As a lawyer and entrepreneur in the financial services and technology space, I’ve been lucky to
have many great mentors throughout my career – business leaders, senior lawyers, philanthropists, etc. Each has given me a slightly different perspective on success and how to
achieve it. The common thread tying together each piece of advice has been that the secret
sauce in success is not luck or money – rather, it is developing resilience.
Resilience is especially important now during this wild rollercoaster ride of COVID-19 lockdowns, job transitions, work-from-home requirements, and learning to hang on through it all.
In my own career, I’ve faced a host of setbacks and rejections. Now, in my role as entrepreneur
and mentor to others, I find that the challenge that all entrepreneurs face is one of staring
down adversity and continuing to grow the positive narrative of their personal brands.
Understanding What Resilience Is. And What it Isn’t.
Rejection is a part of life – from being left off a birthday party invitation list, to not landing that
important client, to failing to receive a hoped-for promotion. Each of these experiences, while
painful, is an opportunity to build resilience.
You might think that resilience is the process of cultivating the ability to avoid pain and shame in the first place. Instead, it’s defined as the opposite. Psychologists view it as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress, not the wholesale avoidance of rejection or adversity.
So, how as an entrepreneur do you face down not only life’s everyday issues, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and also the unique challenges that come with being in business for
yourself? And how do you turn your setbacks into wins?
Learning How to Communicate a “Lesson Learned”
My career has been full of challenges. Like many young women, I faced #MeToo situations in
my early 20s and worried that confronting my abusers would brand me as a “problem” for the
rest of my career in law and finance. I have lost jobs, been passed over for promotions, and, as
the former executive of a public company, dealt with the unique challenges that came with
being in the public eye.
But adversity has never defined me because I have always known what my personal brand is.
For me, defining myself as a “battle-tested” lawyer has helped me categorize each of these
painful experiences as part of my positive narrative. The battles I have fought both personally
and professionally have made me an entrepreneur with a deeper network, a consultant with
more compassion and better listening skills for my clients, and a woman who has mastered the
art of asking for help and offering my skills and expertise in return.
My setbacks are now my superpower.
Something I suggest to the folks I mentor is dividing a sheet of paper into two columns and writing down that phrase down on one side of a piece of paper. On the other side, I suggest jotting down ways adversity has given them strength. Start small. You, too, will be shocked at how quickly your list of strengths will grow and help you define both your brand and your positive narrative. You’ll soon see that your challenges are really what’s making you a superstar in your career.
Honesty is the Best Policy – With Yourself and Others
Another thing I advise my mentees (and was advised by my own mentors) is that honesty about
the adversity you’ve faced is an essential component of being a businessperson and
entrepreneur – especially if there’s negative public information about your challenges. After all,
the internet is forever. And if you are trying to sell your services or a product you’ve developed,
or otherwise advance within your career, the requirement for honesty is even more essential.
At first, it may seem terrifying to say, “This negative thing happened, and I take responsibility
for it. Here’s what I learned and why that will be valuable to you, my client.” The vulnerability
and authenticity of developing resilience sometimes seems impossible. But the rewards of
controlling your own narrative will far outweigh the fear you may feel at first.
That said, not everyone will accept your candor. But not everyone was going to like or buy your
product or services in the first place. And learning from those failed sales and the jobs you
weren’t selected for is yet another step in developing the resilience necessary to succeed.
Developing resilience isn’t a one-time response to stressors. Rather, it’s a practice cultivated
over time and through adversity. In fact, the whole point is to face the tough stuff – and there’s
no way around it. But by leading with honesty, authenticity, and deep awareness of how the
challenges faced fit into the narrative of a personal brand, you can leverage setbacks into