When we talk about failure, we have to talk about resilience. It’s the companion piece that measures our ability to become successful again after something bad happens. It’s not the mistake we value, it’s the recovery.
it’s what J.K. Rowling was talking about when she addressed the Harvard Class of 2008.
“The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.”
In a recent interview , U.S. transportation secretary, Anthony Foxx, prioritized resilience over all other qualities he seeks in a potential candidate.
“What I’m trying to understand is whether the person, if things get really tough, is going to stay in there or fall apart. I’d rather hire somebody who’s maybe not a genius, but they will dig in on any assignment. I’d rather have resilience than almost any other quality. Competence is obviously critical, but a lot of people who are really smart actually end up walking away from some pretty tough assignments because they’re worried about whether they can do them or not.”
How do you demonstrate this new competence to a potential employer? How do you offer examples of your own ‘phoenix rising out of the ashes’ moment?
Andrea Ovans provides some hints in her article ‘What Resilience Means and Why It Matters’. Her survey of recent research on the topic broadens the definition of resilience to include adapting well to change, and pushing through in adversity.
“Resilient people possess three characteristics — a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise. You can bounce back from hardship with just one or two of these qualities, but you will only be truly resilient with all three. These three characteristics hold true for resilient organizations as well.…Resilient people and companies face reality with staunchness, make meaning of hardship instead of crying out in despair, and improvise solutions from thin air. Others do not.”
It’s about confidence, ownership, continuous learning and an ability to adapt to a continually changing reality.
Resilience is not new. Robert Waterman, Judith Waterman and Betsy Collard were offering advice to workers and organizations over twenty years ago.
“By a career-resilient workforce, we mean a group of employees who not only are dedicated to the idea of continuous learning but also stand ready to reinvent themselves to keep pace with change; who take responsibility for their own career management; and, last but not least, who are committed to the company’s success. For each individual, this means staying knowledgeable about market trends and understanding the skills and behaviors the company will need down the road. It means being aware of one’s own skills—of one’s strengths and weaknesses—and having a plan for enhancing one’s performance and long-term employability. It means having the willingness and ability to respond quickly and flexibly to changing business needs. And it means moving on when a win-win relationship is no longer possible.”
What is new? Resilience is now a core competence, not an option. When an interviewer asks about a time you failed, respond with a narrative of strength and grit, and seize your competitive advantage.