Career Resilience: The Art of Bouncing Back

Some of the most important and insightful learning is far more likely to come from failures than from success.”

~ Former Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley, interviewed in Harvard Business Review (April 2011)

How we respond to setbacks and how quickly we bounce back depends on the SMARTER skill of resilience. The wisdom of learning from career adversity is undeniable, yet individuals often avoid rather than embrace the lessons of adversity. Resilience does not mean how you initially react to adverse events, but how you eventually react and learn from them.

Harvard business professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter has written many stories from business and sports about resilience in ‘Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streak Begin and End‘. Kanter is unequivocal: “One difference between winners and losers is how they handle losing.” Even for the most accomplished professionals, military personnel or college graduates, any track record of success will inevitably meet slips and fumbles.

Think of the image of a rubber band. Rubber bands get stretched and bent out of shape, yet they spring back often with a new purpose. The good news is that most of us can learn to be more resilient with training and coaching.

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Take the example of two MBA graduates from my coaching practice. Both we were laid off from their positions during the recent recession. These very accomplished individuals initially travelled down different paths and held opposite mindsets during career coaching.

One chose the path of fear with a fixed or emotionally hi jacked mindset. When emotions swamp the emotional brain, it lowers the ability to weigh decisions and make smarter career choices. Challenges are avoided, effort is viewed as fruitless and feedback is ignored or minimized.

The other chose the path of “hope” leading to a growth and resilient mindset. This individual did not let emotions “hi jack” their best self, they embraced feedback, and reached out to, and often expanded, a positive support system. This client embraced the job search as a new challenge, had an abundance of social and emotional reserves to persist in face of setbacks, and sought lessons and inspiration in the success of others.

The first individual spiraled into the path of hopelessness. Being fired provoked feelings of anxiety, impulsiveness, indecisiveness, avoidance and pessimism about the future. “I got fired because I can’t perform well under pressure,” he lamented. “I’m not cut out for finance; the economy will take years to recover.” Even after the market improved, he was reluctant to apply for positions and feared rejection.

The other high achiever had emotional and social reserves to bounce back, and move forward. Instead of getting stuck in “stinkin thinking”, this individual learned how to minimize negative thoughts, strengthen and attract positive emotions, and reinforce or build social reserves. “It’s not my fault; it’s the economy. I’m good at what I do, and there’s a market for my skills.” The client updated his resume and, after several interviews, landed a position.

How these individuals handled setbacks is often contingent on five career resilience competencies. In the book Smart2Smarter, Kivland discusses these five career resilience skills that are in compliance with the standards set by the National Career Development Association (NCDA), an international professional association that benchmarks competencies specific c to career development. The assessment will note your strongest career resilience competencies and your opportunities for skill improvement.

Career Resilience requires consistently and regularly practicing behaviors that sharpen and strengthen your career skills. Certified career coaches are an excellent resource to identify and then strengthen career resilience skills. The Smart2Smarter Career Community is another resource to strengthen and reinforce career resilient skills.


Cynthia Kivland, Author and President Smart2Smarter Coaching, Training and Assessment Services has over twenty five years of accomplished career coaching experience working with very smart people, leaders and teams including MBA’s, military, scientists, CEO’s, and healthcare professionals. Join Cynthia’s Career and Workplace Resilience group on LinkedIn. For more coaching and career resources please Contact Cynthia.

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