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Why resilience is not always the answer


I once saw this sketch note. About resilience. And it was all about ‘grit’, and ‘endurance’ and pushing through and getting stuck in, getting your teeth into a piece of work and not letting go until such time that it was done. No matter what adverse conditions. No matter what obstacles were on the way.

Now, I’m all for grit and not giving up at the first hurdle.

But this definition of resilience? It made me feel terribly tired.

Resilience is the capability to bounce back quickly from difficulties.

Nowhere does it say that you should constantly be under pressure to deliver your work under ever more difficult circumstances, 100% of the time. Nowhere does it say that resilience means that all life should be squeezed out of you.

That is not resilience. That is bad planning. And a lack of agreement between a company, its senior leaders and its workforce.

Now there are lots of scholars and health and well-being practitioners who can tell you a lot about resilience.

In this article I just want to share with you what I believe are three key elements to resilience.

1. Saying no

Let me tell you this story.


Someone was being interviewed for a job. And after the interview the recruiter said ‘The hiring manager wants to know if you would be able to deal with very difficult stakeholders’. And – to the recruiter’s surprise - the candidate said ‘No’.

Yes, we all encounter difficult stakeholders at some point. And most of the time we find a way of working around them, or we know how to resolve their concerns and deal with their fears.

But sometimes, difficult stakeholders are just that, difficult stakeholders. Difficult for the sake of it.

Ever new candidates are being sent into the arena, knowing that many have gone before her. Knowing that many have run into this stakeholder. Knowing that many have failed to engage them. Relying on the candidate’s resilience and grit to keep them going. Knowing that this stakeholder will make sure (no, will pride themselves) on letting this person fail.


And you need to wonder if you want to work for a company that allows this.

Sometimes resilience is saying ‘no’.


No, to protect yourself. Because you don’t want to work in an environment where ever more resilience is expected of you. Instead of looking at the systemic changes required to make you do your best work.

No, because you recognise that you do not want to work under circumstances that require you to be under so much pressure.


What would you have done?


Saying 'no'. Hard to do. Vital for your well-being.

2. Looking after yourself

I’m not going to tell you to look after yourself. Because you know that already. And if not, there are multiple articles on the internet to tell you that you should exercise more, eat less and healthier and look after your mental health.

What I am going to say is that being on high alert all the time is not good for you.

On Saturday I sat down and read my book. With no distractions. With no noise. It was lovely.

On Sunday I turned my computer on to do some work and my whole body tensed up, just from hearing the noise of the fan.

That is ridiculous.

It means that your environment has an enormous impact on your mental and physical well-being. Your adrenal system gets overloaded. And it has an impact on the rest of your body.

There are many people who can tell you a whole lot more about the impact of stress on your body. But I know one thing: you cannot always be on high alert.

It is healthy to leave the distractions to one side. Allow real stillness. Turn off all the electronic gadgets. And to do that for a considerable time. It might well be your saviour.

3. Agreement instead of expectations

I listened to a recording with Steve Chandler, an executive coach, who talked about ‘expectations versus agreements’.

How often have you been met with ridiculous deadlines? Expectations from parents? Arguments with your partner?

All down to expectations. People expecting something from you. And being disappointed.

Or you being disappointed with them, because of your expectations.

Instead, what you should be aiming for is agreement.

An agreement that you can do something within a certain deadline. An agreement that you will do the best you can, but that you need to live your own life and not that of your parents. An agreement about where you want to go in life, together with your partner and your children.

It requires you taking responsibility, and having grown-up conversations. It takes courage, and vulnerability.

But ultimately it leads to more mature relationships and everyone knowing where they stand.

You cannot always be on high alert. And resilience is the ability to bounce back. Not to be squeezed further and further.



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