Using Design Thinking to Craft Your Career: An Introduction


"Design thinking is about believing we can make a difference and having an intentional process in order to get to new, relevant solutions that create positive impact. 

Design thinking gives you faith in your creative abilities and a process for transforming challenges into opportunities for design. . .

. . . design thinking is the confidence that new, better things are possible and that you can make them happen." --Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit


In the past year or so, I've been exploring and writing about career resilience--the patterns of behavior we need to cultivate to deal with uncertainty in our lives, both at work and at home. It's been apparent to me that we need a new framework and mindset for how we approach our own career development, especially in an economy that is changing so quickly and not always for the better.

While working on my Youth Entrepreneurship project, I came across this fantastic Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit and something clicked. 

What our careers need is design thinking. 

Design thinking is a mindset--a systematic process and approach that we can apply to all of the places in our lives where we want to create positive change, including our careers. Once learned, you can use it repeatedly to continually address challenges and find new opportunities.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I want to walk through how we can apply design thinking to the overall career process, as well as in dealing with specific career issues. 

Today I'm going to start with an introduction to the process and some of the key principles. 

Key Design Principles

Let's start with some key design principles. These are drawn  from the Toolkit, adapted for thinking about your career.

Design thinking is Human-centered

Design thinking begins with deep empathy and understanding of people's needs and motivations. From a career perspective, this means gaining deep empathy and understanding of YOUR needs and motivations, as well as the needs and motivations of the key people in your life. This can include colleagues, of course, but also significant others, children, etc. 

You will feel the greatest satisfaction and fulfillment when you design a career that starts with your humanity--what works for YOU, as a whole human being who has not only economic needs, but also emotional and intellectual needs, important values, etc.

Design thinking is Collaborative

Success in today's economy depends on our ability to be collaborative. Multiple perspectives and the creativity of other people can open us up to opportunities we may never have considered. From a career perspective, this not only helps us build the Connecting pattern of career resilience, it also helps us develop more robust solutions to our career challenges. 

Design Thinking is Optimistic

At the heart of design thinking is a fundamenal belief that we can create change. No matter what constraints exist, there are solutions. They may not be easy (although many times they are easier than we think) and they may take some time, but we CAN create the change we need and want. 

Design Thinking is Experimental

I am a huge believer in the experimental approach to your life and career. The best way to find out if something is going to work for you is to try it out. The design process is all about devising experiments, testing things out, taking risks and letting yourself fail so you can learn from the process. 

Careers are not straight lines--they are iterative and evolving. Experimentation helps us learn by doing and gives us a way to incorporate our learning into our next steps. 

The Design Process

Now let's get into the Design process. As outlined in the Educator's Toolkit, it consists of 5 phases with associated action steps for each phase, as summarized in the image below:


Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 8.03.05 AM



Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 9.34.30 AM
1. Discovery

I have a challenge. How do I approach it?

From a career perspective, the Discover phase is when we begin to articulate our issue. It may be that we're in a period of transition--we've just graduated or we've been laid off. Or we recognize that we are dissatisfied or ready for new challenges. 

The Discovery phase is when we begin to define our issue, do some research and gather inspiration for what we want to create. 


Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 9.35.16 AM2. Interpretation

I learned something. How do I interpret it?


In this phase, we are looking at the information we've gathered in the Discovery phase and seeing what stories that information tells us--what is the meaning and what opportunities can we explore? 

We are beginning to see themes that may emerge in terms of what we want to create or things that are important to us. We start to get a sense of where we may need to create some career experiments to continue our exploration and learning. 


Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 9.35.50 AM3. Ideation

I see an opportunity. What do I create? 


Here, we are brainstorming possibilities. What is it that we want to explore further and how can we explore it? 

If we are seeing that career change may be in our future, we consider various ways to "try out" a new career. If we identify that we need new challenges, we may come up with potential strategies for bringing more challenge into our work. 


Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 9.36.24 AM4. Experimentation

I have an idea. How do I build it?


