Becoming More Resilient

By: Peggy Huston

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Peggy Huston, Leadership Coach at MOR Associates.  Peggy may be reached at]

I’ve always considered myself a fairly resilient human.  However, I was recently challenged to consider if I am as resilient as I think I am, and to think more about what resiliency really is.

It started with a conversation between one of my peer coaches and me.  She had recently taken a coaching course on resiliency and shared with me a perspective that I had not heard of before.  As she described it to me, resiliency is the ability or willingness to accept joy.  I was quite taken aback by this concept.  Do you ever get a feeling in your brain when you’ve just learned something new?  If it’s possible, I felt a new brain cell emerge in that moment.  This new concept was truly a mind shift for me.

My first stop was the Oxford dictionary.  “Resiliency n. The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.”  In the Merriam-Webster I found that the word derives from the Latin verb resilire, which means “to jump back”.  And states that “a person shows resiliency if they are able to recover from a difficult experience. Going back to school after a horrible event like a parent dying shows a lot of resiliency. Doing a triathlon shows physical resiliency.”

Well, this was all in alignment with my thinking, i.e., if only I can endure the stress, cope with the bad times, deal with the adverse conditions, then I am demonstrating resiliency.  When things are bad, I just need to dust myself off, get back on the horse, and don’t give up hope.  And that is what I’ve done, but has my ability to suck it up and just get over it made me more resilient?  I was intrigued with the idea of increasing my resiliency by making space for joy.

I tried a simple scenario to consider my old way of thinking and this new idea.  I thought of a blade of grass that lies down in the storm as the wind and rain beats it down and then rises up again when the sun comes out.  Is it it’s ability to endure the “bad” weather that makes it resilient?  Or is it it’s ability to allow the sunshine in?  Or perhaps, it’s both.

Ingrid Fetell Lee, the author of Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, states that “little moments of joy are often the first thing to go when we're stressed, anxious, or in a crisis.”  Lee goes on to name a number of reasons why this is the case which I will summarize as putting a lower value on joy than on whatever may be the more serious topic.   When I reflect on times of great stress in my life, I recognize that at times, I chose stress over joy.  When I asked  myself why I chose stress, it comes back to the value that I had for stress over joy.  For example, I thought I would be the better employee, the better leader, the better mother if I was enduring the stress of a situation.

That said, I like humor and I like how laughter makes me feel when I am stressed.  Laughter is joyful for me and it serves as a relief valve and helps me bring things back into perspective.  Lee states that “when we allow ourselves a moment of joy, it creates a respite that makes us more resilient.”

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area.  We were one of the first areas in the country to implement a stay-at-home order for COVID-19 last March and there are still many restrictions here for how the public can safely interact.  It has been challenging as I love to gather with my family and friends.  However, I accepted all of these constraints and buried myself in work and home projects, and hiking.  As long as I could get out in hills and hike, I could endure.  Then came the smoke.   It was raining ash here on and off for several weeks in September and outside it looked like the Great Smog of London in 1952.  In spite of keeping all the windows shut the smoke and ash were even in my house. 

I could separate myself from many of the stressful conditions of the past year, but I could not escape the smoke.  I had hit my tipping point and by just focusing on work, I was getting sucked into the stress.  For a reason unknown to me, I got an idea one afternoon that I wanted to learn to play the ukulele.  I tried to ignore this strange urge and had no idea where the thought came from.  But the next day, it was even a stronger urge.  I finally went on Craigslist and in a couple of hours, I was at the shopping center parking lot buying myself a ukulele.  That evening, I went on YouTube and started classes.  While I can be spontaneous, it’s not usually my MO and a ukulele was definitely out of the ordinary for me.  However, after the conversation with my peer coach about resiliency being associated with one’s ability to allow joy, I realized that is in fact what I was seeking.  When hiking was taken away from me, I had to find something else that was more than just keeping my mind busy, I was trying to create a moment of joy. 

We are living in heavy times and I think it is important for me to recognize that joy plays a role in enabling me to be resilient.  I understand that for some, there are physical and/or mental conditions that limit their ability to choose to find joy.  I am grateful this is not my situation.  I have the ability to choose joy and I have the ability as a leader, to provide a workplace environment that values and fosters joy.  I have become more intentional about including joy in my daily life through a practice of seeking opportunities for joy and inviting others in my organization, and with whom I interact, to join me.

May you also have joy in your day.



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