The (not so) secret ingredient for a successful career (and life)

In a time dominated by the 3Cs – chaos, complexity and contradictions – Dan Beaumont, managing partner of The Royals, argues the greatest character trait for a successful career is resilience.

As the old saying goes, there are two certainties in life – death and taxes. However, according to a study of our current era by the University of Washington, we live in Post Normal Times. PNT is a description of the rapidly changing nature of our world, that is certain to be dominated by the 3Cs – chaos, complexity and contradictions. Our world and everything in it is moving so much faster than ever before, but it will never move so slowly again. Is that scary or exhilarating?

Regardless of how ambitious and driven you are, you’ll be impacted by the 3Cs in varying degrees, which will no doubt produce a certain amount of change and challenge in your life. Being able to cope with setbacks, failure and adversity will reduce stress and give you a greater sense of control when, let’s face it, so much is out of our control in our industry.

And the secret lies here: separating the elements we can control from the things we can’t – weather, traffic, trains running on time, the housing market, election results, the budget and timeline, clients resigning, who else is pitching, winning awards, campaigns other agencies make, anonymous negative comments.

Our working lives and our personal lives are merging. We’re seeking balance between the two, and more understanding from each that the other exists. I’ve argued previously that work/life balance (and more specifically gender equality) will come when we realise that men and women are in this together, but my point now is that we won’t be able to successfully navigate our careers, and lives, if we’re trying to control things that either won’t change or can’t be changed by us.

More pressure in our working lives leads to stress. More stress can lead to anxiety. More anxiety can lead to long-term health issues. This isn’t a small problem. According to the Black Dog Institute, research shows that mental illness is now the leading cause of sickness, absence and long-term work incapacity in the developed world. It costs the Australian economy over $12 billion per year in lost productivity and has significant impacts on staff morale and organisational performance. Not to mention the personal toll on individuals, their families and friends.

As I’m not a mental health expert, I can’t draw a conclusion that low levels of resilience are linked to mental health issues, particularly anxiety and depression, but there are experts who can. High levels of resilience won’t stop people from experiencing negative or adverse events, but it will help people cope and bounce back from those occurrences.

So how do we increase and build our levels of resilience?

It’s certainly not by simply telling people to be more resilient or sending them on a two-day course. Greater resilience comes with clarity of our personal values, and having a sense of purpose and meaning in our work. Recognition is a key part of building resilience. We all need to know that we’re doing a good job, that the effort we put in is making a difference. This acknowledgement builds confidence and confidence leads to a greater ability to manage what we’re doing. I don’t think there’s a sequential order to these things, but they all lead to stronger coping mechanisms.

Companies must take responsibility also. Organisational culture needs to act and behave in a more human way to extract the best from employees, from people. This professional empathy will help us all to better manage the constant chaos, complexity and contradictions in our industry. Overcoming difficult situations at work opens us up to learning, in turn helping us be better and produce more interesting ideas.

Emotional intelligence is going to become a huge factor in how successful we are at work and in life. Businesses have already started monitoring and measuring EQ. Our ability to be aware of our strengths and weaknesses is critical to personal development in the workplace.

The challenge is doing this objectively so we understand why we act and behave like we do and being conscious of our thoughts, actions and behaviours. Giving ourselves permission to fail from time to time and not seeking perfection might be a good start (I’m speaking from experience).

Our industry is going to get tougher as we try to do more with less. Which is why we must deepen our focus on things within our control – improving culture and our ways of working, balancing work and life, flexible working policies, diversity and equality, treating each other with respect.

A resilient nature with a determined attitude will ensure we continue to improve what we do for clients and business, not to mention our own sense of job satisfaction and engagement. If we get this right, there’s no doubt that our ideas will improve. Creative thinking is paramount in this mix.

Dan Beaumont is managing partner of The Royals


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