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Why resilience is king in getting a job and building a career?

by Fiona Christie on October 24, 2011

Like many people, I loved watching Steve Jobs’s lecture to Stanford students in which he talked about how “failure” had been the making of him. He had dropped out of college, been fired from Apple but still managed to create one of the most successful American companies ever!

The benefits of failure

His lecture also reminded me of JK Rowling’s speech to Harvard students about the benefits of failure – she says that it was her own conventional failure that drove her to write Harry Potter

“So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

So two successful people celebrating failure – what does this have to say for us mere mortals? Sometimes it can be a bit depressing to read how these uber-successful people bounced back from adversity and it’s easy to wonder “well it’s all right for them, are they the exception to the rule” in a Society which generally dislikes failure and in which most careers advisers like myself would probably steer you not to advertise your shortcomings when applying for a job.

Resilience really matters

But failure is connected to resilience and I do think the concept of resilience has far-reaching relevance for many of us – especially in the current challenging job market. The US business journalist George Anders argues that employers should seek out resilient people if they want the best staff.

He has recently written the book The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else, in which he argues that in reality employers should be seeking out those who have endured adversity rather than going for individuals who seem to have had a run of conventional success.

Interviewed by Dan Pink, George argues: “Everybody should be searching for resilience, and hardly anyone does. Being able to bounce back from adversity is crucial in just about every field I examined. You need resilience to be a great CEO, a great teacher, soldier, investor, etc., etc. But when we hire, we’re taught to regard setbacks — regardless of what came next — as flaws in a candidate. So when we prepare our own resumes, we hide our stumbles. That’s wrong! We should cherish people who have extricated themselves from trouble in the past.”

Life rarely goes to plan: embrace uncertainty

Most of us won’t experience the epic scale failure (let alone runaway success) that JK Rowling or Steve Jobs experienced. However, one of the lessons I take from this is that sometimes (probably most of the time) life doesn’t go to plan and the challenge is to be able to cope and do our best to bounce back in uncertain times. Susan Jeffers’ book Embrace Uncertainty addresses this subject with lots of ideas about how to cope with uncertainty and I guess to think positively when things seem to go pear-shaped.

She argues that it’s important to follow your intuition but to create goals, enjoy your work, do your best but then let go of specific outcomes. It is being attached to specific outcomes that can often inhibit and cause people distress when they don’t come off.

She makes the simple case that when it comes to job-hunting to think this way: “If  I don’t get the job, it wasn’t for me;  there are many other jobs out there and my search can teach me very valuable lessons.”  I think this is so true; I sometimes think job-hunters are at risk of repeating the same mistakes when it comes to job–hunting and don’t stand back to reflect on what went wrong and what they can learn for next time. They can keep on going on the same track, when really they need to change track.

She also makes the challenging but honest assessment that when difficulties arise, “immediately reject the victim mentality and begin looking for the good. When you cling to the victim mentality this sends out a terribly negative energy”.

She questions the vocabulary that we use a lot. e.g., “What if I lose my job”, “What if the job interview is terrible”. She suggests a language re-framing e.g., “What if I love my job”, “What if the job interview goes really well”. She also critiques how much we use phrases such as “I hope” and argues that instead we should say “I wonder”, e.g. “I hope my presentation goes well” should become “I wonder how the presentation will go…”

Failure, resilience, uncertainty – they are all part of life; and if we are to learn from JK Rowling and Steve Jobs, it’s a measure of a successful person to effectively respond to failure and uncertainty and have the resilience to flourish. It isn’t easy but it’s possible for everyone.  But ask yourself, how much more have you learnt from things going wrong than things going right?


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Alan Kay October 25, 2011 at 11:35 am

Love the use of resilience and learning from failure. I have a daughter who’s 24 and I greatly value knowing her friends. They get this stuff so much more readily than say the boomers. Now, if we could instill some restless ambition in them…


Mickey Flynn November 10, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Top post that, really enjoyed it. I am a Salford Uni graduate trying to find work. I have wrote a blog to try and help me, take a look, you can find it on . Hoping one day to write books like JK Rowling and end up on Discount Books


Fiona Christie November 11, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Thanks very much. Glad you like the post. I will tweet your blog via Twitter @FCChristie and @UoSCareers. Keep in touch – would be good to connect further as you have a good story to tell


Adebisi Olawuyi December 22, 2011 at 10:36 pm

This is a very good article to reflect on at this period of the year when most of us seems to be thinking of what has gone right and not quite right in our life. It really lifted my soul and taught me some useful lessons for life. Thanks.


Fiona Christie December 23, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Thanks very much for your feedback. I am glad you liked it.


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