Think of a time when you were faced with what seemed like the biggest challenge of your life. Or a time where you felt the odds were stacked against you, or when you were faced with a problem that seemed like a mountain that you could not climb and did not have the ability to handle. Each of us have experienced tough times or situations that have made us feel uncertain and unsafe. So, whether it was poverty, loneliness, loss of employment or income, death of a loved one, a life-threatening diagnosis or some other life changing event, we have all had to overcome something, we have all had to be resilient.
So, what is resilience?
According to The American Psychological Association, “Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. ” So, when we talk about being resilient, we are talking about one’s ability to bounce back from failures in life, push past setbacks and detours to overcome adversity when even the best laid plans go awry. The COVID-19 pandemic (See previous article) presented us with perhaps the greatest test of our resilience in recent times. Resilience became the super skill to master as both individuals and organizations grappled with the drastic disruptions in life and the world as we knew it.
Both individuals and organizations struggled to deal with the impact of the global shutdown, quarantines, social distancing requirements, masks mandates and guidelines to slow the spread of the coronavirus. We saw millions of people lose their lives, families experience immeasurable grief, the burnout of essential workers, unprecedented levels of unemployment as businesses closed and the global economy took a plunge. Organizations have had to figure out how to deliver services to maintain operations in a rapidly changing environment, retain customers and keep their workforce connected and safe. While individuals had to wrestle with how to cope with increased level of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty due to the loss of normal routines, social isolation, illness, and death of loved ones as well as the need to adapt to new demands to do work and school from home. And even today, we are still in the middle of the pandemic and trying to find the best ways to navigate what the new or next normal will look like.
At some time or another, all of us have had our mettle tested and have found ourselves in situations where we have been challenged to dig deep, be resourceful and creative to cope and respond. Even in this pandemic era, the businesses and organizations that have emerged as the real winners, are those that have adapted quickly to the changes in their industries and used technology to upgrade existing services and find new and creative new solutions to serve their customers effectively. Similarly, the individuals who have managed to thrive during these times are those that have embraced change, identified opportunities from the problems they faced and demonstrated the ability to adapt and learn quickly.
I have observed this same display of resilience with people in my circle and across the world who are making tough situations work and finding ways to push through difficulties and just keep going. Though we all have varying abilities to cope with the stress and uncertainty, we build our resiliency skill by how we respond to the situations we face, that is our thoughts, actions, and behaviors. So, how do you respond? Do you fight or do you give in to fear? Do you hold on to hope or do you despair?
I am an Overcomer!
I remember my “Coming to America” almost nine years ago. I migrated from Jamaica to U.S. with my then 2-year-old daughter and settled in Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area. As you can appreciate, one of my main priorities was finding gainful employment equivalent to my skills and professional background. I would love to say that everything worked out as planned but they did not. One of the first challenges I had to navigate was the weather. I had migrated in the month of November in what I now understand was a mild winter. However, coming from a tropical island, getting used to public transportation and the cold weather was difficult and required a huge adjustment. I remember carrying my daughter in my arms as we walked in the cold or waited at a bus stop. Nonetheless, I was keen to maintain a schedule as if I were working for both of us. So, I got up early everyday (Monday – Friday) and braved the weather to drop her off at day care so that I could report to the Employment Center at 8:30 a.m.
When I got to the Employment Center, I took advantage of their job fairs, workshops, and computer facilities and staff to help me do my job search and apply for jobs. Over the days, weeks, and months, I applied at least 30 jobs a week in what felt like the black hole of job search engines with each application requiring a tweaked version of my resume to hopefully get my resume in the hands of a hiring manager. Though I was qualified for the jobs I applied for, I had moved to one of the most competitive job markets in the U.S. with a high concentration of government and technology jobs. I was sitting in workshops with people with PhDs, security clearance and experience working in the states that I did not have. The process was long, disheartening, and frustrating as I did not have a network to lean on and had to build new relationships as I learned to navigate life as a small fish in very big pond. After almost six months and many failed interviews, I finally landed a part time Administrative Assistant position with local government which was a level I had never functioned at.
The difficulties I encountered did not stop there. For two years, I worked without full benefits while still having to take care of expenses for day care and our one-bedroom apartment. I struggled to find a fulltime position in my professional field and at a level close to what I had done before. When I did find such an opportunity, it was as if I was starting all over again with my first job after graduate school. I tell people that I probably cried more tears in my first five years living in America than I probably did in my entire life. It took another five years until I finally got back into management.
Over that period, I dealt with many personal and professional setbacks and struggled with self-doubt and questions about whether I had made the right decisions to leave my home and job in Jamaica. But failure was not an option. Like many other immigrants before me, I was determined to stick to my plan and do all I needed to do to succeed with my goals and dreams. In the process, I had to reinvent myself, pivot, and adapt to my new environment. I took advantage of every learning opportunity I could access, enhanced my professional credentials, networked strategically, and used informational interviews and volunteering to build relationships and a new network. I continuously sought out new ways to leverage my skills, engage with others and stay relevant. And even today, the journey continues.
What Do Resilient People Do?
So back to that challenging situation I asked you to reflect on earlier. Were you focused on just surviving the situation, bouncing back, renewal or learning and growing? Resilient people practice all the above. In challenging times, what you do and where you put your focus can make all the difference in the results you achieve. Therefore, when you are faced with the next difficult situation, where will you put your focus? How will you choose to respond?
- Survive and recover: In this mode, the focus is simply to get through whatever you are dealing with after experiencing one of life’s storm. Here the motivation is for things to get back to normal.
- Bounce back: Setback after setback, are you built to adapt? In this mode, the focus is to embrace the changes happening around you and to demonstrate flexibility to adjust to the shifting circumstances while staying on track.
- Renew /reset: This is the ability to begin again and resume something that you had abandoned after a setback. Here the focus is on finding your groove again to keep the momentum going in the direction of your goal.
- Reinvent/create anew: Since necessity is the mother of all inventions, in this mode, the focus is on seizing opportunities presented by the problems you are facing and trying to find new ways to respond. What is another way I can get this done? What can I do differently?
- Change and grow: How are you learning from your experiences? Here the focus is on the steps you are intentionally taking to improve yourself and your abilities. So, what will you do to help yourself and others?
Our responses to life’s many challenges will undoubtedly be different, but by choosing faith and hope, we can find the strength to push through. So regardless of what your find yourself dealing with at this stage of your life, I hope you choose to thrive and not merely survive. Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!