This article was originally posted on BizCatalyst360
I’ve been wanting to write about this topic for a while. Here is the story of a career that was shattered, reconstructed, and is now more solid and resistant, and gains opportunities without suffering the stress caused by chaos and adversity.
Antifragile in a nutshell
For those who don’t know the concept of antifragility, I will summarize it in a few lines, but you can also read this awesome article by Maurice Lefebvre on the topic: What is Antifragility and How Can It Help Me?
Antifragility is a theory according to which the opposite of fragility isn’t solidity or resilience. If chaos and adversity destroy fragile systems, the opposite would be a system that improves under stress and adversity. Resilience, the capacity to not be affected by chaos and adversity, stands between the two.
Fragile systems offer impressive results when in a context that’s is the best for their purpose and are very often over-optimized. However, they won’t resist very well to most forms of stress and chaos.
The examples that are often given to explain fragile systems are a glass of wine that shatters under a shock, a very performing Formula 1 car that disintegrates quickly as soon as it gets out of its racetrack. In myths, it will be compared to Damocles, who accepted to become King for a day but had to sit under a sword that was suspended by a single hair of a horse’s tail that could fall on his head at any time. I also like to use the example of the Titanic, renowned for being fast and unsinkable, but that wasn’t agile enough to veer in time and avoid an iceberg.
Solid or resilient systems are simply not affected by chaos and punishment. Not only that, they simply ignore those conditions and continue doing what they were doing.
In this case, one will often use the analogy of a plastic glass that won’t break if it falls, and farm equipment that can work during any season, no matter the weather. In myths, resilience will be explained with the phoenix, that will be reborn from its ashes every time it dies and stays unchanged.
Antifragile systems will improve with chaos and adversity. They won’t be as optimized or performing as fragile systems, nor will they be as resistant as solid systems. But they will never stop improving under stress.
Imagine a glass that improves when you drop it: every time, it becomes more resistant as its matter transforms. The most concrete and understandable comparison is with the human body. Whoever is into sports knows very well that when under stress, the body improves. Muscles improve by working out, so does cardio. The system isn’t over-optimized: if one suffers from a lung perforation or loses a kidney, there is a second one that will allow us to survive. In mythology, antifragility will often be explained with the hydra which had many heads. Every time one would cut one of its head, two would grow back in its place.
But even antifragile systems won’t survive to too much stress: someone who never ran before will collapse during a marathon, and one might tear a muscle by lifting too much weight. And the hydra? Heads would not grow back when the wound was cauterized quickly enough.
My career was fragile
A long time ago, I used to work for the same organization for many years. I progressed a lot in this company, and I liked it very much. I was involved in all the social clubs, and everything. I was contacted very often by recruiters, but I wouldn’t read any of their messages: I loved my job and I didn’t want to work anywhere else.
Chaos and adversity showed up when this company and I had to part ways. I wasn’t ready for this at that time: I had no network, no career plan, not even a backup plan. My résumé hadn’t been updated in almost 10 years.
The worst part: my role in this organization didn’t exist really on the job market. My comfort zone, in which I was wallowing, was so comfortable that I wouldn’t leave it. Because of this, I didn’t explore the different options that I had, nor did I show the necessary curiosity to diversify the value I was bringing.
My career was fragile as my role was obsolete, and I had a fixed mindset that would keep me from growing. I didn’t want to take any risks. But the risk found me.
When we say something is fragile, and such a shock happens… My career was in pieces. Impossible to find something equivalent, my technical skills weren’t up to date. My morale ended up in the same state: ripped in pieces. It has been the most difficult event of my career. Today, it is also the most important one as I wouldn’t be where I am if it didn’t happen.
How I Made My Career Resilient
Once the initial shock was absorbed, and after adopting a growth mindset (more out of necessity than voluntarily at that time), I got back on my feet and met a career management counsellor, and I meticulously followed her recommendations.
1. I updated my résumé and my LinkedIn profile
I often had the perception that those who keep their résumés up to date were insecure or were constantly looking for a new job. I figured at that time that they simply were better ready to face adversity. Since then, I’ve ensured that my documents are always up to date, and I practiced to better explain who I am, and what my successes and aspirations were.
2. I started developing my network
Since my LinkedIn profile was up to date, I might as well use it. I started connecting with recruiters from all walks of life, and I was immediately invited to a few interviews. I still have very interesting relationships with some of the people I met at that time when I started being active on this media.
3. I started caring about my aspirations
I basically started listening more to what I aspired for than what the market was offering me. In my former work, what I preferred was management and the Agile mindset. By putting the two together, I decided to take my Scrum Master certification. I was opening myself to new experiences, which is the first step out of fragility.
Using my network, I ended up finding a place that was ready to give me a chance to prove myself in this very in demand world of Scrum Masters.
My career had become resilient
I had connected with many Scrum Masters, keeping in mind that what happened a few months back could happen again. I was keeping my résumé and my LinkedIn profile updated and was working really hard to keep my network healthy. While I wasn’t necessarily ready for anything, I had a better understanding of the fact that chaos and adversity aren’t exceptions, they are the norm.
As a matter of fact, one year later, the guillotine fell again on my job. For reasons out of my control, I have to part ways from my employer. There were no tears this time, no feeling of betrayal. I was disappointed, but I also felt a feeling of peace, serenity, and even some excitement. My network was strong, my stuff was up to date. I would find another job, simply. I could do it a year before, and I had much fewer things care for, so I started looking immediately.
While I was surprised by this news, it didn’t create a tsunami, not even a single wave, and it didn’t affect my morale. My career had just resisted to a great potential stress. My career was now robust.
