An office worker in the desert.

The Skill No One Wants to Need: Resilience

Throughout our lives, we encounter numerous stressors that test our resilience. Typically, these challenges arise from external events affecting us individually or collectively. However, we must also consider the challenges we impose on ourselves. How do we maintain resilience when the difficulties are self-inflicted? How do we endure a storm of our own making?

For example, I recently cut my thumb while cooking and I could almost hear my mother’s voice warning me about how sharp the mandoline is. I was forewarned, I knew ahead of time that I needed to be careful, but I wasn’t being careful enough. Now I feel shame, embarrassment, guilt, and even judgement.

Dr. Susan David, the author of Emotional Agility, has a saying – “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” Our mistakes and the difficult situations life throws at us are, in their own way, opportunities to learn and grow. It is up to the individual to decide how they respond to a given situation and to decide whether something is a negative or a positive. Going back to my thumb, it was painful and almost shameful, and the trip to the doctor was both costly and time-consuming; but at the same time, I didn’t lose my finger. As uncomfortable as it is right now, I won’t have to face this one moment for the rest of my life because one day it will just be a footnote in my story.

Taking a look at life and the things we do to ourselves, I was reminded of the book, “Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder”, by Dr. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in which he discusses fragility, and explains that the opposite of fragility is robustness. Being robust means merely brushing off life’s challenges, and remaining impervious. However, this is not ideal. Every person, no matter how resilient, will at some point face a situation that is impossible to dismiss and may find themselves without the tools to handle it.

Going back to my previous discussions on personal development, the Stagnant Pond is only stagnant because nothing is changing. When we ‘become antifragile’, we don’t become immune to the hard knocks life throws at us, we grow through them. Robustness is not antifragility; it is anti-growth.

One of the most effective ways to become antifragile is by adopting a Growth Mindset, often referred to as the ‘Yet’ Mindset.“I cannot do this. Yet.” “I don’t know how. Yet.” “I haven’t healed. Yet.” The Growth Mindset asks us to adopt the idea that everything is a process with a beginning, middle, and end, and we can only reach the end if we get started on the beginning.

In the ‘process of yet’, continuous learning and growth take place.. Going back to my cut thumb, I have now learned how not to use a mandoline, and I have learned that I can actually write legibly with my off-hand and, perhaps most importantly, I have learned that I have the most amazing community of people around me who were ready to support me at a moment’s notice.

No one wants to make mistakes or go through a difficult situation, but they happen all the same. The incident with the mandoline is just a small one, but at the end of the day, I could just as well have inflicted greater harm on myself, physically or emotionally.