Professional Resilience

March 22, 2020 by Lynn Faughey

I think we’re all familiar with Murphy’s Law and the idea that “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” As project managers and as managers and influencers of people, things don’t always go the way we expect either. Having the train go off the tracks not only makes the job challenging, but it can also make life challenging if we let it. I’ve recently experienced this very thing with my team hitting some unexpected “bumps”, and I use that term loosely, as they have felt more like mountains. I am very thankful that my entire team has been able to step up and meet the new challenges and extremely appreciative of their professionalism during stressful times. We were able to come together and get on the same page and I’m exceptionally proud of the way they all accepted the situation and didn’t let it rattle them. The “professional resilience” that they showed made all the difference in getting things back on track.

So what is “professional resilience”? Professional resilience is about “our individual capacity to thrive in situations of high demand and ongoing pressure. It involves how we recover from significant challenges, difficulties, and setbacks and then use these for learning and personal growth in the workplace.” I recently read an article by Neil Seligman in which he discusses the characteristics of a resilient professional. The biggest take away I got from the article is that so much of what occurs in life on a daily basis is out of our control. We can control setting the alarm clock, we can’t control a power outage preventing it from going off.

Thinking that we can control everything is like trying to fight the tide or change the weather. It’s not possible and all too often we try anyway. The unexpected is going to happen. Flights get delayed, kids get sick, cars break down…life happens. It’s how we handle the unexpected turn of events that can make or break us. My favorite part of Seligman’s article is the concept that while life, circumstances, and events are going on around you, the only thing that you can really control is YOU. You are always at choice as to how you respond to any situation, event or person.

Professional Resilience is a skill that can be taught. While Seligman discusses ten characteristics of a resilient professional, and I encourage you to read the entire article, the characteristic that resonated most with me is adaptability. As I recently found out when my team and I encountered difficulties, our ability to revise, regroup and adapt made all the difference for a positive outcome. Our ability to be flexible and open-minded in the face of adversity enabled us to think outside of the box for solutions. I know for a fact that had we adhered to a rigid thought process and schedule, we wouldn’t have succeeded in overcoming our obstacles. In the end, while so much was out of our control, what we could do was step up and control how we each reacted and handled the situation. It is a poignant lesson and reminder to me that every single day is filled with things that are out of my hands. The sun will rise and set whether I’m on board with it or not! To quote an old adage, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”

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