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Career lessons from books: Reframing adverse life experiences into advantageous experiences

The story of David and Goliath is often told from the perspective that David was an underdog who gained an unlikely victory in his battle against Goliath. However, in the book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell retells the story by highlighting why given the circumstances of the battle, David was bound to win and Goliath the actual underdog. One of the perspectives he provides is how Goliath’s gigantism may have been due to an illness that made him poor-sighted and only effective in an up-close battle. And that David’s experience as a shepherd and protecting his flocks from wild animals gave him an advantage over Goliath.

Malcolm argues, “We spend a lot of time thinking about the ways that prestige and resources and belonging to elite institutions make us better off. We don’t spend enough time thinking about the ways in which those kinds of material advantages limit our options.”

How does this relate to our careers and professional lives? Convention will have us thinking that in order to be successful, we have to grow up in the perfect families, go to the perfect schools, choose the perfect career paths, and have all resources at our disposal. However, the reality is some of the top leaders and innovators emerged from harsh backgrounds and conditions which positioned them better to challenge norms, to be courageous and to make an impact in the world. That’s why we love “rags to riches” stories right?

We can apply this thinking in our professional lives by reframing the experiences we have had that we may have until now seen as setbacks and asking ourselves – what advantage has this experience given me and what about it sets me apart from everyone else?

❇️A delay in getting a job after graduation

❇️Experiencing failure along the path of getting our qualifications

❇️A forced career break that may be due to an illness or a season of taking care of the children

❇️Having to take on extra work to generate income while pursuing your studies

❇️Having to study part-time while working full-time

These experiences may feel like setbacks, but what we often overlook is how they are developing in us the skills and fortitude we need to push ahead in life and achieve beyond what others may think is possible.

“There is a set of advantages that have to do with material (and other) resources, and there is a set that have to do with the absence of material (and other) resources- and the reason underdogs win as often as they do is that the latter is sometimes every bit the equal of the former.” Malcolm Gladwell.

How have your life experiences given you skills that you wouldn’t have gained any other way?

How can you leverage off those experiences to set yourself apart in your professional journey?



Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I am a passionate leader, accomplished professional and a mentor. I believe that nation-building depends on how well we build people. Therefore, my mission is to contribute to the personal, professional and leadership development of people to empower them to reach their highest potential.

I do this through a mentorship program that I founded and through this blog where I share principles I've applied and insights I've gained in the past twelve years of my career and leadership journey.

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