Key Traits for Career Success | Be OK with Change!

Woman succeeding at work

This is part 2 of a three part series on the most important traits for career success. If you missed Part 1, check it out here and come back next week for Part 3!

This three part series is expanding on an answer I gave in a recent webinar called “Finding Success in Your Career While Navigating Change.” If you’re going through a change yourself, you can catch it here – you don’t have to be an alum to sign up.

When asked during the webinar what I thought were the most important traits for succeeding in times of change, I (quickly!) came up with:

  1. Optimism
  2. Adaptability / Resilience
  3. Self-awareness

Today, I’m talking about…

Adaptability and Resilience

The big question you may have is why they are lumped together. Well, in my mind, they are pretty connected. When I think of adaptability I think of an ability to go with the flow and not be completely thrown off track or stressed out by a change of plans.

Resilience, similarly is the ability to recover quickly from difficulties (often, changes) and to bounce back to where you were.

To me, resilience necessitates adaptability and adaptability is just a broader form of resilience. So, for my purposes of defining traits that lead to success in the workplace, I’ll lump them into one category.

The essence of both adaptability and resilience is an ability to let go of the status quo. Many people are great at this when they are younger – change seems exciting and always promising something better. Then, as we get older, we usually have more to lose, and so tighten our grip on what “is” and fear ever more what could be. It’s the love affair (or even just complacency) with the presen that often prevents people from making a change and what makes changes that are forced upon you – by work or otherwise – all the more difficult.

And if there’s one thing we know, it’s that change is constant. Which is why adaptability and resilience are so important in your career. Although my former life as an attorney preclude me from making too many guarantees, the one guarantee I feel fine making is that you will face change in your career! As soon as you start to get comfortable, your boss could leave, your company might merge, or you might just wake up one day and realize you’re no longer fulfilled by your work.

Though these are different types of changes, they’re all changes that require you to let go of what is and welcome what might be.

How do you cultivate it?

  • Reflect on the past. We’ve all been through changes, through some elements of struggle and have come out on the other side. Remind yourself of yours! Sit down and think about the major changes in your life. Consider how you got through those struggles and changes and identify what you learned. You’ll see change isn’t such a bad thing and you have all you need to get through future changes already.
  • Root yourself in reality. Obviously, I think optimism is important, since I wrote about it last week as one of the three traits most important for success. But to cultivate adaptability and resilience, you need to have a firm understanding of reality – you must understand that times will change and that you will struggle throughout life. If you can only imagine that life will turn out well for you, you’ll be ill-prepared when challenges do come.
  • Interact with people different than you. Again – everyone has been through struggle. The more you interact with others and talk about life, the more you’ll realize that we usually land on our feet on the other side of struggle and grow in the process – and that everyone has their own way of doing it that works for them (just like you! See number 1).
  • Allow yourself to fail. Even if it’s small, seek out opportunities where you can let yourself fail. The more you see that it’s ok not to be the best or to succeed all the time, the better prepared you’ll be for when you (inevitably) do fail on something that matters. Start safe by trying out a new activity that you’re pretty sure you’ll suck at – and embrace it! As you get used to learning from failure in safe situations, you’ll get better at managing failure in “real” situations. Me? I’m learning to play chess against my chess-champion of a husband. It’s so hard to lose so much, but has taught me a lot!
  • Practice mindfulness. In addition to helping you manage stress in times of change, mindfulness helps you cognitively separate yourself from a change or challenging situation and approach the solution from a neutral, unbiased standpoint. Get ready to see this theme a lot in my work, as I’m pretty sure that mindfulness is the cure-all for most of our ails. That and yoga.


Are there limitations?

Well, yes, of course! I’m so glad you asked.

While adaptability and being able to roll with change and embrace it is absolutely imperative to success in today’s workplace, you have to balance your adaptability with a strong sense of self (and we’ll talk about self-awareness next week!).

tree with roots to stay strong in changeThe image that always comes to mind to me when I think of resilience and adaptability is of a tree. Trees are adaptable and resilient – they bounce back when blown in the wind, and I’m constantly amazed at how trees that look long gone can come back with gusto (thank goodness, or I’d have a lot of dead trees in my yard). But trees also have a strong roots system that grounds them.

This root system is what you need to tether yourself to reality and to ensure you stand for something while allowing for the inevitable changes and struggles in life. So, how do ensure you have a strong root system? Come back next week and see what I have to say about the third imperative trait for workplace success – self-awareness!


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