How to build resilience to navigate career transitions.

Resilience is a term that has gained in popularity in the business lexicon over the last few years and along with the term comes different perspectives on what resilience really is and whether you can develop it.

Firstly I’m not here to try and ‘define’ resilience – there’s loads of academic studies out there for those that care to have a read!

What I will do is offer how I see resilience, why I feel it’s an essential capacity to develop when transitioning at key points in your career (and life) and some of my top tips it helping you be more resilient.

So what is Resilience?

For me resilience comes down to 2 very simple ideas.

  1. Recognising when you are at your best (and knowing how to stay there for longer).
  2. Recognising when you are no longer at your best (and having the tools and skills to recover quicker).

From this point of view building resilience is key to any successful career transition.

It sort of seems obvious! Of course you need to be performing at your best more of the time!  And when things do go wrong (and they will) you need to be able to recognise this in yourself and support your own recovery without impacting on others (too much!)

The challenge is

  • it not always easy to stay on top from.
  • It can be tricky to help yourself recover when things do go wrong.
  • And (and this is the real challenge) being able to recognise what is pushing you from one state to the other can be even tougher – but without this learning piece you can’t build longer term resilience.

So let’s start with this last challenge.

What pushes us from pushes us out of peak performance?

There are many things that might stop you performing at your best but I’m just going to focus on one key area.  The idea of stress and pressure.

I do hear these 2 terms used somewhat interchangeably many times when coaching through transitions and when supporting people building their own resilience.  Again, there are many academic studies out there that try to define then so I’m not going to try and go down that route.

However, allow me to offer a couple of definitions that perhaps we can agree on simply for this article.  At least we can work from a common starting point.

My preferred starting point comes from Hendrie Weisinger.  He makesa clear distinction between the two.

  • Stress refers to the situation of too many demands and not enough resources – time, money, energy – to meet them.
  • Pressure is a situation in which you perceive that something at stake is dependent on the outcome of your performance.

Under these definitions Pressure can be thought of as a broadly motivating concept.  ‘Something is dependent on my performance but I’m up for it!’  Under this situation you may well experience negative emotions – anxiety or fear – the key is they don’t overwhelm you!

Stress on the other hand evokes a feeling of being overwhelmed and inability to cope.

So in simple terms:

pressure = good

Stress = bad

The impact of stress on the body and brain

Very simplistically when we experience stress the human body typically interprets feelings of being overwhelmed as a threat and responds by releasing cortisol & adrenaline into the body.

At low levels of stress, after the chemical release, hopefully we can still control our behaviour and use our experiences to manage the situation.  In an extreme situation we might go into full fight or flight mode. And there will be a range of responses between the two ends of the spectrum.

Wherever we are on the spectrum however, the impact on the body is broadly the same and based on millennia of evolution.

The threat response that triggers release of cortisol and adrenaline basically acts to inhibit access to the higher brain function – the neocortex.  We start to think more emotionally than thoughtfully.  We become reactive rather than responsive.  The higher the perceived stress the more inhibited to our higher brain functions we become.

Whilst there is the potential impact on your intellectual performance we also know there are long term health issues related to extended periods of ‘being stressed’.

It’s the ability to manage your performance and your health that we are really talking about here.

So why does this matter to Career Transitions?

When working through any transition, especially career transitions, the potential for pressure to turn into stress is very real.  It might not be just one thing – but often when working with people I notice it is a combination of lots of small things that lead to feelings of being overwhelmed.

The areas I have noticed most when working with people are:

  • Fear of not being able to do the job to the right level of quality.
  • Fear of being out of your depth or even imposter syndrome.
  • The inner critic dragging up pervious vulnerabilities.
  • Over-compensating and drifting into ‘hero manager mode’
  • Worry that your team aren’t operating a the ‘right level’ and micromanaging or pacesetting.
  • Not feeling you are adding value in meetings.
  • Not having all the answers.
  • Not being an expert in all areas your team are.
  • Getting things wrong and making early mistakes.
  • Worrying that mistakes might inhibit your career…..

The list is many fold and very individualistic.  What you feel as a stress some-else might feel as pressure.  So building resilience is specific to your own needs.

3 Top tips

Know yourself

This sounds obvious but it is the starting point for everything.  This is about growing your self-awareness and your self-management skills.  Take time to be honest with yourself about all the things that you are experiencing.  Some issues will be sub-conscious, some conscious, some personal, some professional. Take time to take stock and really confront all the challenges that are facing you and which ones might actually be pushing you into stress zone, even if it only feels momentarily.

Beyond this grow your awareness of what being at peak performance looks and feels like as well as what it looks and feels like for you when you are below par.  Notice your emotions, your quality of thinking, the stories that run through your brain.  Notice your physiological responses, sleep, sweat, shaking.

All of these can become your early warning signs that you’re in flow, or something is going on that means you’re below par.

If you can’t recognise it in the first place you can’t do anything about it.

Stay Present

Recognise the things you tell yourself and where these stories originated from.  Most often the brain is lazy.  When it experiences an emotion, it checks its data banks first to avoid having to think about every piece of data that comes in through our senses.  If it finds an experience similar enough to what we are facing it will treat them as the same.

This is all about recognising that the specific situation in front of us is different from the story we might be experiencing so rather than react to the past ‘threat’ we can treat this new issue through a new lens.

Whether you think of this as being ‘Adult’, being Present, being Mindful it doesn’t really matter.

Find a technique that works for you to disassociate past stories from what is really happening in front of you.

Stay positive

In the same way ‘threats’ inhibit access to the higher brain functions creating a ‘positive mindset’ can help access the higher brain functions (as well as improve health and well-being)

This might involve reliving past positive experiences through journaling or visualisation techniques. Re-framing mistakes or errors as learning opportunities.  Focussing on things that you can control to retain perceived agency and learning how to ‘park’ the things that you can’t control.

It’s all about focussing on ‘what can I do?’ rather than ‘This is a problem!’

These are just our top 3. Often people need external support to help their thinking and their own journey.  If you need more support or coaching to help you through your next or current transition contact us here.

Stretch People work with Executives and Senior Leaders through career transitions.  We have a particular focus on supporting leaders moving from a position of Expert Manager to Business Leader through either 1-2-1 coaching or learning interventions through bespoke workshops.  Please get in touch to explore leadership challenges you might be experiencing.