A few days ago there was a story on NPR's All Things Considered about coral reefs and mangroves and protecting against global warming. One of the environmentalists interviewed on the show pointed out that the typical environmentalist response to danger is to fence it out. But when the enemy is global warming, fences don't work. The only way to deal with this kind of change is to make the species more resilient.
I think it's pretty typical human behavior to build fences as a protection against change that we perceive as danger. Unfortunately, we tend to interpret most change as being potentially dangerous. And in a world that is full of constant change, that's an awful lot of fence-building. Despite our fences, somehow change always finds its way in.
So I started thinking that maybe we should stop planning ways to keep change out and instead focus on ways to make ourselves more resilient in the face of change. Some of the ways I've tried to build my own resilience:
- Find my personal mission. When life has meaning, you can be remarkably resilient. Ask Viktor Frankl. This is something I'm always searching for, though. It seems to change or maybe I haven't found that core meaning yet. I do know that when I feel a sense of purpose, I'm more willing and able to deal with change.
- Know my strengths. I think that part of being resilient is understanding my areas of strength and building on those. In particular I always try to find work that maximizes my strengths and minimizes my weaknesses. Great advice from Marcus Buckingham that I'm always trying to live by.
- Focus on what's in my control. This is a tough one for me. I seem to believe that just about everything that happens in the world is somehow responding to some action I've taken. I can spend a lot of time fretting about things over which I really have no control. So I'm always trying to separate out for myself the things that I can do something about and the things that I have to leave behind. Sometimes easier said than done, of course.
- Look for the opportunities in change. This is one I've gotten pretty good at. Whenever I see a change coming, I try to find a way to take advantage of it. This is also a great way to look at failure.
- Build my personal capacity to bounce back. Part of resilience is understanding what "fills your well." I've learned that I need a lot of time to myself, I need good food, yoga, friends to talk to, books to read, my journal to write in, time with my husband and daughters, stimulating conversations both on and offline, and this blog. All of these things help me keep my perspective and build my resilience.
To me, we have both personal and organizational responsibility to become more resilient ourselves and to help those around us. Sort of like putting on our own oxygen mask so we can help others find theirs. This feels particularly true in the human services sector where so much of what we're dealing with is a lack of resilience. Instead, we often see a brittle, fearful response to change that can break our clients (and ourselves) in two if we don't learn how to bend.
So what have you done to become more resilient?