Following our recent LSE alumni panels discussing non-linear careers and imposter syndrome, our final alumni panel of the Summer Term focused on the role that resilience plays in the career journey. When it comes to ensuring we can adapt to change and uncertainty, the ability to remain resilient is critical – particularly for those entering the workspace in the challenging circumstances of 2021.
What is resilience?
According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is: “The process of adapting well in the face of adversity… or significant sources of stress.”
To bring this definition to life, we heard from four alumni speakers:
- Judy Fu, Barrister, 3 Verulum Buildings
- Zara King, Principal Consultant, Beaumont Consulting Services
- Denis Mani, Planning and Strategy Manager, Vodafone
- Ria Sen, Preparedness Lead, Technology Division, World Food Programme
While each speaker shared varying examples of overcoming setbacks in their working lives, they were all well-placed to offer advice on graduating into volatile employment markets – Judy and Zara graduated from LSE in the depth of the post-2008 financial crisis, and Denis in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 Brexit vote.
So, what advice did our speakers have for developing resilience in the face of a global pandemic?
How can we develop resilience?
Two themes were central to the panel’s discussions: first, a consistent ability to adapt to changing circumstances and second, a sense of ownership over your professional goals:
1. Keep a sense of perspective and broader purpose
“Be mindful of the things that are really important to you” – Denis Mani
When facing a difficult situation, speakers suggested you take a step back and set broader life goals, helping you to understand your personal motivations and view setbacks as a small part of a bigger plan. Taking an objective stance on the situation and seeing yourself within the context of your wider environment can also help minimise the personal impact of experiencing setbacks.
2. Take the ‘long view’
Ask yourself ‘how important will this situation or moment be to me in 5 or 10 years time?’ (The alumni advocating this technique said that, from their experience, the answer is usually ‘not very’!)
One speaker added that the most important advice they’d ever received was: “Don’t be the type of person things happen to” – we aren’t defined by events and need to separate ourselves from them.
3. Conduct detailed market research
“Look at the potential for solutions rather than ruminating on the problem” – this might include undertaking research to gain vital knowledge about how best to upskill to be appealing to your target market.
4. ‘Fail forwards’
“We are often taught to see success and failure as opposite sides of a coin. But taking risks, being willing to ‘fail forwards’, and take the learning is how you grow. It is the stepping stone to success” – Zara King
The speakers were candid about the role of failure in their working lives; one talked about the concept of ‘failing forward’, when experiencing challenges or rejections had supported their learning and led to a greater level of self-awareness.
The panellists agreed that success and failure are intrinsically linked, and that what can be perceived and experienced as failure at one stage in our careers can teach us about our capacity to adapt and keep going.
5. Take care of yourself
All our speakers spoke of how balancing work within the broader domains of life is essential for maintaining a sense of perspective. They recommended a diverse range of wellbeing and coping strategies including meditation, regular exercise and indulging passions outside of work – whether that’s a fascination with Egyptology or an interest in arts and crafts. A key element of maintaining good mental health is understanding which coping strategies work for you as an individual.
6. Recognise the role of luck
Things not going to plan? It’s important to not take this as a personal indictment of you as an individual – instead, focus on what you can offer and accept that sometimes things happen as the result of good luck or timing, rather than as a direct consequence of our actions.
Networking to generate connections is particularly important in the case of ‘non-linear’ career paths. To go beyond the auto filtering recruitment mechanisms:
- Connect with alumni
- Find a mentor
- Use work experience as a way of demonstrating your potential to employers.
One speaker highlighted the importance of having contacts who can both challenge you and provide encouragement – and remember that your supporters or mentors don’t always have to be in the same sector as the one you are targeting.
8. Find opportunities in disruption
When things are changing quickly, there will always be unexpected areas of opportunity. Our speakers pointed out that in the financial crash and aftermath of Brexit, new industries and activities emerged. Active networking can be the key to recognising these areas and aligning yourself with new opportunities.
9. Overcome procrastination
Demonstrating resilience means overcoming procrastination tendencies and our speakers had some useful advice for boosting productivity:
- Identify why you’re procrastinating: Do you feel stuck? Are you lacking motivation?
- Seek help or collaborate with others to increase motivation
- Set a 10-minute timer before you start and explore what you are feeling, what’s really keeping you from working (anxiety, fear, shame) – you will be surprised what you learn
By the end of this engaging and inspiring event, one thing was clear: resilience plays a key role in navigating the challenges and opportunities of an uncertain but rapidly evolving labour market.
This blog is based on a panel event that took place on 6 July 2021. Check out all LSE Careers events on CareerHub.