How I made my career antifragile
Since I was ready, I had a strong network and I knew what to do, I was able to find another job in a matter of weeks. In this new organization, I felt a work environment that was open and trustworthy. I felt safe enough to grow. It was a very fertile ground to experiment, and, more or less consciously, make my career antifragile. Here’s how it went.
1. I found my vocation
It doesn’t happen in one day. It took me about one year to understand why I was getting up and going to work every morning. On the days where I felt useful and valued, I would take time to understand why, and find the common denominator. In the end, it was rather simple: I was feeling good every time I helped someone take ownership of their job, their career. When I was helping them to make their job more human. This is how I found my vocation: to bring people back as the core of the work world.
If you want to know more on how I found my “why”, I recommend that you read my article Why You Should Focus On Your Why?
2. I invested energy in making myself known
As my network was getting stronger, thanks to LinkedIn, I started connecting with people who believed what I believed. I soaked my brain with dozens of concepts that were supporting my beliefs, and I was sharing them daily on social medias.
I also began to go attend various meetups and conferences. At first, it was to learn new things, but eventually, I figured it was a very efficient way to network with people of influence. I discovered it was worth the shot to stay after speeches and workshops and discuss with the speakers and facilitators. They proved to be great allies. Today, I even have a partnership with one of them.
3. I spent time developing my leadership skills
I was already a strong servant leader. As a Scrum Master, it was my role to go to people and ask them “What do you need? How can I help?”. I cared deeply for the success of my teams.
After meeting with Maurice Lefebvre, who would become my professional coach for a while, I explored many forms of leadership. I learned to be an everyman leader, by observing people and finding opportunities to help. Sometimes, I would open new doors to create contexts where I could be of service to people, be it only for a few minutes, to show them something, send them a video, lend them a book.
With time, by developing and crystalizing my personal beliefs, and by taking ownership of my own discourse on the humanity (or lack thereof) of the work world, I became the figurehead of my cause. The figurehead is a leadership role that one can reach by being completely passionate by a cause, an organization or a product.
For more information on these three leadership roles, read this article written by Maurice: Of the 3 Leader Roles, Which One Are You Perfect For?
4. I learned to get out of my comfort zone
By getting out of my comfort zone, I was also making my comfort zone bigger with time. I developed a curiosity for things that would scare me in the past or embarrass me because I didn’t know how to approach them. I gave myself the possibility to be human, to screw up, thinking that I would at least have tried new things and that I would learn from my mistakes.
At this moment, I started challenging authorities. Something I wouldn’t have done in the past, as I was afraid to create waves. I also volunteered to speak at conferences, even though I’m much more efficient in smaller groups of 2 or 3 people. When offered to do something I never tried before, I was now jumping at the chance to learn something new. The growth mindset was now my permanent mindset.
5. I started making short, controlled experimentations
This is very much linked to the previous point. By getting out of my comfort zone, I was also making sure I was only making short and controlled experimentations. When trying something new, I was ready to put a stop to it at any time, and even go back to the previous state, if the experimentation was infructuous.
For instance, I once rewrote my entire LinkedIn profile to see how my audience would react, and if I would stop receiving job offers in fields that I considered to be part of my past rather than of my future. The time I talked about the necessity of a survey about the relationship between managers and employees, I simply decided to create it myself. It gave me an interesting experience, and if ever I need to do a study in the future, I would already know what kind of effort it requires.
6. I stopped being a victim
Definitely one of the most significant mindset change I went through. I suffered from a lot of pain points in my career. I wasn’t always directly impacted by the problems, but the fact that no one was doing anything to solve the problems was very hard on me.
At this point, I stopped being a victim and I became an actor of my career. One of my teams is left to fend for itself with no one to take care of them? I improvised myself as their manager and gave them what they needed to be at their best. I have the feeling that the recruitment world is growing more and more inhuman? Then it’s my responsibility to make it more human. I observe many work environments that are toxic? I’ll make sure my work environment is psychologically safe.
When I discovered my vocation, I talked to my then managers. I was clear to me that I would dedicate my time to creating work environments that would be more human and safe for my colleagues, and bring the decision-making power to them. My aspirations were not heard on that day. I simply decided that I’d have to care about people somewhere else then. The era when I’d ask for permission to do what’s right was now behind me. Bygone. Which brings me to the last point.
7. I took the bet to act in accordance with my values
One of the pain points I suffered from in the past was the fact that in my surroundings, many couldn’t live according to their values at work. When personal values conflict with those of the work environment, demotivation and disengagement ensue. I simply wasn’t ready to tolerate that.
My values are important and non-negotiable. They are known by everyone I work with. Can I bend them? Slightly but rarely. Can I ignore them? Absolutely not. This gives me an interesting advantage: I am authentic, and also happy. Even Gandhi approves: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony”.
My career is now antifragile
As of today, the reason why I do things is much more important than what I do. I can be a manager, a Scrum Master, a coach, a facilitator, a director, or whatever. I got much more strings to my bow than it could tolerate in the past.
I helped so many people without asking anything in return, simply because it was the thing to do, that I’m quite confident my network could pay it back to me in time of need if I ever have to part ways with my current workplace. I’m fairly certain I could have something within days.
But in reality, if I was to be without a job, it would be a golden opportunity to devote myself to my vocation and contribute to bringing people back as the heart of businesses. It would be a springboard to my dream of really making a difference in the work world.
In short, being antifragile reminds me of a quite familiar character…
“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine”– Obi-Wan Kenobi
Owner of Primos Populi, partner and coach at Moabi. As a former manager, I prefer to use a “people first, the rest will follow” kind of approach. My favorite topics are organizational culture, safe work environments, and lowering the center of gravity of the decision making process. I cultivate people’s awesomeness.