The Secrets of Resilience

By David Witmer posted 6 days ago


A recent essay by Meg Jay in the Wall street Journal recently caught my eye this month. Dr. Jay’s essay notes that many highly successful people dealt with some form of hardship or adversity in their early life. She cites a study of famous biographies that found less than 15% of famous people were raised in supportive homes free of trouble and over three quarters of famous people dealt with some form of severe hardship. Of course, she is not suggesting that we not be supportive and nurturing to our children, but rather that there are some lessons from the successes of resilient people that we can learn from and apply in our lives.

I found her thoughts on the oversimplification of the concept of “resilience” particularly interesting. She notes that the most common definitions speak to “rebounding” or “bouncing back” from short-term problems or traumas. I thought the most interesting quote from the article was the following:

“Such problems are recurring threats to a child or teen’s safety and well-being. Resilient youth do not just rebound from them. What they do is much more complicated and courageous. For them, resilience is an ongoing battle, a way of approaching life, not a restorative bounce.”

While it may seem counterintuitive that hardship breeds success, Jay notes that coping with stress is similar to exercise, “…we become stronger with practice.” The later portion of her essay describes strategies or techniques that can be used to develop or enhance resilience traits. These include:

  • Own the fighter within – resist defeat in your own mind
  • Reach out to family, friends or professionals
  • Engage in active coping – control the things you can control
  • Remember past difficulties and how you overcame them

Over my career I can remember many times when we were faced with difficult challenges, setbacks, and adversities. I have found that resilience is an important trait to nurture and develop in the teams that I have led. Often our challenges can seem insurmountable, but maintaining an outlook that any adversity is but one leg of a journey and focusing on the positive is important to developing resilient teams and can be learned.

This all brings to mind the famous quote by Friedrich Nietzsche, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Developing a resilient approach to life can be learned and applied and in fact may be an even more important trait to actively nurture in today’s world.