The Resilience of the Bold

Thank you for posting this (and for your lovely comments about my post). I completely agree, resilience is so important and really difficult — I have struggled with this myself over years, as I think most people probably have even though we don’t all talk about it very much.

I don’t know if you would find this helpful too, but I’ve always found it useful to think of resilience as a skill rather than a quality or personality trait. I think seeing it as a skill helps you take a more active, positive approach to developing resilience over time: I’m not trying to change who I am, I’m just trying to develop my skills — sounds less scary / more do-able somehow.

I think resilience should be treated as a valued skill (or competence, in the civil service speak), with courses and mentoring for everyone to help us all develop it. How much more useful and productive would that be than most of the process-based courses we often end up doing?

When I think about the times I’ve been able to be resilient, it’s usually when I’ve been part of a mission I really cared about, ideally with a very clear and simple aim that I can keep focussed on when things are difficult. If you’re not clear and sure about what you are trying to achieve overall and what you are bringing to the table in any given situation then it’s way more difficult to hold your nerve, contain the impact of the stress and bounce back when you fail or things just don’t pan out how you hoped. A one-off failure can easily escalate into a general feeling of doom, despondency or helplessness.

Openness is important too, I think, though I don’t have very well-formed thoughts to offer about it. I’d just say that in my experience, if you can somehow cultivate a team culture (or just one or two supportive relationships) where it’s ok to admit you are shattered, struggling or stressed, and talk about it and support each other without it becoming a massive big deal, it helps everyone to be more resilient and less fearful.

All of which is easy to say, of course, and by saying this I don’t mean to suggest I think it’s easy — I think the opposite is true. Resilience is among the very hardest skills to learn and use, and it’s hard to pin down and talk about because it’s so personal. But I am convinced it’s possible both to create a context where you feel more able to be resilient, and to develop more resilience skills over time. Often people are more resilient than they think, too — in my experience the fear is almost always worse than the reality.