Flourish: The Five Practices of Particularly Resilient People


“Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” – Pema Chodron

In the face of adversity, why do some people flourish, while others fold? The essential condition required to live a flourishing life is not found in the absence of adversity, but rather in a person’s response to difficulty.

Here’s what resilience is NOT:

·        Merely bouncing back; resilience is dramatically more than elasticity.

·        A mentality of “this too shall pass”. As Andy Warhol said, “Time changes things, but you have to change them yourself.”

Adversity is trip we take. Resilience paves the road. Resilience is, as Rumi said, “the business of being human”; the willingness to endure hardship, and, as a result, to allow ourselves be fundamentally and forever changed. In return for our effort, we receive gifts of enhanced confidence, strength, wisdom, and compassion. 

After working with hundreds of extraordinary leaders, five core practices of particularly resilient people have emerged:

1.      Vulnerability

There is a struggle in every good life. There is life at the heart of every good struggle.

Our culture has a shame bias: When a colleague discloses 29 years of sobriety or that she’s bravely overcome panic attacks, I marvel at these living warriors! In my eyes, these people become MORE worthy of admiration because they overcame circumstances that happened TO them. 

Yet, the bias is that I think my adversity is my fault, and I’ll become LESS worthy. So often, we hide our crucible stories, the unpleasant experiences that foster resilience, choosing instead not to share the trials that have shaped us, out of embarrassment, fear, and shame.

Resilient leaders are able to integrate their experiences, creates oneness, instead of compartmentalizing. Within the Kintsukoroi tradition – the Japanese art form of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer, exists the understanding the ceramic is more beautiful for having been broken.

Practice: Resilient leaders let their whole authentic selves to shine forth, they allow their inside selves: thoughts, feelings, and experience to be congruent with their outside selves: the self they project to the world.

2.      Productive Perseverance

Choose the intelligent application of persistence.

As a result of undiagnosed dyslexia, I didn’t read well until I was in third grade, but I pursued my Ph.D. Conversely, when I was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition that reduces blood flow to my arms and hands, I redirected my athletic pursuits away from my dream of becoming a collegiate swimmer.

Facing any trial, we often receive conflicting advice: “Stay the course” and “don’t be afraid to shift gears”. Resilient leaders are able to navigate the polarity of this contradictory advice, knowing when to invest and when to exit.

Practice: Develop the flexibility and intelligence to navigate the strategic dilemma of opposing forces; to know when to pivot, to rethink the plan; know when to maintain the mission.

3.      Connection

“We rise by lifting others.” – Robert Ingersoll

A while back, I was assaulted at a concert. In the pit area, next to the stage, a group of men cornered me, and got aggressive. I felt angry and violated; I wanted to disconnect from my purpose of teaching others to overcome adversity by creating something beautiful from brokenness.

Adversity without resilience, pain without purpose, fosters separation.

As my wise colleague, Christina Kachellek taught me, instead of asking “Why this is happening to me?” I asked myself, “Why is this happening for me?” This question brought clarity in the midst of chaos: I was reminded of the countless women who endure harassment, even far worse, and who hadn’t quit. If they would stay the course, so would I. I owed it to them to keep going.

Practice: Purpose inspires greater meaning and closeness with others, and prevents us from being derailed from our path.

4.      Grati-osity 

Our difficulty may be ordinary: loss, hurt, and tragedy, but the wisdom is extraordinary.

Rather than allowing pain to make them stingy, resilient leaders allow adversity to amplify their experience through gratitude and generosity. Gratitude is not about praising the sorrow. It is about honoring the capacity for healing and growth that springs from suffering.

Practice: Be patient. Most people have to wait to realize this benefit which often follows this pattern: pain -> waiting ->growth ->grati-osity.

5.      Possibility

Having faced difficultly, resilient leaders can be inoculated against fear and perceived repercussions of failure, allowing them to see hope instead of hindrance, possibility instead of problems.

Practice: It’s an age old tale, coming back after failure, and standing up one more time than we fall down. Now it has a name: Adversity Quotient (AQ): The inability to be deterred by failure. Perhaps it’s not IQ or EQ, but the ability to persevere, despite the odds, to acknowledge fear, setbacks, and failure, and forge onward is the stuff of true success.

“There is only one road to true human greatness: the road through suffering.” ~ Albert Einstein


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