Career Resilience Through Lessons Learned

–another decade-ful of Stories: More Lessons Learned

We have been exploring the concept of resilience in a series of episodes of this podcast, and each one has helped me better understand this theme: Resilience can come from so many places, and for each human, it shows up differently.

I’m seeing how it shows up in my guest’s lives, relationships, and careers, and as I hiked up the mountain behind my house on my birthday recently, I had some ah ha moments about where it shows up for me. Every year, I take time on or around my birthday for deep self-reflection. This annual tradition has helped me re-define success periodically in my life, re-focus on what really matters to me; to consider patterns that have benefitted me – and done damage. I look at those patterns in my life to help me figure out where I might be getting in my own way.

When I see patterns of negative relationships, personal and professional, and understand whether and how I may be contributing to them, I can choose to make adjustments.

I believe that asking myself those hard questions, the ones that the answers may make me cringe and see myself in a less than positive light, is part of why I’ve demonstrated resilience throughout my life and career. When I see patterns of negative relationships, personal and professional, and understand whether and how I may be contributing to them, I can choose to make adjustments. It’s not fun to realize you’re complicit in your struggles. It’s much, much easier (and safer) to blame others and  “extenuating circumstances,” because then we don’t have to take responsibility. But doing that is not going to make me resilient. And worse, I would continue to live within a negative cycle if I don’t identify the patterns, learn lessons, and choose my next steps. I’d be lying to myself about who I am and what I stand for.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier episodes: Choose your obstacles and struggles, or they will be chosen for you.

On my quiet birthday hike, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the joy and sorrow I experienced in this decade. I lost my father-in-law, my dad, my stepdad, and a dear family friend over a period of 2 years. So much grief for our family. I also joyfully welcomed an ideal brother-in-law and three nieces into our family and took pictures of my father, just months before he passed, filled with joy, peace, and love as he held his newest grandchild.

I watched our sons struggle through junior high and high school and come out more resilient, confident, and compassionate. I had some euphoric career highs, contributing to incredibly valuable and successful projects, and a devastating career low that took my confidence for a dive.

We had extraordinary travel adventures, float trips on the Missouri River, and had friends who are family support us in remarkable ways. And in the middle of all of that, I finished an MBA and became a professional musician – I started singing in a rock band for the first time – at 40.

As memories of all of these events were brilliantly and vividly flashing through my mind, what caught my attention were some of the incredible lessons I learned in that time. I thought for this episode, I would share two that I can say changed and improved my life, and helped me flex my resilience muscles as I navigated my 40s:

Sometimes your contribution to a conversation isn’t necessary or helpful.

Think before you speak, and make sure others in the room have a chance to contribute.

In my 40s I switched jobs three times. The second one in that decade was a particularly bad fit; I was a compliance officer for a major Federal grant, and I don’t even like rules. On top of that, my boss and I had some major personality differences. We struggled to find balance in our shared cube, and there was palpable friction between us for the duration of our time together. My confidence took a major dive in those 2+ years, and at points throughout, I found myself sinking into depression. I learned a lot of personal lessons at that time, and I find this one continues to resonate.

It was in that job that I realized I didn’t always have to contribute my thoughts. Sometimes, I realized later, I looked like a know-it-all, and many times I didn’t leave room for others to contribute. It took some difficult circumstances for me to be able to see myself the way I was being perceived by my boss; eventually, I learned to lean back in our conversations and contribute only when I truly had something of value to add – something that would bring the conversation forward or improve the project somehow.

I learned how not to antagonize her, which was the best thing I could do as I looked for a more suitable position.

When I left that job, I had learned many difficult lessons, and continue to practice (I’m still learning) that particular one a lot. That lesson was likely the most pivotal for my 40s, in terms of the application in a variety of scenarios. There have been times I’ve leaned back and allowed space for family, friends, and coaching clients, transforming my relationships with those people. Of course, I still fail sometimes in my efforts to listen more than I speak… okay, a lot of times; overall, I’ve seen my career and relationships benefit greatly from that practice.

It’s so important to use your voice and speak your truth; it’s also important to know the consequences and be okay with that. When I consider speaking my truth, I think about whether my sharing it will help or change anything for the person in front of me, and then decide whether I need to share for my own needs – or for theirs. I also consider whether sharing that truth will have negative consequences and if those will be worth the risk.

Sarah Elkins
Sarah Elkins
Sarah is a communication coach, Gallup certified Strengths coach, keynote speaker, writer, and professional musician. Sarah uses storytelling as the foundation of her work with management teams and individual clients to improve communication and relationships. Her podcast, Your Stories Don’t Define You, How You Tell Them Will focuses on storytelling themes, the primary concept being that the stories you choose to tell - and how you choose to tell them - impact your internal messages and the perception of those around you. Her podcast was named in the top 50 in the category of emotional intelligence on Her passion for connecting people and helping them learn to better connect with others is embodied in the events she hosts, No Longer Virtual, which are small, interactive conferences based on the theme of connecting beyond the keyboard, recognized twice by Forbes as “Can’t Miss Events for Entrepreneurs” in 2017 & 2018.
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Laura Staley

Thank you for this article, Sarah. I really appreciate your sharing these important lessons, which I continue to learn, to know when to remain quiet, to really listen for what another needs, to speak when it contributes value, and to have the wisdom to choose which of these would be most useful to the conversation/interaction. I’m so sorry for all the loss you endured and celebrate all the joys you experienced during this past decade. I’m grateful for your vulnerability, honesty, and wisdom gleaned.


A few years ago I said to my friend (in her 70s) that I was a little disappointed I hadn’t found this calling as a coach and storyteller earlier in life. She said: “You had to experience ALL of what you experienced to be able to have the impact you can have now. You couldn’t have provided the insight and value to your clients without all of that experience.”

Priceless wisdom. Thank you, Laura, for being part of this outstanding community of authentic leaders.

Laura Staley

Sarah, thank you for sharing what your friend (in her 70s!) shared with you. This really softens my patience as I grow CYW. I must be needing to experience even more to expand the impact. This is priceless wisdom that allows me to breathe deeper, to continue to integrate all that I’m learning, and be of love and service to others. I’m grateful you have joined the community. What a joy to share this platform with you and many other thoughtful, inspiring individuals and leaders.

Joel Elveson

Thank you for writing this article that contained so much insight, inspiration, human interest and more. You taught me some very valuable lessons about myself that revealed so many things I was doing or did wrong.


Wonderful to hear from you, Joel, thank you for the comments. I’m looking forward to more interactions and sharing on this platform!

Joel Elveson

The comments I left reflect what your article meant to me.

Joel Elveson

This was a truly great article to read. Thanks to you I know I have to take a closer more in-depth look at my life then, now while wondering what I can do to in some way shape my future.



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