“You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it.” – Sheryl Sandberg
Most of us have encountered significant moments in both our personal and professional lives that have stopped us in our tracks or, to put it bluntly, sent us into a complete tailspin.
I remember that sinking feeling very clearly. In 2007 I stepped off a plane travelling interstate with some 20 missed calls from my family, who delivered news that my sister had been hit by a car to get to the hospital immediately, as she was being wheeling into surgery.
I remember sitting on a Greek island (stay with me!) with a mate, with a year of travel already planned and booked in, when they decided at the three-month mark, to return to Australia. At the time, I had been talked into going overseas in the first place, and I was suddenly faced with nine-months of travelling alone (or forfeit everything I’d booked!).
I remember when two key clients – representing nearly 80% of my business –both called within 24 hours to say that they were cancelling their 12 month leadership programs as they were announcing M&A activity (interesting that they decided to pull the programs at a time when their leaders probably needed it most, but that’s a whole other story!).
I wouldn’t invite or wish these challenges upon anyone, but when I reflect on these moments, I am encouraged by the fact that not only did I ‘survive’ them (and so did my sister!); new opportunities and relationships came from them all. Ones that would possibly never have been considered or embarked upon without the jolt those moments of crisis invariably bring.
At the time of my sister’s accident, I had just returned from living overseas and we had both moved to Melbourne. It was the first time that we had lived in the same place since I was 11 years old, courtesy of boarding school and life moves. My sister’s subsequent year of recovery saw the foundations of a sister bond form that could survive an apocalypse.
With my mate flying back to Australia, I flew to London and found a whole new world and life open up. I stayed another seven years, travelled more than I could have ever imagined, changed careers and met people who are now not just life-long friends but who continue to impact and shape much of who I am and how I live my life.
Losing two key clients forced me to draw on my professional resilience and diversify my business that today has provided greater security, nimbleness and fulfilment.
It’s not only been my personal experiences that have seen opportunities arise in moments of what feels like overwhelming challenge.
History has shown us time and time again that new opportunities can be born out of a crisis. The key is being ready to respond – both personally and professionally.
In my world of career management and leadership, our abilities in moments of crisis to replace nervousness with confidence, confusion with clarity and a sense of powerlessness with control is a superpower – not just for ourselves but also our teams.
Whether we are looking at our own personal careers or how we lead our team through periods of uncertainty and vulnerability there a number of key questions we need to be able to ask ourselves, some of which include:
What can I / we do and how is that regarded?
What do I / we need to develop to meet current need?
Where is the most immediate demand for my / our expertise?
How easily am I / we found?
How do I / we demonstrate transferability of knowledge, skills and relationships quickly and easily?
What do I / we personally need to pivot with ease?
At this particular moment in time, we all have an incredible opportunity in these times to do and become something different… something better. It will require us to take a different course of action, be open to new ideas and ways of working and to step out into a world of uncertainty and no guarantees.