Resilience, what is it and where do I get it?

There are some things in life that if you were able to bottle it up and sell it you’d be a zillionaire.

Love, can you imagine how many people would buy your love tonic, 1 sip, and you and your unwitting partner to be, would be eternally committed to you, unshaken by any of the challenges in a ‘normal’ relationship. How much would a bottle of that cost? A better question is how much would you pay?

The sober pill, sober up in an instant from the night before. Ok so I think that this is the one, all university students would ‘budget’ for. With this one, you get to have a great night out, any night of the week walk-in at any hour. Just be sure to leave enough time to get ready for lectures (5 -10 mins), and while you’re having a nutritious breakfast of cold pizza and a latte from your local barista, you pop 2 of these wonder pills and you’re back to 100%. Fully functioning, fully awake, and fully fit with no side effects.  I think I’d get the Nobel prize for this.

Ok, so this is fanciful and while it’s something that has been discussed before in jest, we all know that it’s probably not going to happen any time soon.  Resilience though… this is interesting.  I’ve been asked to speak about resilience a lot lately and being one that doesn’t really believe in coincidence, it’s got me thinking about the causal factors for these requests. After a bit of thinking time, waiting for my eureka moments (normally around 4 am), the 2 questions that I’ve distilled (they didn’t spring to mind in a eureka moment, my life isn’t a movie) are:

  • What is resilience?
  • Why am ‘I’ being asked to speak about it?

My default for this kind of question is Google, can you think of a better place to start? I could ask friends or family or even a poll on LinkedIn but, in only 0.64 seconds, Google gave me 3,220,000,000 results! If I’m honest I think this is overkill, because I’m only going to look at the first page. What google showed me was a dictionary definition of resilience, Google said it was a noun and then gave me 2 examples:

  • The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
  • The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

Under this definition were similar questions people ask regarding resilience, and under that 10 website links followed by the Gooooooooooogle pages 1 – infinity.

Great, so that’s question 1 answered right? Not quite, but before I continue it’s suddenly dawned on me that this is probably going to take a little bit more thought… aahhhhgghhhhh. 

Righto let’s break this down and start with what it is. I’m going to have to touch on some science here, but I’ll do my best to keep it light and fun.

During the 1970s when it seems scientists were most active (they’d gotten over the psychedelic ’60s, so it was time to get to work), studies of children with schizophrenic parents showed that in some cases, children thrived whereas you’d be forgiven in assuming that any child born and raised in difficult circumstances would, without doubt, be irreparably damaged.  These findings would lead to more research and by the 1980s when people had huge everything (hair, shoulder pads, mobiles phones) and the 1990s when the internet started and we all feared the Millenium bug; the results revealed that resilience was more ordinary than was first thought. So not that special at all then?

I can attest that the second of those definitions certainly doesn’t relate to me, I’ve had considerable difficulty in getting my belly to spring back to its former flatter self pre-lockdown and post-Christmas! Perhaps this explains resilience in the context of a physical object rather than a metaphysical phenomenon. But looking at the first definition, the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness, I think I’d like to push back on this one. 

At first glance, the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness seems logical, and I’m not disagreeing entirely (with the dictionary), but depending on what that difficulty is would determine what recovery will look like. Hear me out, from my own experiences I don’t think that I’ve ‘recovered’ from the milestone difficulties I’ve endured, I’ve learned, grown, and adapted to become someone different. 

Fortunately, there’s little consensus on the definition of resilience which is good in my opinion. There can be and are similarities all centered around the dictionary definition, but from what I can deduce, resilience can only be defined by the person asking the question, and in looking for that answer they’ll find slightly different and nuanced variations in its explanation.  Like a kid in a sweet shop, you get to pick which definition suits you best.

So how do I attempt to define what it means to be resilient….. (tumbleweed).

“The human experience of resilience is an individual and dynamic process of experiences resulting in growth” Roll’s off the tongue, i’ll try and shorten it

“Resilience is a product of the growth process”

This definition allows us all to be resilient as part of normal life, those who have more challenging experiences may be perceived to be more resilient.

So on to my second question, why have I been asked to speak about it?

The common theme that connects the individuals and organisations that have asked me to speak about resilience, is they’ve all asked after watching a TEDx talk I delivered earlier in July 21 (it’s available to watch on YouTube), or in response to the story of my transition from military to civilian life.

You and I have had countless experiences over the years that have changed us, and for me, some of these changes have been so profound, they’ve led me to become a writer and publish 2 books (the third is being written as we speak). In this process, and through yet another experience, I became frustrated and disillusioned with the publishing world so started my own publishing company to publish my 2nd and all future work.

Before this, and reflecting on my 20 year military career with countless experiences to draw on, I had and have a yearning desire to share my experiences with as many people as possible. Inspired by the words of Annie Henderson (Maya Angelou’s grandmother), where she said,

“When you learn, teach and when you get, give”

This focused my mind and resulted in the decision to be a writer, but it also opened my eyes to public speaking, and can you think of a better platform than TED?

I think that I’ve been asked to speak about resilience for no other reason than I’ve had a few experiences that are relatable, and I’m willing to talk about them (fears, nerves, and all).  No BS, I try not to sugarcoat anything I do, I have to keep it 100 with my readers, remember as Spider-Man’s uncle said with great power comes great responsibility, in the case of resilience, it’s the journey that matters. I added the last bit, and I don’t think that I have great power but was really keen to add Uncle Ben’s famous line.

I guess I should summarise this then. I’ve written this because I’ve been asked by a few organisations to speak about resilience, all within 4-5 weeks of each other. This prompted me to ask why, and in thinking about that, I had to understand what it even meant. 

There’s been loads of science on the subject dating back to the 60s, all of which you can easily access on one of the 3,220,000,000 results I found on Google. I’ve neatly summarised over 3 billion pages of data into 1 simple sound bite of what resilience is – Resilience is part of the growth process, you’re welcome.

In analysing why I’ve been asked to speak about it, I don’t think it’s anything more than the people that have asked me, find my experiences relatable. I’m no more qualified to speak about resilience than you.

Do I think it’s important to build resilience, yes. It’s a bit chicken and egg, but by taking control of your future, you grow more resilient, positive change is perpetuated. I’ll leave you with this graphic that I found on page 1 of the Google result and posted by lifehack.org, which illustrates perfectly that resilience allows you to get to the growth zone.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, and don’t be afraid to share it. Any spelling mistakes… (I’ve spell-checked 3 times, so you’re good!)

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