At any time during a career – whether you’re just starting out or you’re in the executive suite – one will inevitably receive feedback from peers or supervisors. Criticism can be difficult to graciously accept, but an imperative skill to learn is resilience – the ability to turn feedback into a valuable lesson.

I define resilience as the ability to cope with an unfavorable situation and to not only quickly recover, but to personally grow in a positive way from this experience. You must have an effective learning attitude to be resilient in the workplace, which is demonstrated by curiosity and a proactive effort to learn something new every day. You must be humble enough to learn from others at any point during your career. As well as exhibiting a learning attitude, the Mayo Clinic suggests building strong, positive relationships with friends and family, setting goals to help you look toward the future with meaning, and participating in activities and hobbies you enjoy to increase resilience.

Personally, I turn to exercise and music to help me bounce back from a difficult or stressful event.  Different people have different techniques for resilience, but what is most important is that people identify their mechanisms and turn every situation into a learning opportunity.

A Learning Attitude

A fundamental component in your development toolbox is the approach to and the ability to learn. This needs thought so that a personal plan can be developed (and acted upon). Some considerations include:

• Theoretical learning – reading, thinking, assimilation
• Practical learning – doing
• Learning by watching others – both good and bad. Learning from mistakes is good but painful – make it less so by learning from others mistakes. Try and emulate people who do things well
• Build diversity into your learning plan – using one constituent as your primary focus can limit your viewpoint
• Recognise culture as important to learning – organisational culture, geographic culture are important. Things get done in China differently than in Europe.
• Curiosity – the Lean Sigma tool of the “5 Why’s” gets to deeper learning more quickly
• Hone your listening skills
• Become a “teacher/coach” – this helps develop your learning capability
• Be open to tactical learning opportunities.

We all learn, but having a learning strategy is more effective than learning through serendipity.

Personal Development

In a perfect world, the organisation you work for should be world class at developing people.  The world is not perfect.  Notwithstanding this, the lead stakeholder in your development plan is you – not your company.  No matter how good the development environment around you – if you do not take personal ownership of your development, then whatever future opportunities appear or fail to appear – then that is down to you!

There are a number of high level attributes which are always good for development attention – no matter where you are in your career lifecycle.  These include:

  • Subject matter content – your technical capability – are you contemporary?
  • Understanding of the environment you operate in – both internal and external – have you joined the dots – do you have the context for the strategy and future direction.
  • Interpersonal skills – how can you grow to have greater influence and a more positive impact on a broader and more demanding community.
  • Hands on, get your fingernails dirty, practical experience in a broad range of activities

Building both broad and deep capability is the objective and it doesn’t happen by accident.

Work as a Contributor to a Satisfying Life

If you have warmed to the notion of “life and work” as opposed to work/life balance then there are a number of approaches to work that lead to a more satisfying life.  Simply put and not exhaustive -

  1.  Choose a career/role that you are empathetic with
  2. Work for an organisation that “walks the talk” when it comes to developing people
  3. Identify people who “buzz” at work, understand their motivation and aspire to their roles
  4. Set yourself personal growth objectives and take action.  Be curious and adopt a learning mentality
  5. Define success for you (be realistic) in your work life and ensure it aligns with success for your employer (or increased stress will occur)
  6. Bring a positive attitude to your labour
  7. Build positive relationships with co-workers, clients and suppliers – manage both up and down consistently
  8. Develop resilience skills that reduce stress elements – time management, prioritization, clarity of objectives, ability to switch off or decompress, support structures (teams, colleagues, mentors, coaches), good resource allocation
  9. Define “non-work” events which are sacrosanct – family events, time for hobbies, sports, community groups – and prioritise these
  10. Be prepared to go “over and beyond” when your organisation needs it
  11. Live your life in a style that the reward for your work endeavours can fund (debt is not a solid foundation for a happy life)
  12. If grossly unhappy at work, then find a new way to earn a living – preferably before quitting

The Trouble With “Work-Life Balance”

At a recent forum I attended, the convener indicated that one of the most popular subjects discussed was work-life balance.  This crystalised some thoughts for me and I’ve started this blog to share some of them, along with many others that I’ve gathered throughout my career.

There are numerous and demanding pressures facing all of us in our daily lives, including the increasing pressures that the work environment brings.  However, I believe the phrase work-life balance is a misnomer – that leads people into making sub-optional choices in their lives.  This phrase suggests that there is a stark delineation between the two and that “either-or” choices need to be made and “work is bad” and “life is better”. CNN also posted a story long these lines recently, which also sought to debunk the concept.

I think a more appropriate way to describe this situation is that work is an essential part of life.  Work has the opportunity to bring great personal satisfaction, self-esteem and the potential to let us grow as human beings, in addition, of course, to putting bread on the table. The average person spends c.30% of their lifetime waking hours at work – no trivial commitment.

In order to maximise the enjoyment of life, it is necessary to maximise the enjoyment of work – it is not a choice between the two, it is “life and work”.