As a recruiter, many of the candidates I work with are looking to leave their jobs because they are facing challenges at work beyond their control: leadership changes, company performance problems, toxic workplace cultures, or a sinking industry. Sometimes the situation really is so bad that the best thing to do is to find a new job. But in other cases, if you jump ship too early, you might miss out on a valuable opportunity to grow your career right where you are.

Employers love to see a candidate with a demonstrated track record of success in a tough work environment. This is especially true for senior roles, where the question “Tell me about a time you overcame an obstacle?” is a perennial interview favorite. If you stick it out through the tough times, you’ll gain valuable experience that makes you a more attractive job candidate compared with someone whose career has been all smooth sailing.

When I first started my career, I had a fantastic supervisor who was a great leader for our team and a personal mentor. But nine months into my tenure, my supervisor left, leaving a leadership vacuum that created a lot of turmoil in my practice group. To make matters worse, it was the beginning of the global financial crisis. Uncertainty and negativity overwhelmed our workplace. But I put my head down and stuck it out, gaining valuable experience that enabled me to become a top recruiter in my region and ultimately paved the way for me to join Lucas Group.

During this challenging time, I learned three valuable lessons for overcoming workplace adversity:

1. Focus on what you can control
When something goes wrong at work, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed by how much you can’t control. You can’t magically will your co-workers to change their attitudes or make the economy improve. But you can control your own personal reaction to the situation. You can bring your best attitude to work every day. You can put your best effort into every task. You can look for opportunities to add value in your role. I call this being the CEO of your own position. Focus on what you need to get done and don’t waste energy on what’s outside your control.

2. Stay positive
When the office is in chaos or the economy hits a stand still, it’s easy to fall victim to negativity. But what I’ve learned is that a negative outlook never does you any good. Make a conscious decision not to complain or engage in gossip. This extends to your inner monologue: don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself or dwelling on pessimism. Negativity will never help you to overcome adversity; it will only make you feel worse and prevent you from identifying and capitalizing on new opportunities.

3. Proactively look for new opportunities
In times of change and upheaval, there are always opportunities for those who can keep their cool long enough to find them. If you’re experiencing high turnover at your firm, you have the opportunity to step into new roles, take on more responsibility, and show leadership. If your line of business is being shut down, you have the opportunity to help your company identify new ways to evolve. At the very least, you will learn and grow each day as a result of the challenges that you face. In the best case, the chance to transform your career during a time of change can be one of the most valuable opportunities of your life.

When facing adversity at work, many people’s first impulse is to cut and run. But take some time to evaluate the situation and consider what you can gain from it before you leave.

Have you overcome challenges at work? I invite you to share your stories and insights in the comments below.


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