This is my second story. I was very happy with the feedback to the first one.
To date, my career was marked by three men. As I was thinking about how grateful I was to have crossed roads with them, I thought about one thing in common. A trait they all three have. A trait that contaminated me.
I have read a number of books that tackle resilience
Nassim Nicholas Taleb – Antifragile: things that gain from disorder (buy here)
Eric Greitens – Resilience: hard won wisdom for living a better life (buy here)
All these books and theories can be summarized in one famous Japanese quote
Fall seven times and stand up eight
This story is about what resilience is and how it makes or breaks one’s career.
Resilience is the ability to recover quickly. Basically, if someone is weak, challenges break him or her. If someone is resilient, challenges do not harm him/her.
In my experience in the world of work, resilience is not enough.
During my work with the world’s top multinational companies, I understood that to grow the ranks, one should indeed have a thick skin. I have learned how negative feedback should not be taken personally, yet it should be taken seriously. I learned how to pick my battles and to focus on my own purpose rather than on others. Focusing on others slows you down.
My most valuable learning is about antifragility.
Antifragility is the description of challenging events that make you a better person, that make you grow. Resilience is passive. Antifragility is a demonstration that challenges make you stronger.
While antifragility is a word coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, it is also commonly used in eastern practices such as yoga.
Why I think this is an essential trait to survive at work
I have been working with large organizations for nearly 15 years. I cannot take things out of their context generalizing what I think about these organizations. When big corporations operate in emerging markets, they oftentimes “bend” some of their sacred rules to survive. What is tolerable in a company in an emerging market is not tolerable in a mature and developed market. I noticed that even the biggest beasts operating in the Middle East (where I live and work) lack – to a great extent and without generalization – three pillars; pillars that they have in countries where laws, regulations, and ways of working are not loose.
When things go wrong, we oftentimes either hide them or look for the weakest link to blame.
When we refuse to own something (implicitly or explicitly), we protect ourselves. We would not be accountable for anything.
I will not open this chapter here; it deserves a story.
At times, I thought that my observations and my experiences will destroy my career. I was very concerned about how slow my progression was when I compare myself to others. I wondered whether I just cannot make it and I have been trying too hard. Perhaps I am not good enough to succeed.
Those feelings did not disappear. However, over time, with increased self-awareness and coaching, you learn to embrace your feelings, to manage them, and to distance yourself from them.
And then I decided to throw myself in the unknown. What is the worse thing that could happen?
I left the corporate world with no plan B.
I discovered that not only the grass is greener on the other side, and that I did not only survive the corporate world (resilience). It actually made me stronger.
I am not using the superlative because I am comparing myself to others in my surroundings or to embellished profiles on LinkedIn.
I am using the superlative to compare myself to the younger version of me.
If the three men who marked my career taught me resilience, all the challenges I encountered taught me antifragility.
They taught me rules I put for myself. Rules that make you realize your worth. A driving force to discovering what you are good at, why you are in this world, what the world needs, and what makes you happy.
I grew up thinking that failure is not the opposite of success. I always thought that you must try things in order to make them happen. You will not always win but you will always learn. I was raised on the philosophy that I am a better person than the one I was yesterday. This is how I also see others; failure is not an identity. It is a proof of bravery and experience.
My lessons learned
- Pick your battles. Some battles are not worth it.
- Others’ perception in the workplace does not define you.
- Hurting people at work reflects the person hurting. It is not the reflection of your weakness and their strength.
- When you give, you grow. Give with no expectations.
- When you listen, you learn. Loud people in the workplace are not necessarily the most impactful.
- We are all replaceable. People only remember how you made them feel.
- With seniority, it is no longer about what you know. It is about managing relationships.
- Learning how to think is the most important competence at work. You do not have to be a technical expert or a functional guru.
- Never say I do not know. One can learn anything.
- Even if you work hard, work smart, maintain ethics, and all the right and good things – at work there are things you cannot control. You’d better put your energy elsewhere. Assuming you know how to navigate office politics; you may refuse to engage in those.
For so long, I carried mountains. My exit from the corporate world taught me that those mountains I am carrying: I was only supposed to climb.