I’ve been wanting to write about this topic for a while. Here is the story of a career that was shattered, reconstructed, and is now more solid and resistant, and gains opportunities without suffering the stress caused by chaos and adversity.

Antifragile in a nutshell

For those who don’t know the concept of antifragility, I will summarize it in a few lines, but you can also read this awesome article by Maurice Lefebvre on the topic: What is Antifragility and How Can It Help Me?

Antifragility is a theory according to which the opposite of fragility isn’t solidity or resilience. If chaos and adversity destroy fragile systems, the opposite would be a system that improves under stress and adversity. Resilience, the capacity to not be affected by chaos and adversity, stands between the two.

Fragile systems offer impressive results when in a context that’s is the best for their purpose and are very often over-optimized. However, they won’t resist very well to most forms of stress and chaos.

The examples that are often given to explain fragile systems are a glass of wine that shatters under a shock, a very performing Formula 1 car that disintegrates quickly as soon as it gets out of its racetrack. In myths, it will be compared to Damocles, who accepted to become King for a day but had to sit under a sword that was suspended by a single hair of a horse’s tail that could fall on his head at any time. I also like to use the example of the Titanic, renowned for being fast and unsinkable, but that wasn’t agile enough to veer in time and avoid an iceberg.

Solid or resilient systems are simply not affected by chaos and punishment. Not only that, they simply ignore those conditions and continue doing what they were doing.

In this case, one will often use the analogy of a plastic glass that won’t break if it falls, and farm equipment that can work during any season, no matter the weather. In myths, resilience will be explained with the phoenix, that will be reborn from its ashes every time it dies and stays unchanged.

Antifragile systems will improve with chaos and adversity. They won’t be as optimized or performing as fragile systems, nor will they be as resistant as solid systems. But they will never stop improving under stress.

Imagine a glass that improves when you drop it: every time, it becomes more resistant as its matter transforms. The most concrete and understandable comparison is with the human body. Whoever is into sports knows very well that when under stress, the body improves.

Imagine a glass that improves when you drop it: every time, it becomes more resistant as its matter transforms. The most concrete and understandable comparison is with the human body. Whoever is into sports knows very well that when under stress, the body improves. Muscles improve by working out, so does cardio. The system isn’t over-optimized: if one suffers from a lung perforation or loses a kidney, there is a second one that will allow us to survive. In mythology, antifragility will often be explained with the hydra which had many heads. Every time one would cut one of its head, two would grow back in its place.

But even antifragile systems won’t survive to too much stress: someone who never ran before will collapse during a marathon, and one might tear a muscle by lifting too much weight. And the hydra? Heads would not grow back when the wound was cauterized quickly enough.

My career was fragile

A long time ago, I used to work for the same organization for many years. I progressed a lot in this company, and I liked it very much. I was involved in all the social clubs, and everything. I was contacted very often by recruiters, but I wouldn’t read any of their messages: I loved my job and I didn’t want to work anywhere else.

Chaos and adversity showed up when this company and I had to part ways. I wasn’t ready for this at that time: I had no network, no career plan, not even a backup plan. My résumé hadn’t been updated in almost 10 years.

The worst part: my role in this organization didn’t exist really on the job market. My comfort zone, in which I was wallowing, was so comfortable that I wouldn’t leave it. Because of this, I didn’t explore the different options that I had, nor did I show the necessary curiosity to diversify the value I was bringing.

My career was fragile as my role was obsolete, and I had a fixed mindset that would keep me from growing. I didn’t want to take any risks. But the risk found me.

When we say something is fragile, and such a shock happens… My career was in pieces. Impossible to find something equivalent, my technical skills weren’t up to date. My morale ended up in the same state: ripped in pieces. It has been the most difficult event of my career. Today, it is also the most important one as I wouldn’t be where I am if it didn’t happen.

How I Made My Career Resilient

Once the initial shock was absorbed, and after adopting a growth mindset (more out of necessity than voluntarily at that time), I got back on my feet and met a career management counsellor, and I meticulously followed her recommendations.

1. I updated my résumé and my LinkedIn profile

I often had the perception that those who keep their résumés up to date were insecure or were constantly looking for a new job. I figured at that time that they simply were better ready to face adversity. Since then, I’ve ensured that my documents are always up to date, and I practiced to better explain who I am, and what my successes and aspirations were.

2. I started developing my network

Since my LinkedIn profile was up to date, I might as well use it. I started connecting with recruiters from all walks of life, and I was immediately invited to a few interviews. I still have very interesting relationships with some of the people I met at that time when I started being active on this media.

3. I started caring about my aspirations

I basically started listening more to what I aspired for than what the market was offering me. In my former work, what I preferred was management and the Agile mindset. By putting the two together, I decided to take my Scrum Master certification. I was opening myself to new experiences, which is the first step out of fragility.

Using my network, I ended up finding a place that was ready to give me a chance to prove myself in this very in demand world of Scrum Masters.

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Olivier Fortier
OLIVIER Fortier is first and foremost a believer in human beings. Owner of the blog Primos Populi -- which is Latin for People First -- his focus is to find innovative ways to bring back (and keep) people at the core of businesses, and ensure they can thrive. A manager, agilist, servant leader, facilitator, and former Scrum Master, all of these interesting titles and roles represent only the means to achieve what he truly believes in: cultivating people's awesomeness. His favorite things to reflect on are leader-leader relationships, psychological safety and the right to fail, career and personal development, humanity in recruitment, and how to lower the center of gravity of decision-making processes. Considering that businesses wouldn't exist without people, can one imagine how powerful it would be if all employees wholeheartedly wanted to be in their organizations, and wanted to do what they do? This is the work world Olivier wants to live in, and the goal he set for himself.
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