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Career Trait Swapsies

Back in the day, when I was starting out, we talked a lot about ‘career traits’ – personal characteristics that drove us forward in our career. We valued determination, confidence, ambition, optimism and pro activity amongst many others.

Yet when I pause to reflect on the jobs that I have most enjoyed, the leaders that I have loved to follow and the gigs that made me feel great, I would make the following ‘swapsies’ on my list of great traits to thrive in a career.

Choose Resilience over Confidence.

Confidence was king in the 1980s and 90s when my career was starting off. It was an era of ‘self affirmations’ in the mirror. ‘Yes we can’ was the mantra of the masses, not just presidents and cartoon characters.

Yet in recent times resilience has reigned royally. Rightly so, given the challenges that we have had to face globally over the last couple of years. The dictionary defines resilience as the ability to recover quickly from difficult circumstances. To bounce back.

We talk a lot about self confidence. I am not knocking it – it’s a powerful attribute. But in reality a lot of our self confidence comes from other people. It’s how we see ourselves reflected in other people’s opinion that either inflates or deflates our own sense of self. Saying ‘I am great’ to myself in the mirror 10 times every day, doesn’t always mean that I am great, or more importantly that I feel great.

Resilience however, is built from taking what is bad and making it good. In your career, for every difficult situation, every awkward encounter, every failure, ask yourself :

What can I do?

What can I learn?

How will I be stronger?

All of these are within our control.

Nassam Taleb in his excellent book ‘Anti-fragile’, shows how being anti-fragile helps us to benefit from randomness, uncertainty, and variation. In other words, life. Life is messy and seemingly getting messier. Resilience helps us position ourselves to gain from this disorder - to not only recover from mistakes and setbacks, but get stronger.

There is nothing more powerful and confidence inducing than knowing you have survived a difficult situation and bounced back stronger. And believe me – life will through you plenty of those situations!

Choose Kindness over Charisma

“If you can be kind and considerate for one day, then you can be for another. It won’t cost you a penny in the world. Begin today.”

The famous words of Dale Carnegie in his seminal work on ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’.

For the record – I would never have accepted this ‘swapsie’ in my early career. Give me charisma any day! I wanted the limelight, the laughs and the accolades. I was in awe of the leader at work who could rally the troops with an entertaining story, an inspirational speech or the connection of an impassioned one to one.

But over the longer term kindness wins out. Think of all those people throughout the course of your working life who were kind to you and how that made you feel. The colleague who shared an article with you because they knew you were interested in the subject. The manager who remembered your birthday. The client who asked about your sick mum. The stranger who crossed the car park to give you their unexpired parking ticket.

Small random acts of kindness, whether to your best friend or a total stranger, leave big impacts on people’s daily lives.

“Be strong, and be kind”

The words of Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, announcing New Zealand’s first lockdown during the Covid Pandemic. Ever since she became the world’s youngest female head of state at age 37, Ardern has given New Zealand, and the world, a “kind but strong” style of leadership - so proof that as a career trait ‘swapsie’, it can lead to great things!

Choose Laugher over Success

Well – what is success anyway?

I quote the very first line of the famous poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson on the subject:

“to laugh often, and to laugh much”

Laughter IS the best medicine, and research backs this up.

Alison Beard in the HBR article, “Leading with Humor.” – notes that “Laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity"

She also found that cracking jokes at work can make people seem more competent. A case of laughing with you, not at you.

Scarily, her article also revealed that babies laugh, on average, 400 times a day; people over 35, only 15. How sad is that!

Before you ask, I am not talking about 8 hour days of laughter – it is called ‘work’ for a reason! It wouldn’t be fun if it was all laughter. But everyday needs it share of smiles, giggles and belly ache laughs. Think of it as an oasis in the desert of organisational strife. A release to the pent up tension of constant hard work, continual challenges and interpersonal conflict. Find yourself a workplace that makes you smile, that gives you a laugh and brings you joy – at least once in a while.

I am reminded of a poster in our open plan office when I worked for a large company in London. It simply said:

“Everyone who works here, brings joy to this office.

Some when they enter.

Others when they leave.”

It always made me chuckle!

Laughter can come in many forms. It can be a belly ache laugh from your favourite sitcom or a story well told. It can be a cheeky giggle from something said in the moment that lightens your eyes, your smile and your mood.

Where are you getting your laughs? If you really struggle to find them at work, then make sure you get them outside of work.

And on that note – I leave you with the wise words of an anonymous quote:

“Don’t take life too seriously – you’ll never get out of it alive anyway!”

Thanks for reading.


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