September 2014
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TD Magazine

Be a Career Chameleon

Monday, September 8, 2014
Be a Career Chameleon

Six ways to make your career resilient.

Building your career resilience enables you to anticipate and prepare for challenges before they ever occur. The first definition of career resilience comes from Manuel London in 1983. He defined it as "a person's resistance to career disruption in a less than optimal environment." And although the economy is improving slowly, it seems that we have been living in a less than optimal environment for quite a few years.

One of the most common complaints heard from talent development professionals is that "training is the first to go" when organizations need to cut the budget. Interestingly, there is no specific research data to support that claim. What we do know is that while organizations do continue to invest in talent development, learning departments have to work with reduced budgets and fewer resources.

There are many case scenarios of talent development professionals who regularly find themselves laid off and looking for work. Whether or not you are looking for work right now, the following six steps can help you to be purposeful about building your career resilience and to be better equipped when change occurs.

Be adaptable

One of the most prominent ideas in career literature is career adaptability. In a paper for the British Journal of Guidance and Counseling, Andreas Hirschi wrote that there is little consensus about what adaptability is. Is adaptability a disposition, a competence, a resource, or simply a mindset of readiness?

If we look at the "Big Five" personality traits—extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism—openness is one of the key factors that contribute to career success. Some behaviors that encourage growth in this area include being proactive to learn new skills, take risks, explore and identify new resources, and believe in your ability to succeed.

Resourcefulness includes finding and developing new resources and being flexible and open to changing your mindset and behavior. A student of mine, who worked in a major healthcare organization, experienced nine reorganizations in 10 years and had to interview for her "new" job each time. Vanessa is an amazing and positive student. She told me that she was taking a leadership class because she knew that if she was always learning something new and developing new skills, she would always be competitive for the next opportunity—and she is.

Use and apply your skills

How many times have you taken a class and then never used the skills that you learned? There are many barriers to the transfer of learning and actual skill implementation. In this case the barriers can be both internal (psychological) and external (organizational).

The tenacity to continuously practice and apply a skill to achieve a goal takes some grit. Well-known Harvard University researcher Angela Duckworth defines grit as "the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward long-term goals," and identifies grit as one of the key traits that predict success in life.

Doug Holman, vice president of membership for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, told me a great story on this topic. In 2013, he was one of three coaches who led Eastlake Little League to victory in the U.S. championship game. However, winning that game is not the story. It was the approach Holman took in preparing the team mentally to believe it could win it all, as well as the physical preparation to be able to handle the rigors of 23 games in 75 days.

The team didn't have a long history of championships, and the kids laughed when Holman suggested the audacious goal. So they began a version of a season-long game of hangman. After each win, the team added one letter to the diagram until they had spelled out "Little League World Series." With repeated practice and determination, they achieved their goal.

Build a strong network

You can't wait until you're unemployed to begin building relationships. The behaviors that help build professional relationships include volunteerism, networking, follow-up, reconnecting with former colleagues, and increasing your social awareness.

According to a 2001 report by Monica Higgins and Kathy Kram, a strong network needs to have both quality and diversity. Strong social capital needs to be identified and developed. Quality is not just how influential the people in your network are; it's also about how good the relationship is.

Diversity involves the range of industry sectors, level in the organization, and density of your network. A strong network goes beyond building your connections on LinkedIn. It means adding value to those in your network by contributing ideas, support, and your time.

In 2007, Sardek Love was fired from a lucrative position with a large consulting firm. He was only unemployed for 30 minutes before he launched his firm Infinity Consulting & Training Solutions. He attributes this quick transition to the relationships he developed and maintained as a result of his volunteer leadership and participation with his local ATD chapter as well as ATD internationally. The opportunity that led him to start his business has now taken him to speaking engagements and training events in more than two dozen countries.

Maintain your health and balance

This may be obvious, but you need to take care of yourself. Even though you may be at a high point in your career, sometimes life can take an unexpected turn that causes you to lose your career buoyancy, which can put you at risk for a proverbial drowning.

The basics are to eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep. Be sure to also include managing your finances effectively, avoiding toxic people, stopping the negative self-talk, and keeping your environment healthy. But what do you do if you find yourself facing a life-altering event, such as the death of a loved one, a life-threatening illness, or any traumatic situation in your personal life that also dramatically affects your professional life?

Global learning leader and cancer survivor Trish Uhl, founder and CEO of Owls Ledge, says, "Sometimes success means surrender. Sometimes you have to stop paddling so fast, slow down, reprioritize, and focus on what's now rather than on what's next." Uhl makes a good point: Oftentimes trying to keep everything afloat winds up keeping nothing afloat, and you risk going under water. Don't be afraid to let go, give yourself time to heal, and come back stronger.