Now we're looking at ways to test out our ideas. What experiments can we set up to see what does and doesn't work for us? How can we build in a process for feedback and reflection to learn from these new experiments? 


Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 9.54.56 AM5. Evolution

I tried something new. How do I evolve it?

This is where we reflect on what we've learned in the experimentation phase and look for ways to evolve our ideas.

Often we end up back in the Discovery phase where we are learning new things about ourselves and about our opportunities and we look to incorporate this knowledge to tell new stories and come up with new experiments. 


Next Steps

The design process begins with defining the challenge--what is the specific problem or issue we want to work on? In my next post on this process, we're going to dig into how to define the challenge in ways that can help us keep focused and engaged. 

In the meantime, I want to leave you with some key thoughts on design thinking and your career:

  • You are a designer of your career. If you become more intentional about using design thinking, you will be better positioned to CREATE your career, rather than responding to external circumstances. 
  • To learn, you will need to step out of your comfort zone. You cannot create your career if you insist on remaining in your comfort zone. You need to step outside of your current routines and your current networks if you truly want to move forward. 
  • Start thinking "What if?" instead of "What's wrong?" Problems are really opportunities in disguise. But when we're focused on "what's wrong," we are not in the optimistic, positive space for real problem-solving. When you find yourself focused on the "problems," start reminding yourself to reframe so you search for possibilities. 
  • Embrace your beginner's mind--Be willing to make mistakes and to be OK with not having the "right" answer. Let yourself live in the mess a little, rather than always looking for certainty and "direction." 

Remember, design thinking is all about a mindset. It's something we can learn and cultivate and in doing so, we bring new possibilities and opportunities into our lives. 

Three Questions for Taking Stock of Your Career


One of the career books I've been reading recently is Business Model You: A One Page Method for Re-Inventing Your Career. It offers an interesting template for evaluating your career aspirations and looking at them in light of the different ways you can bring value based on your various assets and resources. 

I signed up for their email newsletter and this morning received an update on their latest European workshops that included the three questions they use to start their sessions. I think they're excellent ways to stop and take stock of your career, so wanted to share them here.

Three Questions for Taking Stock

1. Is it time to move up? 

This is a pretty obvious question and one that I think a lot of younger people in particular start asking themselves--are they ready (and willing) to move to another level?

This isn't just about hierarchy. It's also about scope. Are you ready to assume more responsibilty? Do you want to leave a bigger mark on the world? If you're self-employed, is it time to expand or to work with a different level of clients? 

2. Is it time to move out?

This is the question to ask when you are feeling antsy or angry all the time. I talk to many people who feel like they've hit a brick wall with their current employer and find themselves in the same stale situations with colleagues and work scenarios. When you feel like you've "been there, done that, have the t-shirt," then it may be time to move on. 

Same thing for self-employed folks. I've discovered this year, for example, that I needed to "fire" certain types of clients. Life is too short and my energy is too precious to spend it on people who don't really want to make changes. There are some markets that just aren't worth it, so it's time to move out of them. 

3. Is it time to adapt your style? 

This is an interesting one. Often what we find is that work has changed, but we have not changed with it. This is especially true in this era of constant turmoil, where uncertainty is the one thing of which we can be certain. 

We may have developed a particular style or approach that made us successful in previous contexts, but that may no longer be working for us. We may be caught up in our old "frames" or stories, making it difficult for us to recognize that the situation has changed and we must change with it. 

This style question also has resonance if our role has recently changed at work. For example, I often see that moving from individual contributor to team leader can cause a "style crisis." Moving from "employee" to "freelancer" creates a similar situation. 

Taking a step back and looking at how you might need to adapt yourself to new situations is helpful. It can allow you to rejuvenate and renew your commitment to your work. 

