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Resilience - you either have it, or you don’t…?

During our recent chat about her struggles, my friend said, “I can’t do it. I’m not resilient enough.” It struck me. How can she think that? What does she mean? She is a smart, hard working person with strong sense of responsibility and at the same time lots of love and sense of humor. And this great woman doubts in her ability to achieve something? How can she see herself as not resilient enough?


I got curious. Resilience is such a catchy phrase now. But maybe what I interpret as resilience is different from what others think?


Obviously, the first thing I did was googling it. In less than a second, I’ve got 220 Million results.


“ability to recover quickly”

“bounce back from difficult life events”

“cope with challenging circumstances and move forward”


Ok, if we stop right there, without going deeper into the meaning, resilience really seems to be something isolated, a “thing” that you either have, or you don’t.


But resilience is more than that. It’s something we create in both, our private life and a workplace, by gaining awareness, finding motivation and supportive environment. Resilience means feeding the strength to face a challenge and bounce back from difficult events wherever we can. It is like combining Iron Man’s armor and The Fellowship of the Ring. Why do we think we need to struggle alone if we can get support?


Resilience means finding strength to take the necessary action, and we can help ourselves to get there. The feeling of being equipped and supported, aware of our options, strengths and weaknesses, being able to make small steps and find motivation to keep going make a huge difference. Can you feel it?


So the big question is not IF but HOW we can build up our resilience.


When I think about it, what comes to my mind is my son and his skatepark experience. I asked him if he is ok with me sharing the story and he agreed. He just asked me to make you aware that what he was struggling with was a MEGA RAMP and so was the challenge…


He was eight at the time and discovered a new passion – pro scooter tricks. We had an indoor skatepark nearby and he spent there almost every weekend. All sweaty and never tired, he would practice for hours on the smaller ramps. There was one ramp though that he kept dreaming about – the MEGA one! He would observe with awe the kids who made it. The big ramp was offering so many new possibilities and would give him the speed needed to get to the other side and jump into a foam pit and test new, more advanced tricks…. But at the same time it was high and steep, and he could see many of the experienced kids failing, sometimes just sliding down in embarrassing poses, dragging their scooters with them, sometimes though hitting the plywood floor with a loud thud. There were tears, twisted wrists and ankles or grasping when a fall squeezed air from their lungs.


My son would drag his scooter up the mega ramp and stand there. Sometimes he would make an attempt and resign; with his cheeks burning with shame, would then climb back down. Over and over again. Being there on the top and looking down from the sharp edge of the ramp, aware of all possible risks, was super scary.


Then, one day, after weeks of backing out, he did it. I still remember the expression on his face and can only imagine what he felt. A mixture of excitement and anxiety, fear and thrill. He did it!


He finally accepted the risk of a failure and potential pain. It took him some time, weeks of climbing up and down, but it was not time wasted. He was observing others, learning from their mistakes and successes. Their example and impressive tricks inspired and motivated him to keep trying. With the time the older boys noticed him. They showed him that they knew his struggle (they all have been there at some point!) and started to teach him the correct body posture and movements and kept encouraging him to try. When he backed out, they still gave him a thumb up and showed their understanding. What my son needed was some time and his motivation combined with awareness, acceptance and support from the group.


It is just a simple example from a life of an eight-year-old boy but even this demonstrates the complexity of resilience. So, what is it about?


1. Purpose and motivation


When we face a challenge, it often feels overwhelming at first. There is so much struggle, anxiety and stress involved that a fight-or-flight response kicks in. We are tempted to give up, back off and stop trying. Sometimes we are not even able to figure out how to deal with it.

It’s very important to take the necessary time to figure out how important it is to us. What will happen if we give up, and what if we don’t? How will our situation change if we will manage to face the challenge? How will it feel? What do we win? How will it affect us and/or people we care about?

When we build up our desire to achieve, change or fix something, we become stronger and… more resilient. We are ready to do more, faster, it feels easier to get up and remove new obstacles and push a little harder.


I would encourage everyone to do this not once, but on a regular basis during the process. Motivation is tricky – it drops with the time when we get tired, overwhelmed or bored along the way. By keeping our goal and desire alive and in front of us every day, reminding ourselves why it is important, we maintain the energy level and state of mind that help us move forward.


2. Understanding


Let’s be forgiving. Challenge means struggle and dealing with it requires work. It is natural to feel scared, tired or down at times. If we experience it, it does not mean that we are weak or not able to accomplish anything. It just means that we are doing something, and it is hard.

If you start beating yourself up for stalling or not being ready for the next step quickly, imagine it was your friend who was in this situation. How would you perceive them? What would you advise them to do? Would you be as harsh with them as you are with yourself?

Acknowledge the level of difficulty and work already done. Even a small step forward is an achievement. Be kind to yourself the same way you would be to your friend.


3. Connection and supportive environment


Obviously, it is you who is doing the work. It is your challenge, and you need to deal with it. But it does not mean that you must do it in isolation, that you need to be on your own. Do not underestimate the power of belonging and connection. Sharing your burden with someone else or even just the awareness that there are others who struggle like you can help a lot. If you still have doubts, think about successful people, movie- or sport stars. What do they include in their award speech? “Thank you, I couldn’t do it without you!” They probably could, but it would be much harder.


Or let’s take Frodo from “The Lord of the Rings” – was he resilient? Of course. But imagine he didn’t have the support of his companions. Would he still be successful? How much more dangerous and difficult his quest would be?


Or my son, if the boys in the skatepark would laugh at him instead of showing compassion and sharing encouragement – there is a high possibility that he would give up at some point despite his desire to ride the mega ramp.


Internal motivation that drives us is crucial, but if we additionally receive external support, if we can have someone who understands and motivates us, the chance of success is much higher.


There is so much positive energy out there that can help us keep going and multiple ways of building our exoskeletons and “Fellowships of the Ring”. Obviously, it all depends on who we are, our personality and needs, specific of the challenge and interaction type that serves us best. In some cases it’s about one friend, team member, therapist or coach who you can discuss your progress and struggles with. Sometimes joining a Facebook group or reading a blog can help understand that you are not alone. You can brainstorm ideas, ask questions, get inputs, different perspectives… I know what I am talking about. I have the tendency to keep my struggles for myself. For multiple reasons – shame, not wanting to be judged or show weakness, feeling silly… But I learned that if I allow myself to open up to even one trusted person or find others with similar stories, I feel less lonely. I feel stronger and capable of doing things because if someone else did it, it means it is doable. And sharing it makes my challenge in some way more specific, therefore it is easier to define obstacles to overcome and next steps to take.


If you are struggling with something right now, take a moment and check if you have all the elements present: Do you know what and why you need to do? How much do you want it? How can you build up the desire to accomplish it? Do you celebrate even small steps you made towards your goal? Do you have someone who you can share your journey with?




You can do it. You are resilient, just don’t forget that you don’t need to be alone.

Good luck!

Barbara

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