Client Side: Agility is the ‘resilience vitamin’ in a career with many twists and turns
Meeting change and uncertainty with positive thinking and eagerness to learn has helped this professional navigate a career with many pivots
While living in Hong Kong for the first 16 years of my life, I never imagined my career would be in a foreign country. Career counselling was not a popular topic, and I was left unaware of options and how to relate my strengths and interests to my career choices.
However, going with the flow and keeping my mind open turned out to be one of the best assets I have. My ability to be adaptive has helped me come a long way, including during COVID.
In the Client Side feature, workers and students reflect on successes and struggles in their career development
I finished my last two years of high school in Toronto, after my family moved to Canada in hopes of providing me with a better education and career options. This was a daunting experience and the initial hurdles to overcome were not small, but this served as a training ground to help me build stronger resilience and flexibility.
One of my early challenges was to select a discipline to study in university. I did not think too far ahead about my career goals, but instead focused more on the path of least resistance (i.e. embracing my natural strengths) and choosing a discipline that would help me develop transferable skills and knowledge. I studied engineering – but as it turned out, my career would take me in many different directions.
“I began to notice that the best way to deal with complexity is simplicity, and the best way to prepare for career challenges is to un-prepare.”
My first job was as an assistant investment advisor in a small firm. I then moved to a sales-marketing compliance officer role for one of the top mutual funds companies in the world, before shifting to an IT position at a large Canadian bank. I have tried different leadership roles including program management, delivery execution, sales and now leading a global team in building software.
When I look back on my career, there have been unexpected hiccups and disruptions. I have faced challenges around culture differences, language barrier and gender disparity. These affected my ability to communicate effectively, to build a strong rapport and to network. I experimented and tried different ways to adapt (such as attending communications training, broadening my knowledge of Canadian culture and joining industry associations). Some worked and some did not, but regular reflections helped me to “fail fast” and find new ways to improve my skills while staying true to who I am.
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I am fortunate to coach many different talented individuals, and I noticed there is a common set of challenges among us, regardless of our career directions. We often experience doubts and hesitation along the journey, because we are afraid to make decisions that we will regret. These doubts are typically around whether we are taking the right path and if we will be wasting our precious time. When we don’t have guidance to navigate these decisions, it creates challenges. Threats, such as new technology or other changes, also compound the complexity that may affect our sense of security and our confidence. The most recent disruption and threat is certainly the COVID pandemic.
These different elements create a complex “spiderweb” that can make career decision-making confusing. I began to notice that the best way to deal with complexity is simplicity, and the best way to prepare for career challenges is to un-prepare.
The necessary vitamins
While I am unable to prepare for all the surprises the future may hold, there are certain things I have tried that strengthen my ability to work through difficult times. Similar to the agility I used to adapt when I first came to Canada, my “resilience vitamins” come from positive thinking, can-do mentality, eagerness to learn and maintaining a network of support.
Where others may see career gaps in my journey, I see development opportunities to get to a better self. For instance, when pivoting into roles in the mutual funds and IT industries, I had knowledge gaps, so I completed new certifications to help me move forward. I have used time away from work to help set new goals and boost my energy level. This in turn creates the momentum to keep me having the right mindset and believing in myself.
Another “vitamin” is comfort with learning new changes. There are always new people, new work and new areas that are intimidating. I have tried different areas of work every few years in my career. I find it to be an excellent way to learn about myself, including my strengths and gaps, what I like and dislike. I found areas that I could do well but had little personal interest in, as well as areas that I am performing well with great passion. For every role I try, it helps me move one step further along my journey.
My last “vitamin” is a solid network of support. Meeting new people and expanding my network helps me broaden my horizons. Some of these people have become my best friends with whom I share passions and mutual respect. They are my sounding board and provide me valuable feedback when I am in need.
Bird’s-eye view as an employer
Translating my career reflections to the perspective of an employer, I think an individual’s qualities are a very important element when we evaluate talents. We understand the workplace is a complex environment with many variables. What helps people to sail smoothly in this long journey is their ability to adapt, learn, collaborate and persevere.
Relevant work experiences and tangible skillsets are always important. But what ultimately differentiates one person from another and the trajectory their career will take depends on more than just tangible skills.
We have seen during the pandemic that people with a positive viewpoint, who are adaptive and open minded, have been able to find new ways to shine and contribute differently. They are the ones embracing their uniqueness, continuing to develop their personal strengths without over-analyzing each circumstance that may hold them back. They embrace changes and view them as opportunities to grow.
Perhaps it is more important than ever before that we, as employers, focus on transferable skills, soft skills and resilience. We cannot predict what the next disruption will be, but we can prepare ourselves by focusing on core values instead of trying to get ahead of every possible challenge. Preparing to unprepared will give us the adaptability we need to thrive.
Christina Fung is currently the Head of Global Wealth & Capital Markets Products in CGI, with more than 20 years of financial services and IT experiences. She has held various executive positions throughout her career. She is a board member of Skills for Change, the Oakville Symphony Youth Orchestra and a member in the Industry Council of NPower.