How do these three questions resonate for you? Can you use them to take stock of your current career situation? Drop me a line in comments or let us know over on Facebook

Crafting a Sustainable Career

Imagine crafting a sustainable career for yourself. Year after year, you perform work that makes full use of your skills and challenges you to develop new ones. Your work not only interests you, it gives you a sense of meaning. You enjoy opportunities for learning and development. You work with people who energize you. You are confident that your skills and competencies make you valuable and marketable and that you can access opportunities through your network. You are able to fit your work together with the other things in your life that are important to you, like family, friends, and leisure.--Monique Valcour, Craft a Sustainable Career


A few weeks ago I ran across Monique Valcour's Harvard Business Review blog post on crafting a sustainable career. It dovetails very nicely with what I've been writing here for months now on the need to develop your career resilience. 

The ultimate purpose of career resilience is, in fact, to provide you with strategies to create a sustainable career path for yourself.

In other words, the patterns and habits of career resilience  give you the roadmap necessary to create a sustainable career. 

The post got me thinking more about what sustainability means in terms of your career.

In the end, a sustainable career is one that will last for the long haul.

It's a career that helps you focus on the intersection between your talents and what the world needs from you.

It's a career that is diversified in many ways--diverse income streams, diverse connections, diverse projects and experiences. Homophily is your enemy now. 

Above all, a sustainable career is one that SUSTAINS you--emotionally, financially, socially, dare I say, even spiritually. 

If your career isn't doing these things, then you can't continue with it indefinitely. Eventually the cracks will appear and things will come tumbling down around you. 

I agree with Monique that sustainable careers are built on:

  • Recognizing that you are the pilot of your own career. Frankly, I've found that this is the number one change most people need to make in their lives. They don't recognize all the ways in which they let other people take charge.
  • Developing your key talents and strengths and consistently using those to add value in the marketplace--whether that means working for yourself or for other people. 
  • Seeking opportunities to work with people who energize, challenge and inspire you
  •  Documenting your accomplishments and the ways that you've added value in the workplace. 


 I believe that sustainability goes beyond these things too.

  • Sustainable careers are built on healthy habits, having a wellness approach to your career, rather than a crisis management approach. Yes, you are the pilot of your career. But you can't put your career on auto-pilot. You have to pay attention to it on a regular basis. 
  • Sustainable careers require us to use reflective practice and career journaling as tools for gaining clarity about ourselves and our work and as strategies for building on our strengths.  Self-awareness and intentional practice help us develop our skills and identify our opportunities. 
  • A sustainable career also asks us to pay more attention to our patterns of coping at work. What stories do we tell ourselves and how do these stories shape our behavior? What beliefs do we have about ourselves, our work and our colleagues? How do these beliefs support us or hold us back? 

So what does a sustainable career look like to you? And what are you doing to craft a sustainable career for yourself? 


RightArrowIf you need help crafting a sustainable career, you'll want to sign up for the Career Resilience Virtual Retreat that runs on October 19. More info here. And if you want to better define sustainability for yourself, try the Career Clarity Virtual Retreat on September 21. 

Career Resilience Tool: The Small Wins Journal

Small Wins Journa -


The other day I had a good conversation with a manager about my post Six Positive Professional Development Strategies for the Toxic Workplace. He's dealing with a lot of work drama and interested in how you can address these issues. 

One of the things I recommended in that post was to do a daily debrief with yourself to provide a sort of "reality check" on what's happening and to focus on learning.

After doing some additional work with career journaling and reading more about the power of small wins, I think that there's real value in keeping a daily log of progress at work, both for people who are in a toxic workplace and those who want to focus on building their career resilience. 

What the research shows is that when you focus on forward progress and what you want MORE of at work (as opposed to all the problems, etc. you may be facing) you are more likely to experience your work in a positive light and you are better able to build on your strengths. Even on the worst work day ever, you can find some small glimmer of hope and progress to focus on. 

To help with that daily practice, I created a Small Wins Journal that you can print out and use for yourself. It includes three prompts:

  • Today I made progress in . . . 
  • I can apply what I learned today to. . . 
  • What worked well today that I can do MORE of tomorrow . . . 

Take a few minutes at the end of each day to respond to the prompts. This will help you see where you've made progress (however small) and keep you thinking more about what's working, rather than about what's not working in your career. 

