What resilience is not

What resilience is not

I’m not going to lie; 2018 has been tough so far.

And I haven’t been feeling very resilient in the face of it all.

I have a complicated relationship with the concept of resilience; what it is, how we build it, and all the opinions, psychology and sometimes superficiality that comes with it.

So for now, I just want to gather my thoughts on what resilience is not.

For me,

Resilience is not one size fits all

We all think of something different when we hear the word ‘resilience.’ If you’re an entrepreneur, you might think about your company’s resilience in the face of uncertain economic environments. If you’re an athlete, you might think of the endurance you put your body through, and sometimes you might think of people who’ve inspired you because they’ve overcome difficult circumstances. There’s diversity within resilience – it doesn’t have a one size fits all criterion.

Resilience is not about endurance

Resilience is not falling straight into a coma at the end of the day because you’ve burnt yourself out. According to the Harvard Business Review, resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure. The key to resilience is trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again.

Resilience is not about “hardening up”

Although resilience is about inner strength, it’s not about keeping a stoic profile. Resilience begins with owning your vulnerability and being brave enough to share your vulnerabilities and emotions with other. Resilience means you experience, you feel, you fail, and you hurt. But you keep going.

Resilience is based on compassion for ourselves as well as compassion for others. The stronger you become, the gentler you will be.

Resilience is not numbness

Resilience is very different to being numb. When I was younger, there were times I felt nothing in the face of difficult circumstances. Nothing. And in my naivety I thought that’s what resilience must feel like.

I now know I was wrong. Resilience is emotion. It’s empathy and heartbreak.

I am a highly-sensitive person, emotional by default; so when I start to feel nothing, alarm bells go off in my head, not so gently reminding me that resilience is not numbness – it’s anything but.

Resilience is not about bouncing back

Bouncing back is a limiting concept. It inherently says there is a “back” to which we should bounce. Some ideal place, perhaps in the safety of our comfort zone. But this fails to acknowledge the significance of adversity itself. It’s as if you’re trying to delete it from your life. In my own experience, this doesn’t work. Yes, it’s highly distressing to carry fear, pain and uncertainty with you. But it’s even more distressing trying to repress or forget those feelings when they’ve been seared into you by situations that are unforgettable.

Following true adversity – the gut-wrenching hole in your heart, sleepless night’s kind – there is no bouncing back. There’s only moving forward. And although it can suck, you’ve got no choice but to carry your experience with you along the way.

As Andrea Dykstra once said, “in order to love who you are, you cannot hate the experiences that shaped you.”

Resilience is not independent

Resilience is not about going at it alone. Inner strength and seeking support are not exclusive. If anything, they go hand in hand. Being vulnerable and reaching out for help when you need it demands inner strength, and inner strength grows when it’s supported by help. Seeking support and connection is what resilient people do.

Resilience is not optional

It’s time to see resilience not as something which would be nice to build and nurture, but something which is essential to build if we are to have productive and fulfilling lives. Resilience is not an optional pursuit we can engage in whenever we feel like it. It’s not some warm fuzzy ‘read it in a self-help’ book concept. It is a daily necessity. The skills of resilience are the skills of modern life – how to navigate work, study, relationships, health, unpredictability and uncertainty. If we’re lucky, we learn these skills from parents, friends or teachers, but a lot of the time we have to learn to build resilience ourselves.

Resilience is not easy

Resilient people are made from the hardest moments of their life.

I may not fully understand what resilience is, but I know what it’s not – it’s not easy.

But here’s one thing I do know for sure,

The human capacity to endure adversity is like bamboo, more flexible, strong and resilient than you’d ever believe at first glance.

And within all the heartbreak, loss, sorrow (and the beauty, mess and vibrancy that comes with it), we are all learning day by day, hour by hour, to embrace the strikingly broad spectrum of the human experience.


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