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Guest opinion: Rising from the ashes of career adversity


By Cindy Hughes-Anliker | Associate director, general management for UnitedHealthcare

Like many professionals, I’ve been burned a few times in my career. The last five years in particular have been a test of my guts, self-worth and motivation. I’ve experienced two job eliminations, and constant change with role expectations, leadership and team members.

The most humiliating “burn moment” was a few years ago when leaders from a previous organization questioned my job performance and stripped away my pay, title and support. This was despite a strong record of reviews and positive feedback, both externally and internally. It was one of the most frustrating and devastating experiences of my life.

When you experience career adversity, it’s easy to feel extinguished and believe that your livelihood is in ashes. So how do you get back up, dust yourself off and move on? How do you rise above the disappointment, confusion and exhaustion of a career setback?

It takes a lot of work to get the fires burning again, and you may have to start over a few times to get to the next step in your career. With that said, the greatest lesson I’ve learned in career adversity is this: Your company can take away your title, your pay or your role, but they can’t take away your character, your integrity or your values. They can’t take away your support system of family, friends and community, and they can’t take away the essence of who you are. Your talents matter, and there is another company or organization out there who will appreciate what you have to offer.

When I recognized what my career adversity couldn’t take away from me, I was able to focus, prioritize and stay strong in really tough situations. I surrounded myself with people who believed in me and networked like crazy to meet more people who would do the same. I took a lot of chances and shot for the moon. As I rose from the ashes, a new fire was lit within me and I was able to find something even better from where I started — every single time.

I share the lows of my career because they positioned me to get to some of the greatest highs of my professional life. I learned the most important lesson of all and I am humbled by these experiences. I like to think I have changed for the better, as painful as my career adversity has been. As we enter a new decade, I know there will be more highs and lows, and I hope I continue to burn through them with grace, determination and gratitude.

Cindy Hughes Anliker, a Business Record 2014 Forty Under 40 Honoree, is excited about the new decade and learning more about leadership, handling adversity and growing her career. Currently an associate director, general management for UnitedHealthcare, Cindy has spent most of her career in health-related marketing communications. She earned her Master of Science in organizational performance at Drake University, and a Bachelor of Arts in communication studies at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Cindy lives in West Des Moines with her husband, Clark Anliker, and their dog, Mickey.

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