Ask any “successful” person, they had one (or many) pivotal experiences that taught them resilience. Resilience is a critical life skill, it is survival. It’s thriving in environments that threaten to swallow you. It’s building a long term mentality and a dogged attitude, a singular focus on the prize while maintaining a positive (as much as is possible) attitude along the very turbulent way. That stuff is hard.
Life presented an opportunity to me to build resilience when I was sixteen years old. I lost my mother, and my world was in one day, turned upside down. She was sick for years before she died, so there was a bit of this, and putting one foot in front of another even when things seemed very bleak. This was the only option really, and just when we thought things were getting better, the worst happened.
This experience was tough, but I believe that it shaped me to become who I am today. Several lessons on resilience after, I realized that all great leaders have built resilience somehow. Resilience is the mother of discipline, she separates the wheat from the chaff. Over time, those who have developed resilience stand out in a good way, or a bad way. They seem almost superhuman. This is a skill you can learn.
Do you have a burning dream or something you want to bring to reality? you will need resilience. Life is unpredictable, and resilience metaphorically speaking is learning to sail the storms of life and coming out victorious. Here are a few things I have learned while learning to build resilience (still learning, there are levels to this thing). It has been a gift to me, and has helped me achieve audacious goals, and helped me build incredible discipline that has given me great rewards.
Reframe The Situation: If you’re going through something super tough right now. Not regular tough, but something that feels like the world is testing your willpower. It almost feels like it is one thing after the other, and there seems to be no light in sight. Reframing the situation is a great way to be positive, even when it looks like nothing but. What you think isn’t always right and reframing re-presents the facts. I understand it is easy to say on this end of the computer, typing into this plain white. But someone once said, “Never put a tragedy to waste”. This tragic thing you couldn’t control has happened, how will you learn from it or will you let it consume you? I believe the purpose of existence in this world is to learn, unlearn to be better versions of ourselves per time. I try to interpret all my experiences in that context.
There are so many unpredictable events in life. Loss of life, friendships, assets, anything that you hold dear. The truth is, if we focus on all the things we cannot control, we will lose our minds. It is a uniting fact that life will throw some curveballs and hard things your way (it’s not a curse, it is life!). If you think about this in the context of leadership, as a leader who sees a vision and is motivating a team to execute, many things will not go as planned. To be honest sometimes very little will and there will be numerous failures despite how convicted you were. But resilience is staying adaptable, not taking it personally, keeping the goal in sight and thriving in the process, amidst the inconvenience and sometimes even pain.
Great things have a habit of being super tough, when built - resilience is a critical skill, that will continue to serve you in many areas of your life.
Build Muscle: No-one is born resilient and can face the most difficult adversities and come out of it unscathed. Resilience is a muscle, and how do you build resilience? How do you learn anything? By doing. We learn by doing. By doing difficult things and following through. By building confidence along the way, taking stock, and always putting one step in front of the other till it becomes learned behavior. The reality of that one sentence is continuous anguish and agony that turns out to be a way to learn.
I believe life presents us often with many of these opportunities to build resilience, but oftentimes they come with pain and tragedy. This makes it easy to focus on that and forget to acknowledge that they are uniquely tailored opportunities to learn to do difficult things.
Journey, Not A Destination: As you build muscle, try not to expect from yourself a perfect world where you’ve built all the resilience in the world, and nothing affects you. LOL. There is no such place and there is no such thing. Life always has a difficulty level higher than where you’re currently at. Again, an opportunity.
Building resilience is a journey, try to see it as such. Learn along the way. Be resilient in an intelligent way, take stock of what’s working, and even what’s not, try to understand why. Don’t expect quick results, some things just take time. Measure success in many different ways. Iterate. Resilience is taking one step at a time until you reach a million. It’s not taking a million steps at a time. Even when it becomes learned behavior, it doesn’t mean it becomes easy, but people have come to understand that it being difficult is not the bone of contention, it is making sure you are moving, growing, trying as much as you can per time to take a step forward. That’s all that matters.
Rest if you must, but Quit you shall not: Yes, there are times when you simply cannot do it anymore, and you’re so sure this is the end of the road for you. (this does not include situations where you have to leave for survival). Sometimes resilient isn't a shout, it is a quiet sigh that says I'm tired, and I need rest. I'll get rest, but I won't quit.
I have news for you, most of the time we have no idea the extent of our abilities. It is almost like there is one level plus we haven’t fathomed yet, and we need to explore only if we believe we can, only if we stay to see if we can. If you feel exhausted, by all means, rest, but try not to, at that very moment make a definition of your situation and decide to stop. In that state of mind, there is usually a gross under-estimation of the wins of your journey to date. Take a breather, and come back to it.
Related Post: Self-Care, Don't Burn Out
Find A Support System: You’re amazing, but you also need help. Surrounding yourself with people who share your struggles, and have a positive outlook is such a healing balm, it is not surprising that accountability and community groups are an effective way to feel seen, heard, supported and validated as a human being. Sometimes this is simply what we need at that point where we feel we cannot take another step. We need someone else to help us up, or sit right there with us, share their story, and tell you it is possible.
Having something bigger than you to believe in is also very effective. For some it's a cosmic force, others it's God. For me, I believe in God. I believe there is a creator, and I believe we are connected. I seek strength when I am weak and I believe that I receive it through elements of creation.
Set Expectations: It Is Going to Be Really Hard: There is no sugar coating it. Do not oversimplify it. Whenever you eventually face life’s opportunity to teach you resilience, I guarantee you it will be incredibly hard. Sometimes excruciatingly so. Expect this. Prepare for it.
It is important to adjust your expectations, this helps you know that it is not going to be easy, and mentally prepare yourself for it to be tough, but also that you will not give up. Most of the time those two are not mutually exclusive in our minds. But with resilience, you can hold two seemingly opposite ideologies in your mind. Your mind says this is tough, and your body says, yes, and I’m going to continue it. How you feel can be different from what you do.
Take Stock, Be Grateful For How Far You’ve Come: When going through a difficult process where growth doesn’t always show in the metrics you expect, when things seem like they are all working against you, and when you can’t seem to find a light. Create your light. Take stock. Spotlight every single win, even those that don't’ feel like wins. Imagine they went the opposite way, and be grateful they didn’t. Gratitude is a balm that soothes, and taking stock helps you truly see where you are, instead of where it feels like you are.
For the danger of this sounding like an “aspire to perspire” article, I will stop here. I hope this helps someone out there to know that the difficult series of situations they currently face right now is a great opportunity to learn what they need to be who they are supposed to be.
I send you good thoughts.
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