I'm finding that over time, as you pay attention to these small wins, you start to build up some valuable momentum and clarity. Your strengths and talents come more clearly into view and you see patterns in how you should approach your work and your environment. 

For me, for example, I'm finding that the best days are when I build in some opportunities for interaction with others, something I forget is important when I'm toiling away at my desk. I can also see that I'm chipping away at several projects, even when I worry that I don't have the big chunks of time I think I need to work on them. This keeps me motivated to continue moving them forward.

Feel free to download the Small Wins Journal and use it yourself. Let me know in comments how it's working for you. 


If you like the Small Wins Journal, you'll love my upcoming Career Resilience Virtual Retreat! We'll learn how to use this tool and many more to build your ability to respond to today's uncertain work world. More info here. 

"What the F*%# Are You Doing?"



My good friend Christine Martell shared a wonderful story of career mentoring with me the other day. A woman was being sexually harrassed at work and went to see a labor attorney about it. After a few minutes of discussion about the situation, this was the conversation that followed:

“Karen, I’m going to talk to you like we’re having a glass of wine, okay?”

“Okay, I like those conversations,” I responded with a small smile. Then she looked at me quite calmly and said,

“What the f*$% are you doing?”

Huh? It’s not often that I’m dumbstruck. The look on my face must’ve relayed my shock.

“What the hell are you doing?” she repeated. “Clearly this organization is showing you that they don’t value you.”

It was like getting cold cocked right on the side of the head.

“Here’s what you need to do. First, you need to have a better understanding of what your compensation really is. Fix that. Then, every single day, do something to get yourself out of there. Every. Single. Day.”


I love this story for two reasons. First, is the absolute clarity that comes when you ask a question like "What the F*#& are you doing?" It cuts through all the crap and gets right down to basics.

When someone says this to you after you've gone through your tale of woe, it pulls you up short. You say to yourself,  "Yeah, what the F*%# AM I doing?!" You need that periodically. It's a reality check that puts everything into perspective. 

The other reason I love this story is the attorney's advice at the end--to do something every single day to move out of the situation. Every. Single. Day.

It's easy to get stuck in complaining or worrying about your dysfunctional career situation. But this doesn't do anything for you in the end. You're still stuck. You need to focus on action--moving yourself forward into something new and much better for you. Doing something daily not only creates the forward momentum you need, it also gives you something else to focus on besides how much your situation sucks. 

So. What the F*$# are YOU doing? And what are you doing each day to move your career forward? 


Trying to figure out what the F*$# you're doing? I'm running two Virtual Retreats this fall and both of them will help you get clear and create a plan for moving forward. More info here


Taking Risks to Build Resilience


There are several tenets I try to live my career by including:

  • Go out of your comfort zone
  • Create multiple income streams
  • Play to your passions

About a month ago, I wrote up my 6-month plan and one of the goal areas I focused on was my art. This is something  completely unrelated to my primary work in career clarity and resilience, but it's another passion of mine that I've been reluctant to really dig into as a potential income stream. It's very personal and it's felt a lot safer to just have my art be something I do for myself. 

I decided, though, that if I want to experience what it's like to REALLY stretch myself and to go into a place where I feel like a complete beginner--something that all of us have to get better at doing to develop our resilience--taking a risk with my art was a great place to start. 

I'd already begun this journey back in January. I started small, really small--hanging my art in my own house and posting images on Facebook. I revived an art blog I'd had years ago and started posting there, too. Then I had business cards and post cards printed up of my art and started sharing those with people.

These were initial tentative steps at putting myself out there as an "artist," an identity I'd never really claimed for myself before. But this is the work of career resilience--exploring and claiming multiple identities as part of claiming and clarifying your passions. 

By the time I was sitting down to write my 6-month plan, I felt ready to take it to another level. I posted my art on Society 6 (where I've sold a few pieces) and was recently accepted to have a month-long show in November at a local coffee house. I've also submitted to participate in a local art show and sale in December. These felt like do-able things for me to begin to test the possibility of making money with this passion. 

