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Build an antifragile career

3 steps for absorbing life's shocks

businesswoman illustration
March 16, 2021

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the spring 2021 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

May Busch is the former COO of Morgan Stanley Europe, and she’s now an executive coach, speaker, adviser, author and executive-in-residence in ASU’s Office of the President. Find her at

A colleague once told me, “I want people who can operate with a compass, not a map. It’s the single most important quality.”

Because in a challenging and uncertain environment, there is no road map.

Times like these favor those who can embrace a challenge, absorb life’s shocks and emerge better and stronger. Just as these antifragile qualities are key for your personal success, the same is true for your career. 

Here are three steps to build your antifragile career. 

1. Evaluate your time

Time is one thing you can’t get back or make more of, so you owe it to yourself to spend it on activities that will set you up for success whatever the future brings. Make time for constructive, forward-looking thoughts and activities. Look at this time as an adventure, one where you might need to anticipate risk in different ways. 

What might the landscape look like in 12 months? What will be needed to succeed then? And what do you need to do now to prepare?

2. Assess your positioning

Positioning is about how you present yourself to the world, especially to those who matter for your future success. This means reaching out to others, being clear about what you want them to know about you, and presenting that in the best, most effective light.

To what extent do you need to adjust the language you use and the strengths you emphasize in order for your stakeholders to see you in the right way given your aspirations for the future?

When the world is full of disorder, the key is to form a view on what the future could bring and present yourself as being able to adapt.

3. Choose your approach

For much of my career, I believed, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” While that served me well as a junior analyst, as I got more senior, I came close to burning myself out, which was the wake-up call I needed to change my approach.

The current environment is serving as a wake-up call for all of us. The way you’re used to doing things might not serve you well going forward.

So, this is an ideal time to look at how you want to adapt your approach so you can have an easier time and thrive no matter what’s going on around you.

In times of change, the most important shift you can make is to embrace improvising. 

Create your ideal career

When there’s no road map for the future, use these action steps as the compass to help you forge forward. And taking steps toward building your antifragile career doesn’t have to be time-consuming. As long as you’re consistent, investments in yourself add up over time. 

To prepare yourself to thrive in uncertain career situations, there’s nothing more valuable than investing in yourself and building your capacity to embrace change and thrive in it.