Resilience is a Word I Like to Say

Resilience is a word I like to say…because it’s pretty, it sounds elegant, and it makes me feel good to think I have it. But I’ve struggled with what it really means.

To find the answers to some of my questions, I’ve read and re-read an entire book called Type R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World; I’ve scanned my share of online articles, visited Brené Brown’s The Resilience Archives, and even went back to some classics like Primal Leadership, which has an entire chapter on “The Neuroanatomy of Leadership.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t even include the word resilience in its index. Maybe it’s a language thing.

Here are some of my questions: Is resilience constant? Can I lose it one day and find it another? Is something wrong with me if it takes me a week to bounce back after a particularly draining encounter with someone who doesn’t like me or value me? Does this mean I’m getting older? (Experiencing Resilience-o-pause, like menopause, accompanied by self-hatred flashes?) Are we born with resilience or can it be learned?

Still with me? Or have you ducked under a deep blanket of moody self-disrespect, thinking glumly to yourself, “No, I don’t think I have it. I may have had it once when I was a kid and had to stand up to that bully but I think I grew out of it. What’s it feel like anyway, when you have it?”

Resilience and Self-Awareness

What does it feel like? It feels good. You feel strong. You’re self-aware and happy that whatever you said in that tough moment was from your heart and soul. You may not have kicked the bully in the shins, but you stood up for yourself as best you could.

I’m a firm believer that we all have the capacity for resilience, that it can be learned and nurtured. As I say in my book, Involuntary Exit, “Resilience requires a pact with yourself.” This is what I mean: you have to keep at it, practice, be self-aware, and not give up on yourself. It’s kind of like a meta-exercise—be resilient about nurturing your resilience. According to the book Type R, there are a number of qualities that characterize a resilient mindset. Please know, if you google “resilience traits” you’ll find endless lists with different characteristics, just like there’s no one recipe for the best tomato sauce. You can use the Type R list below to take inventory of how you approach challenges.

  • Adaptability – how do you accept change and use it for your own benefit?
  • Healthy Relationship to Control – are you aware of what’s inside and outside your control so you don’t even bother with the stuff that looks and feels like a brick wall?
  • Continual Learning – are you open to reassessing how you do things and learning new subjects? As Alvin Toffler, the futurist asked, can you “learn, unlearn and relearn?”
  • Sense of Purpose – are you driven by something outside of your day-to-day work?
  • Leveraging Support – are you able to depend on others without feeling as if you’re weak or failing?
  • Active Engagement – are you engaged with what’s happening around you rather than looking at your calendar as a series of hurdles to clear?

Test Yourself

These concepts will roll off your psyche as buzzwords until you apply them to a current situation. For example, think of a time when you felt hurt, overlooked, devalued, or too pressured—you know, the times that we all experience. Then think about how you applied one or more of the above qualities. Were you able to adapt to the fact that a friendship of 25 years has changed? Did you relinquish the idea that you have control over the people that make your work environment toxic, despite loving your role?

The simplest definition of resilience in life is this: the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties.

The simplest definition of resilience in materials is this: the ability of an object to spring back into shape; elasticity, like nylon.

Personally, I can relate to the springiness of a new material I just discovered: no-iron linen. The next time anyone tries to get me all balled up in a frenzy, I will summon the picture of my no-iron linen shirt and say, Nuh-uh, not now, not today, not me. I don’t wrinkle.

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