These steps have been a lot scarier. Now I'm moving beyond "hey--here's something I enjoy doing" into "hey--pay me for this thing I enjoy doing." But this, too, is another step in the journey of resilience. You have to see where there's an intersection between what you bring to the world and what the world wants and needs from you. I want to test if my art is something that can bring in income. I also just want to have the experience of trying (and potentially failing) at something I've never done before. 

Now I may never make a lot of money selling my art. It may always be a small part of my total income pie. But that's OK, because it's also something I love doing and for me, making money on it is gravy. On the other hand, of course, it could transform what I do for a living, taking me into realms I never really imagined for myself. I don't know, of course, until I take the risk. 

I share this story with you as a reminder that we all need to challenge ourselves as part of developing our resilience. We don't learn our true strengths and our true ability to cope and grow unless we put ourselves into situations that ask us to stretch and to consider that we might be someone beyond who we've thought ourselves to be.  

One of the most important things you can do to develop your resilience is to devise for yourself the experiments that allow you to explore and test your passions and see where they will take you. Put yourself out there. Test what you can do. You may be surprised to discover what happens. 


Want some guidance on creating your own experiments and challenges? I'm running two Virtual Retreat this fall and both of them will include an opportunity for you to develop your stretch opportunities. More info here

Announcing Two Virtual Retreats for Fall 2013 to Find Your Career Clarity and Career Resilience

Over my years of working with clients on their career dreams, one thing I've consistently found is that retreats can be a powerful way of discovering new options and connecting to career inspiration. There's something magical about the opportunity to spend focused time in individual reflection, supplemented by group interaction, feedback and support. 

But I've also found that many people struggle with actually getting away. There's the expense and logistics, especially if the retreat location is far away from where you live. And for some people, the cost of travel and going to a physical retreat can be prohibitive. 

So this fall I'm very excited to bring you another way--two virtual retreats where you can get all the benefits of individual reflection and group work without even leaving your home! And at a price that's right--only $129! (Newsletter subscribers, you get a special discount--be sure to check your email for that!


The Career Clarity Virtual Retreat--September 21, 2013

Clarity Retreat Logo

If you're looking for support in creating a plan for your next career move, then the Career Clarity Virtual Retreat on September 21, 2013 is for you.

During this retreat you'll:

  • Identify your positive core, key strengths, your most important values and your vision for the future
  • Write your Career Manifesto, your declaration of your career intentions and vision for work and the role you want it to play in your life. 
  • Develop your Career Connection Plan-Who will support you in your journey and how can they help you make your Career Manifesto a reality? 
  • Create some career experiments--what actions could you take, what things could you try out to explore new opportunities? You'll develop your Career Experiment Plan that will allow you to expand your horizons and safely begin to try out new things. 
  • Create a new daily schedule--how can you re-structure your days so that you are making your dreams a priority? 

This retreat will be all about getting clear about your career goals and creating an action plan to make them a reality

Learn more about the Career Clarity Virtual Retreat here. 


The Career Resilience Virtual Retreat--October 19, 2013


The Career Resilience Virtual Retreat on October 19, 2013 is for you if you want to develop your key career resilience skills in:
  • Clarifying
  • Connecting
  • Creating
  • Coping 

Through this retreat you will:

  • Explore the concepts of career resilience and develop your own personal vision for a resilient career. 
  • Assess your strengths and challenges in each of the 4 key patterns of resilience.  
  • Develop your personal resilience goals and your 6-month plan for achieving them. 
  • Identify resilience experiments for building your resilience in the areas you choose.  
  • Create a new daily schedule that makes building your resilience a priority and provides you with the time you need to achieve your resilience plan. 

The Career Resilience retreat will help you start to recession-proof your career, creating a plan and habits that will sustain you through a lifetime!

Learn more about the Career Resilience Virtual Retreat here. 

