The Power of Resilience

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Ask any business leader and he or she will tell you about the multiple times that they fell down and got up in their career. Whether it was losing a job, missing out on a promotion, screwing up with a client, or simply saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person.

Let’s face it: falling down and making mistakes is a fact of life. The real question is how long does it take for you to get back up on the bicycle and keep moving forward.

As a psychologist, I remember reading some very interesting research that says that teenagers and young adults (ages 15 to 25) who have not experienced a major crisis in their life during those early years, are vulnerable to managing life and career hardships that they will inevitably face during their middle age. This ability to fall down and get up is probably the most critical skill in today’s complex, uncertain business world.

Buddhism, like all world religions, offers some great thoughts on how to handle life’s hardships. What is different from other religions is its distinctive philosophy about life. The central tenets of Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths, which emanate from the proposition, “Pain is inevitable; suffering is not.”

The Four Noble Truths explain why we suffer and how we can overcome it. The fundamental assumption behind them is that everything is always changing—we never step into the same stream twice—and change causes suffering when we resist it or ignore it.

This happens when we ignore our emotions or cling too tightly to the attachments in our life, be they wealth, power, status, ambition, or even our own expectations. Uncertainty can become our undoing if we are not open to what’s around the corner, whether new ideas and experiences or the latest sorrows or disappointments. Someone who is open to uncertainty has learned to be comfortable with being vulnerable. Although the idea may seem counterintuitive, in a business context, vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable says you are willing to take risks, be an imperfect person, and accept reality, whatever that may be.

Another dimension to the power of resilience is the necessity for living and leading with just enough anxiety. Anxiety can be a positive and powerful force in our lives. It challenges us, stretches us, and helps us learn every day. Life would be flat and bland without the right amount of anxiety. The resilient leader senses this, knowing that living with just enough anxiety will fuel higher productivity and greater achievements. When you manage anxiety, rather than suppress it or run away from it, you’re much better able to handle all the various kinds of events and experiences that throw you off balance.

When I advise top executives I try to help them manage through the inevitable ups and downs of business. The best are naturally hardwired to fall down and get up quickly by acknowledging their emotions, reframing the situation, bouncing back, and moving into problem solving mode again.

Here are some tips I have learned observing top executives when their world turns upside down:

  • Be willing to embrace the unknown. Every time you breathe the world changes. Don’t delude yourself in believing that stability really exists.
  • Distinguish between what you can and cannot control. The more honest you are about the difference, the less time you will waste and the less stress you will feel.
  • Become comfortable with being uncomfortable. This requires that you accept yourself as imperfect by nature, live with just enough anxiety, and let yourself fall down, put a Band-Aid on your knee, and get back up.
  • Be tough enough to be gentle with yourself, especially when you feel vulnerable. Cultivate confidence, even when it hurts. You’ve been there before and the sun will rise once again tomorrow.
  • Let yourself feel the full range of emotions, don’t get stuck obsessing over them, reframe the problem, get a good night sleep, and wake up with new eyes and a resilient mind.

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About the Author

Bob Rosen, Ph.D.

Bob Rosen, Ph.D.

Bob Rosen is founder and CEO of The Healthy Leader and author of 8 best-selling leadership books, including Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World, a New York Times bestseller, and Conscious: The Power of Awareness in Business and Life, a Washington Post bestseller. At The Healthy Leader, we help develop leaders at all levels to improve their health, well-being, potential and performance.

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