Resilience – Can it be taught?

Resilience…The one remaining flower in an otherwise winter stricken garden!

Resilience…The one remaining flower in an otherwise winter stricken garden!

Resilience seems to be a magic word these days. Everyone is talking about how important it is to be resilient, and yes it is, not only for our kids in the school yard and online, but also in general, in our relationships and in everyday life. I’ve heard so many people say that they wish they could be more resilient but they are just not built that way. So, can resilience be taught? The answer is very simple, yes it can. We are all born with some degree of innate resilience, the difference however, is how we choose to exercise it.

When I graduated from university, I got a job in a male dominated industry. I was never the most assertive of people, a little shy and totally scared of making a mistake, but at the same time determined, driven and eager to learn. A strange mix, I know! I had been raised in a family of three sisters, went to an all girls school, and was still very wet behind the ears. One of the first meetings I ever went to, I witnessed one of the senior partners of the firm, stand up and give his team a spray. He ranted and raved and asserted his authority like some king lion marking his territory. There was no human element to his tirade, no compassion, no understanding. I looked at his team, and they were terrified of him, heads down, no one dared to look up in case he focused his anger on them. I heard a little voice inside me say, “Come on, stand up for yourselves, explain yourselves, don’t let him get away with treating you like that!” But no one did. I made a mental note to never let anyone make me feel like that.

Later down the track, I attended another meeting with another senior partner and a very influential client and his team. I watched and observed as these two remarkably successful, intelligent men went about putting their opinions forward, challenging each other, there was no room for error, a moment’s hesitation would mean defeat. “So this is how it goes”, I thought, “it’s a power play”. That’s when I made a conscious decision to reinvent myself.

I had been raised in a family where my parents constantly told me that I had the power to be whoever and whatever I wanted to be. That I should make the most of every opportunity and never let people intimidate me, male or female. That I am my own person, who is capable of making my own decisions depending on what I believed and not to follow the masses. My high school instilled very similar values in us girls, teaching us that we were strong, confident, independent women and our success was only limited by our own perceptions and belief in ourselves. All these values were there waiting for me to tap into them and unleash their power. Up until now, I hadn’t had to use them very much, life had been pretty easy going, but now the moment had come, this was a hard industry and it was time to grow up.

I soon understood that every experience held a life lesson that was there if you wanted to embrace it and learn from it. I very quickly understood that self-respect and self-belief, were paramount in succeeding. I learnt that it doesn’t matter if you are talking to the Prime Minister or the Postman, that both these people deserve the same degree of respect, as did I. I went to all meetings with the same mindset, I didn’t try to take people down and establish power, I spoke with respect, and people responded. I brushed off negative comments as much as possible and worked really hard on not being intimidated by the level of authority that was present in the meeting. It took a while to build this resilience, it didn’t just happen, but I hope that my experiences can help teach my kids, while they are young, that resilience is one of the most important skills we can have. After all, we are all the same at the end of the day and everyone should be treated equally. No one is better, no one is superior, we are all human and no one is above another. I tell my kids this on a regular basis, I try to help them understand that even though deep down it is scary and intimidating to speak in front of people and let them judge you, it’s ok because they are no better than you. Their opinion is their opinion, and they are entitled to it. If they try to put you down, upset you, belittle you with words, or try to assert power over you, that’s ok, they are still playing the silly game that so much of the world still thinks is relevant, a powerplay that has no relevance in the scheme of life. I tell my kids that they will encounter this time and time again, but to not let it rattle them. I tell them to be true to themselves and always back themselves, to never let the words and underhanded tactics of others influence their self-perception and their overall confidence.

I have seen many a business-person bluff their way through a sticky situation, whose success came down to being resilient enough to not fall to pieces when it mattered. I understood that this resilience had been learnt, through years of experience. Everyone has a different level of resilience, some people are brimming with it, but not everyone is born so lucky. Most of us have to learn the ropes and understand that we can bounce back from adversity and come out stronger in the end. Words can be weapons, used by people who feel the need to assert authority and attack your integrity. But that’s ok, these words only have the power to have an effect on you if you let them, if you choose not to, then you have already won the battle before it even begins.

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