What You'll Get with the Virtual Retreats

With each Virtual Retreat, you'll receive:

  • A pre-Retreat Guide to help you plan for and get the most from your Virtual Retreat
  • A complete Guide and Workbook of individual reflection exercises for you to work through during the Retreat. 
  • Access to 3 live teleconferences on the day of the Retreat. These will be recorded and available for later review. 
  • Access to a private Facebook Group for discussion, feedback, support and accountability before, during and after the Retreat.
  • Use of the VisualsSpeak online Image Center, an amazing tool I use with clients to help them tap into their right-brain creative thinking for greater insight and possibilities. 
  • A follow-up conference call two weeks after your Retreat to check on your progress and provide you with additional support and feedback. 
  • A variety of extra tools, links and resources to help you put your plans into action. 

If you're feeling the call to retreat and want some support in finding career clarity or developing your career resilience, I'd love to have you join us. This will be an incredible opportunity to get the benefits of retreat without ever having to leave your home!


The Call to Retreat

Retreat Reprise


". . . the cycle of being-doing is also the cycle of remembering-forgetting. Like Persephone in the myth of Demeter and Persephone, you blossom, you die, you are reborn again and again. You contact the knowledge of who you are and what you need and then slowly, bit by bit, you forget, eaten up by life again. Then you descend and reconnect with yourself. . . It is an organic, spiraling process, and each time you retreat, you retain another piece of knowledge, courage and purpose, slowly honing your life into what you want." --Jennifer Louden


The other day, I had lunch with a good friend. She is coming out of a hectic several years of work that have forged her identity as a professional and she's looking at the other side of this time, seeing what comes next. 

She was complaining to me about how little energy she feels, how little interest she can dredge up for her day-to-day work life. She is used to being charged up, accomplishing things on a regular basis. Now, it's hard for her to care, let alone actually move in a particular direction. 

She's not the only person I've talked to recently who is battling these feelings about their work. They go through the motions, but it's more than the heat that's keeping them down. They are trying to force themselves to stay in the "doing" cycle of life, when it's clearly time for them to spend some time just "being." 

We spend most of our work lives focused on the activity. What's our "action plan?" How crazed are we? It's a badge of honor to be active and busy. It proves that we're productive members of society. We feel good when we're accomplishing things. It assures us of our place in the world and that we are needed. 

But that "doing" part of the cycle can only be sustained for so long. Just as we need sleep each night to rejuvenate for the next day, sometimes we need longer periods of silence and solitude to rediscover who we are and where we're going. 

The trick, I've found, is in recognizing the call to retreat. When do we know it's time for some rest? 

Sometimes we hear the call in the major transitions in our lives--we are approaching a big birthday or we're laid off from a job we loved or our last child is starting kindergarten and we're ready for full-time work again. 

But sometimes the call is much quieter. We have to pay close attention to our own emotions, something many of us are not accustomed to doing.

We can hear the call in a sense of restlesness we may feel, where our old work identity doesn't quite fit with our changing values and sense of purpose. It may be in the exhaustion we feel each morning when we have to force ourselves out of bed or in the deja vu of the same problem coming around over and over again. The call can come to us in the car on the long commute home or at 4 a.m., when we wake up anxious, our hearts pounding in our chests because we forgot to send an email. 

Regardless of how we receive the call, it's critical that we pay attention to it when it comes.  For us to live healthy lives (and healthy work is part of that), we need to heed the call to solitude and deep inner work and reflection. Just as fields need to lay fallow in the winter in order to be ready for spring, we too need longer periods of rest and inner work at certain times in our lives. 

I believe very strongly in the power of retreats and in honoring the call to periodic introspection and inner work as a way to build our career resilience. Next week I'll be announcing two upcoming virtual retreats I plan to run in September and October, so if you're starting to hear the call to retreat, stay tuned for those announcements!

