Resilience is the ability to cope well with difficulties and to bounce back from setbacks.
While some people are naturally more resilient than others, resiliency can also be intentionally developed.
“If this is a blessing, it is certainly very well disguised.” Winston Churchill
Stuff happens that we wish hadn’t. Little stuff goes wrong, bigger stuff goes wrong, tragic stuff happens. At that moment it is hard to imagine a blessing in the situation.
And, we can likely think of examples where there did turn out to be a blessing. Taking a job to ensure financial stability vs. following your dream, and realizing the job gives the exact training missing to achieve the dream. Being forced out of a comfortable apartment and finding the apartment that actually fits all your needs. Your place of employment closing, and being spotted for a better job due to your reaction and actions around the closing of the organization. A wrenching divorce leading to finding the love of one’s life that the previous spouse never was.
Bill Harris started a small, part-time business in 1999 to market special recordings he had created in college, called Centerpointe. After a less than stellar first year, Bill was sued for $1 million by a competitor who accused Bill of stealing the technology. At the time, Bill’s $5,000 in the bank paled next to his lawyer’s estimate of $150,000 in legal fees for the likely trial. Despite frequent night-time anxiety attacks, Bill pursued a suggestion to think about the ‘potential benefits’ of being sued for $1 million. It took time for his answers to feel of some value to him, until he hit upon the question: What would Centerpointe look like if it was worth spending $150,000 in legal fees to defend? He began taking actions toward the answers to this question, and slowly, with smaller achievements leading to bigger dreams, after 15 years Centerpointe had the envisioned large headquarters, many employees and many customers, and Bill was a frequent invited speaker on his work. “The ‘disaster’ turned out to be a giant blessing in disguise. Without it, Centerpointe would probably have limped along … and quietly gone to small business heaven.” (Thanks to Al Siebert for this example.)
In resilience we often speak about “bouncing back from adversity”. The complement to this is “bouncing forward toward opportunity”. It is absolutely human when hard stuff happens to be angry, to grieve, to yell, to be anxious or fearful, to vent. I am a firm believer that attempting to avoid these emotions only urges them to find release elsewhere, often in less productive ways. And not every negative turns into a positive. Some losses leave permanent holes, some situations truly are worse. In these situations the gain may be less tangible or material. “What does not break us makes us stronger.” We may gain a greater belief in our ability to cope with whatever comes at us – even when we never wished for this.
After giving ourselves “some time” (bordering on the fine line of “too much time”) for these very human responses, or alternating between emotion and action as Bill Harris did, begin to look for the opportunity. Try some proactive questions such as “Now that I have less to lose, what does that free me up to do?” or “If I am starting from zero, where would I love to go to?” or “How might I use this experience or these emotions toward something desired?” (This is how the Koby Mandell Foundation and MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, began.)
When life brings adversity, allow for human reactions, do your best to resiliently address the situation, and then keep your eyes open for possibly hidden opportunities to bounce toward.
Carolyn S. Tal, PhD
Psychologist and Consultant - working with individuals, couples, and business partners
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