Women are constantly being encouraged to lean in, speak up and speak louder in the workplace—all valid strategies that increase visibility and influence as part of a successful career.
All of which makes ‘quiet thriving’ an unlikely strategy for success. But take note—this new wellbeing mantra is far from a mandate to play small. Instead, it’s a way of asserting control over a professional life that may not be giving you what you need.
Quiet thriving allows you to reshape your role to suit your needs and desires, develop valuable skills to support your future career and practise plenty of self-leadership. The phrase was coined by psychotherapist Lesley Alderman, who describes the approach as ‘taking specific actions and making mental shifts that help you to feel more engaged on the job.’
Perhaps you’re feeling unsatisfied—creatively or intellectually. Maybe you feel stuck, bored, or uninspired. You may even be nudging burnout. Before you start the time-consuming, emotionally-, mentally- and physically-demanding task of looking for a new position, the quiet-thriving approach can help you turn your situation around.
1. Take Back Control
Being proactive and taking the initiative where your career is concerned puts you back in the driver’s seat. By looking at your current role—at what works and what doesn’t—you essentially kickstart a process of identifying where positive change is possible.
As human beings, we naturally focus on the negatives. This can eclipse what’s actually going well. Equally, although anyone can experience it, women are more prone to imposter syndrome, particularly if they’re in a male-dominated working environment or one in which their race or culture is underrepresented.
This exercise in self-reflection can help you acknowledge your strengths and achievements and shut down the self-doubt that stops you from acting. And, as well as surfacing all the positives, it highlights the parts of your role that could be ripe for a rethink.
You might find it helpful to work with the following structure:
- Make a list of the pros and cons of your current role.
- Besides the positives, note exactly what you find rewarding and which of your personal and professional values they align with.
- Do the same for the negatives, including any contributory factors or causes. Is it a practical or logistical issue (for example, a lack of training or resources) or an emotional/attitudinal problem (for example, you find a particular task frustrating)? Ask yourself if this is a problem you can influence or address, or is it out of your hands?
The aim is to spot key areas where change is possible and how you align your day-to-day more closely with your passions, skills, and values. It will help you identify the actions you could take or where a mental shift is more appropriate in your mission to give your role more meaning.
Then, you can either implement the changes yourself, quietly in the background or in collaboration with your boss. It’s part of a process that organisational psychologists Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane E. Dutton call job crafting: the ‘active changes employees make to their job designs […] that can bring about numerous positive outcomes, including engagement, job satisfaction, resilience, and thriving.’ [source]
2. Master the art of ‘reframing’
Making positive mental shifts requires the ability to take a new perspective on a problematic situation—or, to put it concisely, reframe it. This allows you to interrupt unhelpful thought patterns by focusing on the opportunities the issue presents, creating new possibilities around how you deal with it. This kind of creative thinking can move you from stuck to inspired and is a key part of quiet thriving.
Looking for growth opportunities in failure is one example. According to business and occupational psychologist Martin Hancock, women tend to judge themselves more harshly than their male counterparts. They find it harder to accept failure, often seeing it as damaging on an identity level.
However, by separating the experience from who you are as a person, you can establish a healthier perspective that allows the necessary creative reframing to come to the fore, providing you with a focus for development. In this way, you can quietly change the way your world works and the power and influence you have within it.
3. Make your wellbeing a priority
Underpin your working life with behaviours that bring out the most resourceful, positive, creative version of you. The work situation may not change, but how you deal with it (and feel about it) absolutely can.
Susan MacKenty Brady, a leadership and wellbeing expert, observes that while organisations may encourage women to get their foot in the door and step into leadership positions, they often fail to give them the necessary support once they get there. ‘For far too long, women leaders have had to focus on survival,’ she says. [source]
Quiet thriving asks you to make yourself and your wellbeing a priority. This is the version of you who practises self-care, nourishes your body and mind, cultivates presence, sets clear boundaries, and celebrates your successes. Each of these make up the foundation for greater resilience and tones the mental muscles you’ll need to flex to avoid veering into flight, fight, or freeze: states that stall creativity, effective decision-making, and our ability to connect and collaborate well with others.
4. Cultivate your emotional intelligence
Of course, work-related challenges are often unavoidable. If they come up, psychologist Angela Neal-Barnett, suggests naming the feeling. By saying to yourself, “I’m anxious”, she suggests, ‘You can learn how anxiety informs your behaviour and your decisions and what causes it to surge, which will equip you to manage it’. [source]
Understanding your key emotions isn’t just a pillar of wellbeing; it’s a key marker of a leader or future leader. There is a growing library of research that says that people with higher EQ enjoy increased job satisfaction, elevated performance, better relationships, innovation, and creativity, and can forge healthier relationships.
The quiet inner work you do around increasing your self-awareness provides you with another vital skill. By slowing down enough to notice how a situation makes you feel, you can choose how you respond. You can stop simply reacting and take informed, decisive action instead.
5. Build your support network
Actively engaging with others brings new energy and ideas into your orbit, whether that’s the friend you can share a joke with, a business mentor, or a professional network that broadens your business horizons.
Meanwhile, building a good relationship with your line manager and peers also provides vital support for your mental and emotional wellbeing. You’re likely to stress less when you’ve open communication with people you know are on your side.
Actually asking for help is, however, often another matter. For many women, leaning on others remains a challenge, which only increases their sense of overwhelm.
In her book The Art of Asking, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help, singer Amanda Palmer gives the challenge of reaching out a powerful reframe:
‘Asking for help with shame says: “You have the power over me” But asking for help with gratitude says: “We have the power to help each other”.’
Whether you’re a perfectionist who’s afraid of losing face and being judged, someone who lacks confidence, or a natural ‘helper’ who rarely says “no”, the ability to ask for help is a powerful way to thrive quietly. Be specific about what you need, and don’t be afraid of showing that you don’t know everything. Your vulnerability permits others to do the same and creates a context that allows them to step up and support you in return.