adversity.shindlerAre you a Positive Persuader or a Cautious Realist when it comes to your job and career? Do you see sunshine or showers? Both of these perspectives have their pros and cons, yet seeing them as mutually exclusive can be unhelpful. This article looks at how you can marry the two to move you forward in your career when times are tough.

So how do you turn job and career adversity to your advantage?

One of the criticisms of the positive psychology movement is its perceived dogmatism and myopia about the tough realities of many people’s lives. Life isn’t always a bowl of strawberries however much cream you pour.

The Cautious Realists want acknowledgement that difficult, complex problems do exist and can’t be wished away by a sea of platitudes. The Positive Persuaders argue that we all have a choice in how we respond to adversity and to work with what is within our control.

Career Coach, Jane Downes, captures well the dilemma for the Realists in an unforgiving world:

“The problem for these people is not their realism.  It’s their lack of counterbalancing restlessness … they will sacrifice their true career potential for some outdated notion of being ‘real’.  More and more, these people are being found out in the new economy.”

She suggests the future lies with being a ‘Restless Realist’ – “knowing when to be patient and when to be impatient”. When to act, when to wait; when to stay, when to go.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Shawn Achor observed in The Happiness Advantage, success does not necessarily lead to happiness.  In more stable times, when work was considered to be separate from ‘life’, if we worked hard and paid our dues, we would be rewarded with promotion and healthy pensions in retirement. However, many endured rather than enjoyed their working lives and the pension well has run dry.

Achor argued that we had it the wrong way round. Happiness should provide the fuel for our success.  No point in delaying happiness for when we retire (we might not get there). His research found people who are happiest at work are also the most productive and, vice versa, the unhappiest are the least productive. Your happiness or unhappiness will also impact on those around you and their immediate friends.

This has implications for your mindset when considering jobs and careers. Traditional thinking tends to suggest happiness is a destination, hence the pressure from a young age for clarity about your end goal – “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, “what are you going to do when you leave university?”, “where do you want to be in 5 or 10 years time?”

These are increasingly harder questions to answer in the new economy we inhabit, where volcanic changes erupt to create new paradigms overnight. Instability and uncertainty are the norm. So it makes sense to find a way to live with it that is positive and energising, that increases your resourcefulness, rather than nurturing the negatives and diminishing your efforts.

It means that staple of Pinterest posters ‘seeing happiness as a state of being, rather than a destination’… so you tackle the job hunt with more personal resources, build your resilience and are ready to spot and seize the opportunities when they do come your way.

Recent research suggests people who graduate during recessions are more satisfied with their careers than those who graduated during times of prosperity. A bronze medal in the Olympics is more satisfying than silver, because you’re just glad to get on the podium as opposed to missing out on the gold.

We talk glibly about ‘silver linings’. Make these a reality by turning adversity to your advantage, using it to achieve breakthrough thinking and then taking action.

For Different Results Take Different Perspectives

If you struggle to identify a personal way forward, consider these questions that turn traditional thinking on its head and marry apparent opposites. How can you:

  • Have success through experiencing failure?
  • Learn through unlearning something?
  • Gain clarity through experiencing ambiguity?
  • Create a plan through courting randomness?
  • Create stability in your life through risk taking?
  • Increase your credibility through your vulnerability?
  • Identify your specialism through your generalist experience?

“If you think sunshine brings you happiness, then you haven’t danced in the rain” (Unknown)

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