The Key To Planning When You're Uncertain: Plan for the Next 6 Months, Not for the Rest of Your Life



For the past several months, I've been in a sort of career quandry about where I want to go next. I'm feeling the need for some big shifts in my life, but I'm not entirely sure how I want those to play out in my business and career.  Part of this is because I'm turning 50 in September. Part of it is due to shifts in my client base. And part of it is because I need to change things up periodically--as we know, I love the power of the new

In thinking about my next career moves, I realized a few days ago that I've been caught up in the idea that I have to make something BIG happen. But I couldn't decide what that something BIG was, so I've essentially been stuck. 

So instead of worrying about what I'd be doing for the rest of my life (which is really ludicrous to plan for anyway), I decided to sit down and just plan for what I want to accomplish in the next 6 months. Between July 1 and December 31, what goals did I want to set for myself? 

What I came up with was a plan that built on my current business and practice, but that also stretched me--putting me out there in some different ways where I wanted to do some experimenting and risk-taking.

Letting go of the idea that I had to make some huge change that would be for the foreseeable future freed me up to focus simply on what I could do in a manageable period of time. It also got me back to focusing on the experiments I could run and the different ways I could play with possibilities. 

One of the things that can happen to us when we're in a period of career uncertainty or confusion is that we paralyze ourselves waiting for that BIG IDEA that will change everything. I need to go from doing THIS to THIS and if I can't decide what the next THIS might be, then I'm just stuck. 

You can free yourself from this trap, though, by releasing yourself from the idea that you have to do something major. As Hermione Ibarra points out in Working Identity, most career change happens gradually anyway. We go through a process of exploration and trying out possibilities, building new networks and exposing ourselves to new ideas. 

My 6-month plan allows me to drop the big question of "What am I going to do with the rest of my life?" and instead, focus on the smaller (and more manageable) issue of "What do I want to explore and experiment with in the next 6 months?"

I can evaluate my experiences, see where there's energy for me to follow and in November and December, begin planning for the next 6 months. Eventually this will lead to greater clarity about what I want and possibly I will make a huge leap into something new. But that leap will be informed by my experiments and it may feel much less huge than it does now. 

When you're confused or uncertain, planning for the shorter-term can release you from the pressures you may be putting on yourself that keep you stuck. Forget the 5-year plan or the "I'm going to blow up my life" plan. Just focus on the next 6 months--or even the next 3 months. What can you experiment with that can move you forward? 

Career Resilience: The Four Patterns that Should Guide All Your Career Moves



I wrote a couple of long posts in February on the two major factors most job seekers are dealing with in this economy. The first was on the reality that there aren't enough jobs for everyone who wants one. The second was on the poor quality of many of the jobs that do exist

After writing these, though, I was left wondering what it is we can do to operate in this kind of environment. How do I advise people about career and professional development in a world that is so uncertain, risky and, frankly, negative? 

Yesterday it hit me. There is only one thing we can do if we want to be successful when change is happening so rapidly and when so much of our work life is about dealing with stress and curve balls. 

We have to develop our career resilience skills. 

That's it. That's all we can do. We have to develop our resilience skills and use that resilience to meet the challenges that have become a regular part of our work lives. 

Why Resilience?

According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is your capacity to deal with stress, adversity and uncertainty. Resilience is about bouncing back, rolling with the punches, getting back up on the horse. It's our ability to take what life throws at us and use it to grow stronger. 

Our careers are no longer a matter of making a decision about what we want to do with the rest of our lives, getting an education and then following a straight-line career path to that dream job. Those days are long gone. 

Today's careers require us to be agile, flexible, and adaptable. To see opportunity in challenges and to develop our capacity to deal with constantly changing parameters and requirements. 

When you build your resilience, you are in a better position to adapt to ongoing changes. You accept change as a part of life and see change as an opportunity, not as a series of insurmountable obstacles. 

Resilience can also help you feel more in control. You're able to keep things in perspective and to see yourself as an actor in your life, rather than as a victim. High resilience also allows you to be more pro-active in responding to whatever gets thrown at you. 

Four Patterns of Career Resilience

In looking at resilience as it applies to our careers, I see four patterns we need to incorporate into our lives. I see these as patterns, because they are ongoing components of our behavior and thinking that we need to work on. Career resilience is not a once and done event. It is a way of being that you must focus on developing.

