Are You Resilient? The Answer Might Surprise You

Over the years, I’ve seen a drastic increase in the number of conversations around the idea of resiliency. In leadership courses. On college campuses. In childhood education. Everyone wants the people in their lives and leadership to be resilient. 


Our culture has become obsessed with resiliency. And when we as a culture obsess about something, we usually screw it up.


Take Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence, for example. The world went crazy over Goleman’s work. Everyone started trying to be emotionally intelligent. 


But somewhere along the lines, emotional intelligence became synonymous with being nice.

“You hurt that person’s feelings,” I’ve heard someone say. “That wasn’t very emotionally intelligent.”

Emotional intelligence, however, has little to do with being nice or never hurting other people’s feelings. 


Emotional intelligence means knowing how to manage yourself and others so what needs to be done gets done. Feelings are part of that, but not how most people think. Over time, our thinking around emotional intelligence has become less and less emotionally intelligent.


Just as a copy of a copy loses its clarity, ideas get copied and copied in culture until they lose their original helpfulness. 


And this is what’s happening to the idea of resiliency. 


“Look at how resilient I am. I’ve overcome so much,” I heard someone say. 

On the surface, this sentiment is acceptable. It’s helpful to see yourself as capable and strong. 


But, I propose the resiliency that matters most isn’t about what’s behind you. 

It’s about what’s before you.

Would you say you’re resilient? 


When asked this question, most people respond with some version of yes. 

But if everyone is already resilient, why do we talk about it so much? 

You likely know people who would say they’re resilient, even though you might say they aren’t. And, if they were asked if you are resilient, they might respond with “no” even though you might answer “yes.” 

So, how do we handle the question, “Am I resilient?”


Here are three ideas to consider.

1. Resiliency isn’t a static state.


You can be resilient one moment and not the next. That means you can’t answer the question of resiliency with an overarching “yes” or “no.”


You can also be resilient in one area of your life and non-resilient in another. Because resiliency is less about who you are and more about what you choose to believe at that moment about yourself and the world. 


For example, if you choose to believe something is the worst thing to ever happen to you… that all hope is lost, or that you’ll never get over it… At that moment, you’re not feeling very resilient. 


But imagine you choose to think you can work through it, or that hard things help you get stronger, or that your attitude will determine how successfully you’ll navigate it. In that moment, you’re likely more resilient.


So the question isn’t whether you’re resilient but whether you choose resiliency with today’s challenge.

2. Resiliency is relative.


The demands on our lives are constantly changing. 


Consider the idea of strength as an example. If you ask someone, “Are you strong?,” an important response would be, “Strong enough to do what?” 

Strong enough to lift a box? Sure. 

Strong enough to lift a car? Doubtful. 

Strong enough to lift a house? No. Not that strong. 

It’s the same with resiliency. Are you resilient? The answer greatly depends on what you’re facing. 


When your team sends you a contract bigger than you’re able to deliver on, you might believe, “We can do this!” 


But if ten big contracts come in all at once, you might think, “We’re doomed.” 


Regard resiliency as strength: Every person has some level of strength. The question is whether you have the level of strength needed to do what you want to do in your life.

3. Resiliency requires training.


Just as you don’t grow in strength by never lifting anything heavy, you don’t grow in resiliency by making your life easier. 


The easier you try to make your life, the less resilient you’ll become. 


Growing in resiliency requires developing the habit of strategically making parts of your life harder—on purpose. You can grow the mental muscles necessary to overcome obstacles by putting them in your own path.


This is why coaching is such a powerful resource for helping people grow in resiliency and creating resilient teams. A coach’s role is to meet regularly with you to guide you strategically and powerfully as you practice the discipline of resiliency. And they’re there to help you get back on track when you drift from a resilient mindset.


I recently interviewed Dan Leffelaar, head of Novus Global Sport, and his client Luke Schenn, a Stanley Cup-winning NHL player. We discussed how Dan helped Luke go from feeling unsure he wanted to play in the 2020–2021 season to becoming a key player in the Tampa Bay Lightning winning the Stanley Cup. 


“When it comes to the best of the best, there aren’t huge differences in size and ability,” Luke said. “The biggest difference is mental. If your mental game is off during a game, no amount of size or ability will make up for that, and every second counts.” 


Even hockey players can be resilient in one moment and not in the next. Their ability to manage that process makes all the difference. 


Luke continued, “Working with Dan as my coach helped me keep my mindset sharp… so if I got in a funk, it only lasted for a moment rather than a month.”


We all need people in our lives to help us ask better questions about resiliency so we can get better answers that help us build our resiliency as we face the unknown challenges of tomorrow.


As Luke said, “In hockey, every second counts.” 


The same is true for us. 


And if we remember that, we’ll develop the resiliency we  desperately need in times like these.