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The Truth About Resilience

The topic of resilience is everywhere now, as new articles and webinars seem to pop up online daily. I’ve checked some of them out; most say what resilience is and give some pointers. Most agree – me included – that resilience is the ability to bounce back after a disappointment or setback. In my work as an executive coach, I have come to appreciate the truth about resilience, which is that it is way more complex than a tip list can convey. I see resilience as the inner capacity to: 1) quickly put setbacks into proportion/ perspective, 2) reduce the amount of time and suffering it takes to recover, and 3) increase confidence in our own ability to learn from an experience and move forward.

Here's an example. A client - let's call her Lisa - has a track record of leaving jobs out of frustration with management. It has become a thing. Her reasons are justifiable, but she can't help noticing herself as the common denominator in every story. In coaching, we discover that Lisa tends to interpret manager feedback as criticism and react defensively. She has a hard time letting go and overdoes trying to prove her manager wrong. Over time, two things happen: first, Lisa’s performance doesn’t improve because she hasn’t taken in the feedback; she’s rejected it. Second, her relationship with manager(s) becomes strained. From her managers' point of view, Lisa is impossible to work with. Because she doesn’t accept feedback, she isn’t learning and growing on pace with her peers. As a result, she is not viewed as promotable. Ultimately, Lisa's negative attitude and average work product lead her and/or her managers to decide it’s time for her to go. This decision, regardless of who made it, adds to Lisa’s list of grievances.

Do you see the moment of opportunity? The point where a different choice could have changed the outcome? It’s at the very beginning, when Lisa interprets feedback as criticism and reacts defensively. That set the recurring pattern in motion that stuck with Lisa for years until she was able to see herself as the actor in her story, not the victim. This was the moment Lisa began her transformation journey. Some of Lisa’s biggest aha-moments have stuck with me over the years: the day she realized that feedback is just data and not the capital-T Truth about her…and the moment she recognized how helpful her managers’ feedback might have been had she been able to hear it…and the first time she noticed herself not getting defensive when she would have before. That one was super exciting for both of us! With self-awareness and tools for self-management, Lisa was able to build up her resilience muscle, so she no longer reacted defensively to manager feedback. She broke the pattern and got her career on track.

I used to be like Lisa. Early in my career, I took what I perceived to be setbacks very hard and my confidence was shaken. They became much bigger in my head than they probably were. Focusing on licking my wounds and being mad at the world kept me from learning from the experiences. Thankfully, someone I trusted and felt safe with pointed it out and I was finally able to see the pattern. Like Lisa, that was the beginning of my journey to resilience.

So, how’s your resilience in the face of disappointment or setbacks?

No matter where you are on your journey, these challenging times have tested all of us, for sure. A silver lining for me over the last 18 months has been the creation of a new approach to coaching, one that can reach more people. The Growth Platform is an affordable, online learning community led by coaches and designed to help people increase resilience in a structured and supportive way, one week at a time. It’s like the trusted friend I felt safe with so many years ago, whose insight empowered my professional growth. We launch in January and can't wait to get started. Please join us!

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