Handling Setbacks and Building ‘Resilient Muscle’

By Patricia F. Brown, VP Underwriting Global Retail Markets, Liberty Mutual Insurance

I am often asked two questions: “What has led to your success in the commercial insurance industry?” and “How have you overcome setbacks/challenges?

My personal experience of growing up in the South, having parents and siblings who experienced Jim Crow and being the daughter of a Tuskegee Airmen set the foundation of who I am today. The richness of my childhood experiences and my belief systems have had an undeniable impact on me both personally and professionally. Moreover, my professional journey as an African-American woman has included both lows and highs.

When I reflect on my professional experiences and consider what it took to build my “resilient muscle,” I realize that there are five ground rules that I relied on again and again. 

  1. Give yourself permission to feel and experience disappointment. Too often we are encouraged to quickly put on a happy face and/or be fully engaged as if nothing has happened. This approach negates the value and authenticity of being human and a woman. Feel the emotion of disappointment—it is not a sign of weakness.
  2. Avoid blaming others and resist the feeling of self-pity. Often, when we experience disappointment or a setback, our focus is on the setback. Though it takes practice, begin to focus on what’s going well or blessings in your life whether professional or personal. You hold the key and it’s your choice on how you control your thoughts and emotions. Choose the positive and reject the negative. Even though it’s sometimes difficult to do, it is possible.
  3. Shift to understand what happened. This step requires self-reflection. Ask yourself: what role did I play, what could I have done differently, what learning did I obtain? As you can see, start with “I” and then move to other impact factors.
  4. Know that you are your best promoter! Build your professional brand and never give control of it to organizations, people or events. Bring “swagger” to your interactions and remain confident.
  5. Be intentional about building and expanding your networks. Change has become our new normal. Current advocates, sponsors and mentors can shift or change quite rapidly. What is your Plan B when this happens? How will you react? You need to be prepared!

The best organizations are embracing the value of women and shifting their culture/process to promote opportunities and advancement for women in executive level positions including the C-suite. We are multi-dimensional and must bring our full self to the work experience. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity and acknowledge that during your journey, setbacks will happen. Be encouraged! You, too, can build your “resilient muscle” to advance your career and encourage others around you.


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