• Ascent Leadership Program

Resilience - "toughening up?"

Updated: Aug 28


In response to COVID-19 impacts to our state agency workforce, I developed some material (the ASCENT document titled C.A.R.E.) that discussed building resilience. As I continue to reflect and study it, I have shifted my thinking substantially. I learned something I didn't expect to learn.


My initial understanding of resilience was anchored in seeing resilience primarily as some form of emotional toughness, strength and fortitude. Sure, I thought, "toughening up" sounds like an important element of resilience and there was ample material out there to confirm it. In fact, my write up referred to resilience as "emotional strength and toughness". The more I sit with the topic, I now think my characterization is too simplified and narrow. What I learned, and it surprised me, is resilience may be just the opposite. Perhaps, resilience is more about raw vulnerability, mental flexibility and emotional limberness. Could accessing greater resilience really come from a "softening up", a tenderness, rather than toughness? When I think of bouncing back and recovering from hard things, do I only want to experience toughness? For me? For others? Instead, I now believe only when we are tender with ourselves, can we see the way forward to be more tender with others. When we view ourselves with greater compassion, curiosity and care, it allows us to access those same qualities for others.


The American Psychological Association defines resilience as "the process of adapting well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or other sources of stress. It means bouncing back from difficult experiences". Notice, it is a process and results are the result of practices. Resilience, like all development efforts, involve and invite a regular practice!


Questions for reflection:

  1. What regular practice would help me build my resilience?

  2. Where is greater compassion and curiosity needed?

  3. What situations, relationships and circumstances are inviting more resilience from me?

  4. What narrative about myself would benefit from softening and tenderness?

  5. Is there a fear I resist facing? What's behind the fear?

  6. What routines (sleep, exercise, eating well, meditation/prayer, expressive writing/journaling, deep breathing, getting out in nature) would help build my resilience reserves?

  7. What story, about myself, could I let go of in order to speed up my bounce back and recovery?