Follow your instincts

Resilience literature demonstrates that self-efficacy is critical for developing resilience. Self-perception also is linked to career success, and can help or hinder a person's willingness to explore and try new things.

Career self-management and self-direction surface as key issues in career literature. In her article in the HR Management Journal, Jane Sturges identifies a variety of behaviors that support career self-management, including positioning, influencing, managing boundaries, risk taking, visibility, and networking.

Sometimes you need to go out on a limb and take a huge risk. John Chen, CEO of Geoteaming, is known for this. He is a risk-taker, innovative entrepreneur, and team-building expert. He left a successful position with Microsoft in 1999 to start his business, and since then Chen has followed his instincts to build his dream.

In January, he took 88 Seattle Seahawks fans to Super Bowl XLVIII for the adventure of their lives. What started as local staycations to Seahawks games in Seattle with his mom quickly turned into helping kids with significant disabilities get to see a game, and culminated in the ultimate trip to the Super Bowl.

The risk paid off in numerous ways. The story went viral and he had 20 interviews in six days with such news agencies as CNN, Forbes, and the New York Times. Guided by his instinct, Chen trusts the process and believes that his skills and experience will see him through to achieve his goals.

Control yourself

In addition to grit, Duckworth also identifies self-control as an excellent predictor of success in life. One's ability to self-regulate behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses improves a person's follow-through on certain types of difficult tasks. Building on the work of Catherine Morris Cox from the 1920s, Duckworth says the qualities of perseverance, tenacity, and doggedness that some people have is really the tendency not to abandon tasks in the face of obstacles.

I have a good friend who started losing her sight as a young adult, and is now legally blind. She is one of the most self-disciplined and determined people I know. The average unemployment rate of visually impaired individuals is roughly 70 percent, and clearly there are several obstacles that can get in her way. Yet, she is the first blind person to successfully complete the exam to become a Certified Federal Contracts Manager, and is hoping to complete the Project Management Institute's Project Management Professional certification exam soon.

She works full time and commutes two hours to and from work every day, which gives her a 12-hour day. As if that weren't enough, she is active in Toastmasters, her professional association, and is beginning work on her master's degree in contract management. I am amazed at her determination and discipline to achieve her goals. What can you do to be more disciplined in developing the behaviors that build your career resilience?

At the end of the day, what we know is that people aren't born resilient. To develop the self-discipline we need to remain afloat, we must be purposeful in taking the necessary steps to adapt and develop new skills or resources, apply and use those skills, build a strong network, maintain our balance, believe in ourselves, and trust our instincts when the "weather" gets bad.

About the Author

Maureen C. Orey is an award-winning international speaker, expert facilitator, and executive coach with more than two decades of experience in the fields of communication, resilience, leadership, training, diversity, and inclusion. She has worked in many industries, including technology, healthcare, construction, hospitality, and education. Her client list includes Boeing, Sony Corp, Scripps Health, SHARP Healthcare, San Diego State University, the Scaffold Industry Association, the Association for Talent Development, the City of San Diego, the US Marine Corps, and the US Navy. As the founder and CEO of the Workplace Learning & Performance Group, Maureen is dedicated to working with inspired individuals and organizations to build their resilience through effective communication, diverse teams, and inclusive leadership strategies.

Maureen is co-author of the bestselling Communication Skills Training (ASTD Press 2004; ATD Press 2014), A Year of Resilience (Stay Afloat Press 2020), and Successful Staffing in a Diverse Workplace (Richard Chang Associates). She is a Certified Professional in Talent Development (CPTD), holds a doctorate in organizational leadership, a master’s in education from the University of San Diego, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from San Diego State University. In addition to her work in the private sector, she currently serves as adjunct professor at University of California, San Diego, teaching courses on leading and managing change.

Among her many professional recognitions, Maureen was honored with the ATD 2017 Dissertation of the Year award for her research on the career benefits and ROI of volunteer leadership. She has been recognized as an outstanding Instructor of the Year for San Diego State University’s College of Extended Studies and her company, the Workplace Learning & Performance Group, is proud to be the winner of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Awards.

Maureen is passionate about resilience, balance, and embracing the differences that make us strong. Originally from San Diego, she is a proud mother of three children and enjoys sipping a nice red wine and staying afloat on her boat in Coronado, California.

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This is a great recipe for how to meander through ups and downs of career trajectory and keep going when the going gets tough!
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Great article, and very timely. Thanks, Maureen!
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