THE BLOG
01/25/2017 09:51 am ET Updated Jan 26, 2018

Take the Scary Leap: Q&A with Career Expert Kerry Hannon

by Kara Baskin

Author and New York Times columnist Kerry Hannon specializes in facing life transitions with resilience. She's authored several books about career success--including Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness--and she's also a personal finance expert, helping her readers relieve anxiety around money management. She weighs in on why we should take the scary leap when it comes to our career and when to listen to our gut.

What is your resilience journey?
About 15 years ago, I was walking down a beach in Siesta Key, Florida, when my father asked me how I was doing. I paused for a second and decided to tell the truth.

"I'm miserable," I told him. The problem wasn't my personal life, but my work. I had the job of my dreams, writing a financial column for a large national newspaper complete with my photo, and I was being paid handsomely.

Dad didn't miss a beat. "Quit," he advised.

For years, I had figured that being a national columnist would be the capstone for my career--proof that I had made it. But it wasn't a good work environment for me. My co-workers were wonderful and so were my editors, but I wasn't hardwired to work in a noisy newsroom with no walls between desks and a steady pressure to meet daily deadlines. After some soul-searching, I resigned.

That's brave...but scary, too! What did you do next?
Luckily, I had a contract to write a book on Navajo weaving that gave me a project to get rolling. I was assigned to tell the stories of three Navajo weavers and the history of an old Trading Post located near Farmington, New Mexico.

That book, Trees in a Circle, was life-changing. I met Mary, who was in her 80s and lived 45 minutes down a dirt road. Her home had no electricity or running water. In fact, her loom was the biggest object there. Mary wove monumental rugs.

When I asked her questions through a translator about what inspired her to weave these epic rugs, she replied with a sparkle in her eyes, "You ask questions no one thinks about."

Her simple wisdom startled me. I looked around outside of her hogan and something inside of me changed. She was surrounded by beauty, big skies, red rocks--all wrapped in the serenity of nature. Mary saw the world through eyes of joy and wove from her heart.

I went home and never looked back. I decided then and there to be my own boss. That's a scary jump, trust me.

What types of resilience challenges have you faced, and how have you tackled them?
It hasn't always been a smooth path, but my business has grown steadily. During these years, I have had to rely on my ability to take change in stride, to work with an ever-changing assortment of editors, to tackle assignments no one else wants to do, to juggle more work than I ever imagined back in my staff job days.

What are some things you've learned thus far on your resilience journey?
I learned to speak in front of audiences sometimes as large as 1,500 people, and believe me when I tell you: I was a shy child.

I have learned to accept rejection from book publishers with grace and move on. And I have learned to reach out and meet new people every day whether by phone, email, tweet or in person--the old-fashioned way.

The secret sauce is resilience. I'm not afraid to fail, or to stand up in front of a group of people and share my advice to hopefully make a positive difference in their lives, because I believe in myself.

How do you personally interpret the meaning of resilience?
One way of visualizing [resilience] is when I ride my horse. When I'm approaching a jump and having trouble finding the right distance to ask my horse to leave the ground, my trainer simply says, try a different turn, go deeper into the corner, for example, and you'll have an entirely new approach. And bingo, it works.

Best of all, I have found that in the end, the new direction usually is for the best. Score one for resilience. I have a core strength and confidence, but it's the ability to be flexible, to make a different approach to the jump, that has made all the difference.

Your specialty is careers. How can people remain engaged and adaptive at work?
Raise your hand. Ask for new duties. Accept assignments nobody else wants to take because they're hard. It forces you to ramp up your own learning and scares you a bit. If you hate your job, it's because you're bored. Push yourself to say "yes." Resilience comes down to not being afraid to fail.

What's your top tip for our readers?
Be open-minded. The simplest thing is to make yourself do one thing every day that you really don't want to do. Pick up the phone. Networking is critical. This builds into resilience: If you are complacent and interacting with the same group year after year, you're not prepared. I try to do one thing to build my network and continue to solidify it in a new direction every day. Push yourself, but break it into small moments. Go to a lecture, sign up for a series. You never know where someone might give you a germ of an idea.

Kara Baskin is a Boston-based journalist who writes about food, health, wellbeing, and lifestyle for The Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Women's Health, and AARP's Life Reimagined. She's also the author of "Size Matters: The Hard Facts About Male Sexuality That Every Woman Should Know" (Random House). Find her on Twitter @kcbaskin