On The Job Resilience Training: How Agency Life Prepared Me For Challenges Of Today And Tomorrow

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In this guest post, AbbVie communications and patient relations advisor Belinda Surjadi (pictured below) discusses how agency life gave her the resilience to overcome the challenges of today and tomorrow…

A silver lining from the global pandemic is this newfound focus on mental wellness and building resilience. This has prompted me to reflect on my own real-world experiences and I’ve noticed more recently how some of these learnings have made their way into resilience building programs.

Agency life is tough. Looking back, I was hopeful to survive that day, week, month, even. But I am grateful for those experiences along the way. Now, I see these resilience programs that are based on research and theory, and I realise I’ve been fortunate to develop my own form of resilience training over many years and valuable life lessons. It’s made me realise that all these years of experience actually delivered practical, on the job training.

Pitching everything from the latest household appliances and gadgets through to opinion pieces on APIs and refinancing tips helped me develop a thick skin. Being the mediator to feedback to clients as to why a journalist felt their story wasn’t newsworthy was something that took time and practice. What do you mean [insert top masthead] doesn’t want me on their front page?

So, here are some of the observations and what I have picked up on the job:

  1. Acknowledging change and the ambiguity that comes with it has helped me get through challenging moments. Things move quickly in agency land, so it’s impossible not to face constant change. When things go askew, I remind myself of impermanence, recognising that this is stressful time, while also accepting that this is a fleeting moment that will come and go. I’ve not mastered the art of letting go but gentle reminders and practicing helps.
  2. Have an open mind and embrace the collaborative spirit. Sometimes journalists would say there’s a half story in the pitch, but it needs more to make it a well-rounded story. I’m a glass half full kind of person so in the past I have used that type of guidance to my advantage to build both a better story as well as relationships with the journalist. Agency life also meant there was intel exchanged across different levels of experience and backgrounds, and an overall support towards sharing different and unconventional ideas. I think this open dialogue with diverse ways of thinking and operating is so important in not only problem solving but also fostering a culture of creativity and innovation.
  3. The best laid plans don’t always play out as intended. It was almost impossible not having multiple contingency plans up your sleeve this year. Accept that there will be occasions where there are external factors that are simply beyond your control. Like wild weather putting your conference on hold and COVID-19 putting all sorts of limitations on film shoots. Be prepared to take different approaches and outcomes. Resilience literature would describe this as pivoting and adapting though at the time, I called this turning lemons into lemonade.
  4. Recognise that people are complex and unique creatures. Each person will respond to an experience in their own individual way based on a number of factors such as prior interactions, their own attitudes and opinions. Managing a range of clients and multiple projects within those accounts meant working with different, and sometimes clashing personalities. It wasn’t uncommon to manage conflicting priorities and working styles from the same client. I’m calling this one out because hoping for a similar reaction from different people leads to a mixture of frustration and disappointment. Being open to responding to different reactions helps anticipate surprises along the way and mitigate any undesired outcomes. Removing the personal element has also taught me not to take things personally in the workplace and remain solutions-focused.
  5. Stepping outside of your comfort zone builds growth and resilience. Instead of mulling over a predicament, position the challenge as an opportunity to expand beyond solving the task at hand. For example, re-frame the scenario of managing sensitive stakeholder relationships as a character building exercise. These days, I think this is called having a growth mindset.
  6. Be empathetic towards yourself and those around you. Self-care is important and will continue to evolve just as individual needs change over time. Be kind to yourself and those around you. Acknowledge that you are not expected to solve the problem today. Take breaks throughout the day and put boundaries in place to help separate work from home life. Unplug from devices and be present when enjoying quality time with loved ones. Remember, there are lots of resources available that provide guidance and tips on self-care. The likes of Black Dog Institute and Headspace are great sources to start with.

We’re all human and naturally, we respond differently to these experiences. I’d love to hear from other members of the community on what has helped you navigate through a difficult time.

Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer.

 

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