The four patterns I see are:

  • Patterns that support Clarifying
  • Patterns that support Connecting
  • Patterns that support Creating
  • Patterns that support Coping

Patterns for Clarifying

Resilience needs clarity. We need to understand who we are, what we want, and how we bring value to the work that we do. What are our signature strengths? What do we want more of in our lives

Clarity is also about knowing what's going on in the outside world. What occupational, industry and economic trends impact our careers? What is the likelihood that technology or outsourcing could eliminate or completely change our jobs? What credentials and skills are needed to be successful? 

Most importantly, what goals and plans do we need to develop for ourselves, based on our awareness of ourselves and the changes that we see going on in the world? Clarity gives us a sense of purpose and control because it allows us to know where we stand and to see where we can fit in as new opportunities and challenges come our way. 

Patterns for Connecting

Resilience thrives on connections. Resilient people have a core group of individuals they know are always in their corner. They look for who is available, who's trustworthy and who's helpful and they go toward the light of these connections.  They aren't afraid to ask for and receive help and they offer their own services in return. 

Connections and relationships are also at the heart of what it takes to be successful in a networked world. It is your relationships that bring you information, knowledge and opportunities. Your connections can help you bounce back and spring forward, even under the most adverse conditions. But connections don't just happen. We must be purposeful and intentional in developing those connections that will most support us in adapting to change. 



Patterns for Creating

Resilience is also about action. What steps are we taking to achieve our goals, to learn from our misakes, to engage in new experiences that can grow our skills and networks? Resilient people have a plan and they work that plan. 

We also have to ask ourselves what patterns do we have in place that provide the best structures for creating and experimenting? How do we spend our time? What rituals are part of our work lives? How do we move from insight into action

Flow needs a framework. If you want your career to flow more easily, you must create frameworks for that to happen. 

Patterns for Coping

Ultimately, resilience is about how we cope with life's ups and downs. How do we manage our emotional responses and maintain an optimistic outlook, even under dire circumstances? How do we nurture and take care of ourselves on a regular basis so that we can bring our best selves to our lives? What stories do we tell ourselves about our work, our strengths and weaknesses and about how people relate to us? How do these stories impact our ability to meet challenges head on? 

Resilient people have a generally positive outlook on life and have learned to persevere in the face of challenges. They feel their emotions, but they don't allow their emotions to overwhelm their ability to act. Effective coping mechanisms are a critical component of developing career resilience. 

 Additional Thoughts on Resilience

I see the four patterns of career resilience working together synergistically, each connected to and reinforcing the others. All of them are critically important, although at different times we may find ourselves more focused on a particular pattern. When we're confused or uncertain about where to go next, we may pay more attention to Clarifying. When we're overly stressed and anxious, we may need to spend time on our Coping patterns. If we're trying to expand into something new, we'd be well-served to focus on the Connecting and Creating patterns. And if we've lost our jobs, we need to spend time working on all four patterns. 

There are two things that feel most important to me about developing career resilience. The first is that resilience should be our goal. We cannot control the people and events that surround us, but we can control our capacity to meet the challenges that inevitably arise at work. By focusing on resilience as our goal, rather than on trying to control what is uncontrollable, we put ourselves into a much healthier position for moving forward. 

I also see the idea of patterns of behavior being critically important. Resilience is not something we summon at will. It is something we must build and work on every day. Believe me, we know it when we haven't paid attention to one or more of the career resilience patterns in our lives. I see this all the time when I'm working with people who lose their jobs. They've done little to develop these patterns in their lives, so they are less equipped to move on to their next opportunity. 

For me, working on career resilience is a worthy goal. It's a way to respond to all that is negative and challenging at work and to focus our attention where it's most needed--on our capacity to creatively and effectively respond to a new normal. 

What are your thoughts on this? Does the idea of career resilience resonate with you? What do you do to build your own career reslience?