In the face of adversity, why do some people flourish while others fold?
The essential condition required to live a flourishing life is not found in the absence of challenge, but rather in a person’s ability to persevere amidst trials. Resilience is demonstrated in both positive and negative life events.
“Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.” - Bern Williams
What Resilience is Not – Merely Bouncing Back
Resilience is not merely bouncing back; it is so much more than elasticity and returning to where you began. It’s not more than merely marking time until the suffering recedes, it’s actively engaging in growth through the lessons life presents. As Andy Warhol said, “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
What Resilience is
As Rumi put it, “the business of being human” describes resilience.
Adversity is a trip we take. Resilience paves the road; it is the willingness to endure hardship and as a result, allow ourselves to be fundamentally and forever changed. For our effort, when we return from the journey, we receive gifts of greater confidence, strength, wisdom and compassion.
How does a person flourish during and after confronting challenge?
Five universal practices of resilience:
1. Vulnerability: There is a struggle in every good life. There is life at the heart of every good struggle.
“Resilience is very different than being numb. Resilience means you experience, you feel, you
fail, you hurt. You fall. But you keep going.” – Yasmin Mogahed
In our culture, there is shame bias: the belief that others’ adversity makes them more worthy, while believing our own adversity is shameful, making us less worthy.
When a colleague shared her 29 years of sobriety or a friend bravely overcame child abuse, I marveled at these living warriors with admiration! Yet sharing my own messy struggles make me cringe and panic at others’ responses.
Practice: Resilient leaders let their whole authentic selves shine, they allow their inside selves (thoughts, feelings, and experiences) to be congruent with their outside selves - the self they project to the world.
2. Productive Perseverance: Choose the intelligent application of persistence.
“Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.” - Napoleon Hill
As a result of my undiagnosed dyslexia, I didn’t read well until third grade. Later, I was determined to successfully pursue of my Ph.D. despite my learning disability. Conversely, when I was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition that reduces blood flow to the arms and hands, I redirected my athletic pursuits away from collegiate swimming and took up running instead. We’ve all received conflicting advice: “Stay the course” versus “don’t be afraid to shift gears.”
Resilient leaders are able to navigate the polarity of this seemingly contradictory advice.
Practice: Develop the flexibility and intelligence to navigate the strategic dilemma of opposing forces. Know when to pivot and rethink the plan while maintaining the mission.
3. Connection: Connectivity with those outside of ourselves.
“We rise by lifting others.” - Robert Ingersoll
A while back, I was assaulted at a concert. In the pit area next to the stage, a group of men cornered me and pressed their bodies aggressively into mine. Later, I was bruised and sore. Inside, I felt angry and violated. I wanted to disconnect from my body along with my purpose of teaching others to overcome adversity.
A wise colleague instructed me, instead of asking, “Why this is happening to me?” ask, “Why is this happening for me?” This question brought clarity in the midst of chaos. Countless women endure harassment, even far worse, and didn’t quit. If they could stay the course, I told myself, so could I. I owed it to them to keep going. My story foster connection with others and allows me to create something beautiful from something that, initially made me feel broken.
Practice: Connection with the perspective of purpose inspires greater meaning and closeness with others, and prevents us from being derailed from our path.
4.“Grati-osity:” Our difficulty may be ordinary - loss, hurt and tragedy, but the wisdom is extraordinary.
“It’s not happy people who are thankful, it’s thankful people that are happy.” - Unknown
Rather than allowing pain to make them stingy, resilient leaders allow adversity to amplify their experience through gratitude and generosity. Gratitude and therefore resilience, is not about praising the sorrow. It is about honoring the capacity for healing and growth that springs from suffering.
Practice: Be patient. Most people have to wait to realize the benefit that often follows this pattern: pain - patience - growth – “grati-osity.”
5. Possibility: The ability to envision what could be versus what is.
“In order to love who you are, you cannot hate the experiences that shaped you.” - Andrea Dykstra
Having faced difficultly, resilient leaders can be inoculated against fear and perceived repercussions of failure, allowing them to see hope instead of hindrance, possibility instead of problems.
Practice: It’s an age-old tale, coming back after failure, standing up one more time than we fall down.
Adversity Quotient (AQ): The inability to be deterred by failure (not IQ or EQ), but the ability to persevere despite the odds, to acknowledge fear and failure, and to forge onward is the stuff of true success.
Resilience Gives Purpose to Our Pain
Resilience fosters growth and integration of all that we are, instead of compartmentalization. Resilience is wholeness. As in the Japanese art form, Kintsukoroi, the repairing of pottery with gold or silver lacquer, there is the understanding that the piece is stronger and more beautiful for having been broken.