It’s been a horrible week. The worst. And I’m the kind of person who really doesn’t sweat the small stuff. One of the first string of words my son uttered as a baby was “not to worry” (amazing what you learn from what your kids repeat!) and I’ve often been known to say “well, as long as no one died…” No such luck this week, after one of my beloved beagles was killed in an accident on the farm. My husband reckons I must have been a dog in my past life, because he’s never seen animals connect so much with a human as my beagles do with me. They are my joy and a raison d’etre, so it truly feels like I’ve lost a limb this week and the last thing I feel like doing is getting on with things. But of course, I must.
We’re all challenged every day with events that dent our confidence, effect our emotions and rattle our resilience. I believe this is true regardless of gender. And yet so often I still hear people say “she’s just sooo emotional”, “he’s just more confident”, “she just doesn’t seem to cope with it all”. The talent conference I spoke at last week was no exception: many recruiters in the room held the view that women miss out on jobs due to a lack of confidence in the recruitment process, and to get ahead women need to get better at handling the emotional rollercoaster of their daily lives.
Is it fair that so much attention is paid to the emotions women display, when we know for sure that men have emotions too? Sure, they might manifest in different ways, but they’re still emotions. And the resilience of men is challenged every bit as much as that of women, particularly in these trying times.
It's true that resilience is a real issue, and a key success factor for any leader. So regardless of your gender, I'm going to ask the question: how resilient you’re feeling at this very moment? Are you ok? Is your industry under pressure? Have you been bombarded by a belligerent client or colleague this week? Or perhaps you’ve just had better days, or weeks, like me?
If you were to rate out of ten how resilient you’re feeling at this very moment (one being the lowest and ten being the highest) what score would you give yourself? Hint: if you’re having trouble picking a number, imagine you’ve just boarded a plane for an overseas trip and you find you’re seated next to a parent with a screaming baby… and with that context give yourself a score!
Now how does that score compare with how you’d have rated yourself a month ago? And a year ago? Is there any difference?
Most people will find that their resilience goes up and down over time, which is what you’d expect. Our resilience at any time will be impacted by factors that will change over time and are often influenced by factors outside of our control, as well as our choices and factors that may be within our control yet impact on our resilience nonetheless.
SO YOU WANT TO BE MORE RESILIENT?
In my work as the Chair of Peer Support Australia, I see how children thrive when they’re given the skills to build their own levels of resilience and emotional wellbeing. The Peer Support Program has run for over 30 years and is now implemented in 1,600 schools impacting 200,000 students annually. There are no secrets to its success: it’s about kids working with kids, teaching each other skills and building a strong sense of community and inclusiveness. They learn strategies for getting through the tough times, together; about making mistakes but being prepared to try again; about picking up and getting on with it.
Yes, it’s important for children to be given the opportunity to try and fail, in a safe environment so that they feel supported to try and try again. And for us as adults, the same is true.
THE FACTORS AT PLAY
If your goal is to build your resilience, you can start by understanding:
- The here and now: where are you at right now, and how did you get here?
- What factors of your current situation are within your control; and how can you change them for the better?
- What factors are outside of your control, and how can you best respond to them?
THE HERE AND NOW
My work in dealing with resilience is in the context of career planning: individuals making choices about the work they are doing and they want to do in the future. They may have experienced burnout; they may be setting new career goals; or they may be contemplating a new role. My advice is that if you rated your current level of resilience in the previous exercise at 5 or below, it’s possibly not the best time for making important decisions – about your career or anything else. So you’re feeling a little stretched, a little like screaming or just falling into a heap and hiding under the doona for a week, what can you do about it right now?
- Create silence. Step away from your desk or the central activity in your life. Go for a walk, take some deep breaths and spend a little time letting the noise in your head die down.
- Focus on you. Are you being active and exercising daily? Are you eating well, or is your bin full of fast food wrappers? Are you consuming too much alcohol? Are you getting enough sleep? All of these factors will impact on your physiological wellbeing.
- Lean on others. I grew up in the country where everyone pitches in and lends a hand when the going gets tough; that’s how our farmers have survived during droughts and floods. Yet in the city, there’s a shift away from people leaning on each other and being part of a community, to everyone trying to go it alone. If you’re doing it tough, don’t be afraid to phone up a friend, to confide in a colleague or to just let off steam – a problem shared is a problem halved.
WHAT CAN YOU CONTROL?
When it comes to building your resilience, you might be surprised at just how much is within your control. By focusing on choices and factors you can control, you’ll feel empowered, less stressed and more capable of overcoming challenges.
Consider your current workload and ask yourself:
- Am I taking on stuff (at work or at home) that belongs to someone else?
- Are there skills I could develop further to help me perform better? Or to manage my current circumstances more effectively?
- Am I appreciating the trade offs I am making in my life?
- Am I giving feedback to people around me about how I’m feeling, what I’m thinking and what I want?
Often it’s only when we ask ourselves these questions, that we realise just how much we can control and how much we can strengthen our resilience by making a few simple changes.
WHAT’S OUTSIDE OF YOUR CONTROL?
Of course there are always going to be factors outside of our control that have a big impact on our physical and emotional resilience. But even if you can’t control the situation, you can at least choose how you respond – and you’ll be surprised at how much better this can make you feel. Even in the most difficult circumstances you can choose your response by:
- Manage your own expectations – don’t be hard on yourself and don’t expect too much. If you’ve suddenly been made redundant or been part of a major restructure at work; or if you’ve had a death in the family or have taken on caring responsibilities, you’ll be feeling a major impact for some time to come. Be kind to yourself and don’t expect to be able to operate on all four cylinders for the time being.
- Setting expectations of those around you – make sure they know what’s going on, and the impact it is having. If there is something you need, don’t be afraid to ask. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Even if they say no, you’re no worse off.
- Considering alternatives – in the short term and long term. Is there anything you could do to result in a better outcome for you and the people around you?
It’s been said that that which does not kill us will make us stronger, and this is certainly the case when it comes to resilience. Things will at times seem impossible; obstacles will seem insurmountable. But when the dust has settled, consider what you’ve learned, and what you’ve gained and where you’ve come from: the ability to overcome, to push on, to be a stronger person for the years to come.