Next to “pivot”, “resilience” may be the biggest buzzword of 2020. It certainly became my word of the year. Not by choice, of course.
On March 2, 2020, I started as Managing Director here at SW&A. Two weeks later, the world shut down as COVID19 hit. My job (like many) became virtual overnight. A week after that, my father was rushed to the hospital, and I became power of attorney for his health care as he battled for his life.
Thus began the most emotionally and mentally difficult months I have endured.
My father ultimately lost his battle, passing away at the end of September. And as everyone knows, the pandemic ensues to this day, challenging even the strongest amongst us.
I thought it would be very à propos that my first blog post is what I have learned about “resilience”.
The word is everywhere, and it is presented as our salvation in these “unprecedented times”.
Businesses need to be resilient if they want to survive. People need to be resilient if they want to thrive. Countries need to be resilient if they want to prosper. The good news? Professionals claim that resilience can be taught. So many books, speakers, articles, and even apps are at our fingertips to help us build our resilience.
Such a powerful word. So full of promise.
Let me share my what I have learned about resilience, presented as two truths and a lie.
Truth #1. When you need it most, you don’t have it.
Nobody wants to willingly experience any sort of pain, failure, loss or crisis, but that is precisely how one becomes resilient. The paradox is that it is nearly impossible to experience adversity, cope with it, and recover from it all at the same time.
When stressors are in overdrive or when you are when experiencing extended periods of unrelenting stress, you are most likely in survival mode. Feelings of “I’m barely getting by” dominate. When you’re emotionally and mentally depleted, you do not have the ability to muster any semblance of resilience.
The real truth is you simply cannot see it when you’re in it. Resilience is something you realize you have after the fact.
Truth #2. Resilience is not a solo act.
Resilience theory suggests that there are naturally resilient people, and they possess specific character traits. It also promises that there are specific actions an individual can take to build their own personal resilience.
Resilience should never be positioned as a solo act. The notion that success or failure in dealing with crisis comes down to an individual’s character is not only wrong, it’s heartbreaking. That is a huge burden to carry.
The real truth is, asking for help and support is one of the most critical (also difficult) steps someone can take to navigate through difficult times. It will be easier to get through the hard days when your people help you. They won’t solve the challenges you are facing, but they can do small things that can be the crack of light in otherwise dark times.
And finally, the lie.
The very definition of resilience is a lie.
The word traces back to the 1600s, and is derived from the Latin ‘resilire’, which means “to recoil or rebound”. It also has roots as a scientific term, the ‘resilience’ of a material is its ability to “bounce back”.
Today, definitions of resilience include the following:
The ability of material to return to its original form after being bent, compressed or stretched
An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change
The ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status easily
All lies. When you experience a crisis (or several simultaneously), you don’t ‘bounce back’, there is no ‘return to original form’, and nothing happens ‘easily’.
What I’ve learned about resilience?
Be patient with yourself. Going through adversity is hard, and there is no magic resilience potion that makes it easier. Each day you survive, give yourself a notch on the resiliency belt. It may not feel like resilience, but it is.
Don’t go it alone. You wouldn’t tell a friend or colleague to deal with adversity on their own. Treat yourself with the same kindness and respect.
Don’t expect to ‘bounce back’. There is only forward. Trauma changes you, you will never be the same. Accepting the new reality is an important part of resilience.
Do look back. Acknowledge the difficult things you’ve been through. Be proud of where you are today. Know that resilience is earned, whether we want it or not.