On April 12, 2016 I received very shocking professional news. Without warning or discussion I was immediately transferred out of a position I considered my calling to a job that was, well, just a job. This is the story of how, although it took me many months, I found my resilience and began to thrive again.
Very often we define our identity based on our profession, and clearly at that time, so did I. I felt betrayed – hadn’t I been doing excellent work with exciting programming? I felt dehumanized – who moves a person around like a piece of furniture? I felt set adrift – what do I do now, who am I?
There are many reasons why I was able to regain my balance and find my resilience, but first and foremost I have to thank my fabulous wife Karen and the rest of my family. They gave me strength, love, and support and helped me rediscover myself. Two of the foundations for building resilience are self-esteem and connections with others. Although my self-esteem was shaken, my connection to my family and friends provided the support needed for me to get back to a strong state of mind.
Thankfully, I have done a lot of studying on topics such as positive psychology and growth mindsets. So imagine my surprise when the chips were down how hard it was to globally apply these concepts to my life in the moment. I knew I could, and should, frame things differently, but was really unable to. It was at this time that I looked to my family, friends, and church community for support. I knew what I needed to do to move on, but was unable to. My social support got me to a mental place where I was ready and willing to move on.
One of the most important reminders is that each individual is responsible for how they look at the world. We might not be able to control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we react to it. For example, I may not be happy with my situation or how it was handled, but now that I am beyond the grieving period I am able to make the best of it. I could choose to be negative and grumpy and focus on every little fault I find in my day. But that will just make me miserable, and I don’t want to be miserable. So instead, I focus on what is good and what I am grateful for.
There are 168 hours in a week. On average we only spend 25% of that time at work. So why should work take up more than 25% of our overall focus? Certainly when you are at work you should give work 100% of your focus. But when looking at your life as a whole, you need a more balanced approach. When we find ourselves out of balance it makes it more difficult to recover from unexpected changes. That was the situation I found myself in. I was devoting way more of my focus to work, so when that went away I was affected far greater than I needed to be.
Another way that I learned to build resilience was to change my self-talk. The language in which we speak to ourselves changes our thoughts. For example, using milder language can lessen the effects of negativity: use “dislike” instead of “hate”, something is “not to my taste” rather than “awful” and replace “always, never, everyone, no one” with “sometimes, some people.” When negative thoughts happen see if you can reframe them to neutral or positive ones. So instead of thinking “That idiot cut me off in traffic, I hate when people do that to me!” perhaps you can instead think “That person might be distracted by something important to them, I dislike getting cut off, but it was not against me personally and I don’t want to ruin my day by getting angry over something so small.”
One of the biggest demands on our resilience is the everyday stress of our lives. Some ways we can address our stress are to Avoid, Alter, or Accept. Avoid by limiting time with people who cause stress and by better managing your time. Alter by reframing problems and changing your environment. Accept by learning to forgive and to stop trying to control the uncontrollable. To help manage your stress you can engage one of your senses, perhaps by going for a walk, listening to music, petting a dog, etc.
A big cause of stress is change and how we react to change. There are four main types of personal responses to change: No – you are actively against the change; Slow – you reluctantly participate in the change; Flow – you go with the flow, as the change happens you go with it; Go – you actively promote and help achieve the change. Each type has their own ways of proactively adapting to change, but everyone should look at the consequences of not changing, figure out what you can and can’t control, make peace with what you can’t control, and make a plan for what you can control.
Building your resilience is not a quick fix, but in the long run it is worth it. Remember that resilience is the process of bouncing back after adversity, not preventing adversity. We will encounter challenges every day, some big and some small. Everyone can learn to build their resilience and be better equipped to bounce back after encountering adversity.