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Career Resilience Success Story: A Guest Post

Clarifying Your Career Path: Breaking Destructive Career Patterns


Patterns, not problems, will ruin your business. . . “Problems aren’t the issue. Problems are the work.” 

            --Dr. Henry Cloud

As I've been thinking and writing about career resilience, one of the main points I've been emphasizing is that resilience is about the patterns we build into our lives.

We tend to think of our careers as being very event-based, but in reality, the events we experience are a product of the patterns we've created in our careers. When we have positive patterns, we are more likely to experience positive career events. When our patterns are negative, then we will have problems.

This post from Dan Rockwell on breaking destructive business/leadership patterns go me thinking more about the issue of career resilience as a series of patterns. The quote above, from Henry Cloud, is from Dan's post and I think it applies equally to our careers.

Here's what I know for sure:

It's not the individual problems in our careers that will break us. It's the patterns we've set up in our lives that will be our undoing. 

Three Typical Destructive Career Patterns

In my work with people, I continuously see three persistent patterns of destructive behavior:  

  • Having no career goals beyond those set for us by our current job. This creates a pattern of dependency on our company and supervisors that can make us stale and irrelevant when the world shifts. We focus on becoming really good at the job we have today, only to find that it's no longer needed and no one else wants someone with those skills. 
  • Living in a career silo. All of our connections are in one industry. Any reading or professional development we engage in is related to our narrow industry and occupation. To the extent that we become aware of things happening in other industries or occupations, we automatically tell ourselves "well this won't impact me or my field." Career siloes keeps us blind to the developments happening in other areas that eventually will impact our own work. They also put a career straitjacket on us, limiting our options when change eventually comes. 
  • Crisis-managing our careers. There are two times when I'm most likely to hear from someone about their career development--when they are so crushingly unhappy with their jobs that they can't take another day and when they've been laid off or fired. I rarely (if ever) hear from people when their careers are going reasonably well. Yet one thing I've learned in therapy (which applies in most other parts of life too) is that crisis management doesn't work. It just makes us lurch from crisis to crisis. We do our best work  when things are relatively stable and we aren't feeling afraid or anxious. 

These three patterns are not the patterns of career resilience. They are patterns that lead to career rigidity. And career rigidity is the last thing you need in today's economy. Inflexible people and inflexible careers are a recipe for disaster when the landscape changes so quickly.

Breaking Your Destructive Patterns

So how to break destructive patterns?

First, you have to be aware that patterns are in play. Look at your career thus far and ask yourself if you are managing it according to one or more of these destructive patterns. Specifically, ask yourself:

  • What are my career goals? To what extent are these goals tied up with my current job and/or my current company? If I lost my job tomorrow, how would those goals change? 
  • How siloed is my career? Am I connected to people in other industries/occupations? Do I read and learn broadly? Do I try to expose myself to many experiences and communities? 
  • When am I most likely to think about my career and do things to actively manage it? Do I do this all the time or is it only when "big" things happen, like when I'm unhappy or I'm worried that I'll lose my job? 

Spend some time really considering these questions, looking at previous career experiences and how these patterns might have contributed to their creation. Try using the Career Stepping Stones activity in conjunction with these questions. 

Once you have a clear picture of the extent to which you've been engaging in these more destructive patterns, start looking for ways to change your habits and bring in new, more positive patterns. In particular, look at how you can find ways to incorporate the patterns of career resilience into your work and life. How can you focus on Clarifying, Connecting, Creating and Coping on a regular basis? 

Your final step is to actually implement new behaviors in support of these more positive patterns.  Don't just think about what you could do differently. Actually DO things differently. Awareness is not enough. Planning is not enough. Change only comes when you act on what you're thinking. 

As part of this implementation phase, it's important to connect with other people who are working on the same sorts of changes. Often it's the people we are currently connected to who will hold us back from changing our patterns. They worked as connections for us in our old ways of being, but they may no longer be our best companions for this new career work we want to do. We need support and encouragement to persist and that often comes from connecting with new groups of people. This will have the added benefit of building one of your resilience patterns--Connecting. 

Here's what I've found as I work to build my own career resilience. You cannot control all of the career events you will experience in your life, but you can create patterns that will minimize destructive events and the impact of those events on your career.

Remember, it's not the problems that will kill you. It's the patterns you've created that lead to those problems that will be your undoing. 


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