productivity between stressed and resilient workers. If you prioritise resilience and practise self-care, you’re better placed to manage stress and maintain energy at work.

Learn to be resilient

Anyone can improve their resilience with a bit of effort, according to Assoc. Prof. O’Donnell. ‘The good news is that most contemporary research agrees that resilience can be learned, it’s not just something we’re born with.’

'Often we tend to think of resilience as some kind of private, secret power but actually resilience is something we learn by carefully analysing what’s happening to us and actively crafting a response.'

Assoc. Prof. Marcus O'Donnell,
Deakin Learning Futures

Start by making a plan to become more resilient, says Assoc. Prof. O’Donnell. ‘It’s about actively developing skills and capabilities that help you organise, plan and problem solve and then matching these skills and capabilities with a set of self-care practices.’

Looking after yourself is one of the first steps. ‘Self-care includes the basics like sleep, food and exercise but also includes looking at things like meditation and self-awareness activities,’ Assoc. Prof. O’Donnell says.

There’s no shortcut to being more resilient. ‘It’s not a one size fits all recipe,’ he says. ‘It’s about analysing your own strengths and weaknesses at the moment and seeing what you need to add.’

By putting in some effort to plan for resilience, you’ll be poised for a smoother climb of the career ladder. It’ll also do wonders for your home life. Assoc. Prof. O’Donnell says there could be a few benefits to resilience outside of work too … ‘Just a few, like becoming better, nicer, happier human beings!’

Want practical tips to build your professional resilience? Sign up for Assoc. Prof. O’Donnell’s free two-week course on Futurelearn.

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Assoc. Prof. Marcus O'Donnell
Assoc. Prof. Marcus O'Donnell

Director of Digital Learning, Deakin Learning Futures

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