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Bouncing Forward, not Bouncing Back: Adapting with Resilience (Part 2)

By Gwendolyn VanSant

How do we apply resilience skills to our here and now?

  1. “I am” - Get in touch with yourself first. Explore your values, character, and areas of awareness. The VIA Character Strengths Survey is a tool that explores the 24 character strengths that we all possess around the world, stripping away structures that made groups culturally “less than,” these strengths line up differently to create our individual character that supports us throughout our lives. We are all valuable...we all share the same strengths. Finding our own resilience requires taking an honest look at our strengths and using them to thrive and flourish (and yes, overcome, when we need to.) As many of you have heard me say, cultural humility is a practice one must engage in regularly in recognizing your strengths and resources and the impact it has on others!

  2. “I have” - Notice what you do have with gratitude. We often focus on what is wrong or what is lacking. Look around for what you have. For some, it is a strong family network. For others, it is a skill set, hobby, or other resources/privileges. How can these things support you now that you are faced with a challenge? For particular communities, it is the “asset” of human relationships that is the best resource or simply the strength and wisdom of life experience.

  3. “I can” - What are your skills? When times are hard, I often ask myself, “Ok, the last time I felt like this, what did I do exactly? Even if I failed, what did I learn? Resilience is not about avoiding the fall; it is how you get back up. What are your choices?

Consider this leadership framework, especially in this time of COVID-19 and what we can co-create for our future. Right now, envision the world you would design...

  • What would it be like after COVID-19?

  • How can you contribute to that vision within your family, your team, and in?

  • How can you be patient with yourself and others?

Make that your action plan.

We are most definitely experiencing trauma due to the effects of this public health crisis, and I have to tell you, the single best thing you can do during trauma is breathe. The breath is so important. Three deep breaths will shift your anxiety. Be brave as bravery takes on all things. Not just the crazy stunt or speaking up to that constant nagging voice (although those things are important!), but also just being clear in your requests, setting limitations for yourself, identifying and sticking to your boundaries with others, meeting your needs, and offering a helping hand to others.

And finally, we do have to “adapt.” As Cyndi Suarez alludes to in her insightful piece, “The Problem with Resilience,” we don't adapt to get back to what was; this is a “reset” to help us adapt for a new future... one that is better, more inclusive, and more equitable. And we do have to be careful because in times of trauma, our brain wants to choose the familiar even if it wasn't the best for us. Now is the time to consciously construct a new way forward.

Suarez is reminding us to keep the concept of resilience broad enough to hold bigger equity questions. Resilience is absolutely a valuable skill set, and a repeated demonstration of this quality should not be the requisite to thriving and flourishing for any gendered, racialized, or minoritized individual or group. We should all have access to the resources we need and, consequently, structural barriers must be actively dismantled. As Suarez writes, we must not let our resilience efforts “sidestep the core question we should be asking, especially now: Who gets to decide what is normative?” These are important questions to ask as I have led this type of cultural inquiry and witnessed the impact for institutions and leaders who broaden their awareness in general. Repeatedly probing for insight, helps us be culturally reflexive, not just competent leaders.

So in closing, here are some tips/reminders on personal resilience:

  1. Work from your strengths. Take the Character Strengths Survey and reflect on a time you were your best self and a time when you experienced a loss or challenge or you failed. Focus on what got you through and apply that to this moment.

  2. Pause. When you feel tension, take three deep breaths. Just a one-minute meditation helps. Find a quote, repeat a mantra, just close your eyes. When you have the space and time, meditate, read a poem, go for a walk, and take a break so you can nourish your soul. Appreciate beauty and savor moments of calm connection.

  3. “Lean in.” Lean into the challenge. Don't be afraid to fail. Be brave, be transparent, lean on your network. Anticipate failures. This is not about “bouncing back”; this is about getting back up.

  4. Most importantly, be kind and gentle with yourself and those around you. Compassion and empathy are so key right now. Be mindful in your interactions. As Sharon Salzberg writes, “Resilience is based on compassion for ourselves as well as compassion for others.”

  5. Stay informed and do what you can do. Curiosity and Judgment help here. Stay engaged and present as much as you can. And please, do not lose sight of beauty and love in the world. Think about how you can add to it every day.

Resilience is practice, a skill set, a character strength, a natural attribute of our Earth, and, if there is one belief, I want to leave you with, it is that resilience is teachable…

Maya Angelou spoke to this idea of resilience so beautifully in “Still I Rise” (which has been my fight song many a time)... And yes, why is it that women and women of color always have to “rise above?” How are we going to chart that new pathway? I look forward to exploring all of these questions with you in the coming weeks.

Find Part One of this two-part series here.

(adapted with author approval from an original article published at originally published at