“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”
DEFINING Resilience: Our ability to withstand life’s knocks and setbacks. Our capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Our toughness.
Refuse to give up
“Getting knocked down in life is a given, but getting up and moving forward is a choice.” – Zig Ziglar
When it comes to giving up on life, our dreams, and our goals, we need to be as stubborn as a mule. Never ever give up. We owe it to ourselves to fight our setbacks and difficulties in life and to conquer them. If you entertain thoughts of defeat, then you will probably experience defeat in your life. It is important that we follow through, even though it’s not always on our own terms. The story of Derek Redmond is a great example of doing exactly that:
British runner Derek Redmond was a favourite to win the gold medal in the 400m race at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, but a hamstring injury forced him to pull up during the semi-final. He decided to not pull out of the race and limped on, before his father, Jim, made his way onto the track to help him continue. Just before the finish, Jim let go of his son and Redmond completed the course on his own, prompting the crowd of 65 000 people to give him a standing ovation.
He later said: “Someone once asked me: ‘How do you become successful?’ The easiest, and the most relevant answer is to get up just one more time than you’ve been knocked down.” The story of Derek Redmond has been called one of the purest examples of determination and perseverance in Olympic history.
Learn to be resilient in our VUCA world
VUCA describes general conditions and situations. It is a concept that originated in the US Army War College to describe the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous world after the Cold War. In recent decades, the concept has again gained new relevance to characterise our environment. We are currently living in one of the worst VUCA periods of the last century – the COVID-19 pandemic. After we get through this storm, we will at some point in the future, unfortunately, have to face another such event. We would be naïve to not think that this is a real possibility. The more we have our self-leadership process intact, the more we will be able to weather these storms in life. From the toughest VUCA times in our lives, we learn the most and increase our resilience.
Everybody fails at some point
Our ability to deal with disappointment in ourselves is a vital part of our existence as self-leaders. To be successful in this regard, our point of departure needs to be realising that, just as nobody is perfect, everybody fails at some point. Some more than others, but a fact of life is that everybody fails.
“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure,” wrote Abraham Lincoln. He had lost his job, failed in business, had a nervous breakdown, and been defeated in politics on several occasions. Despite all his failures, “Honest Abe” had many successes and was elected in 1860 as the 16th president of the United States of America.
We mustn’t stop trying until we have achieved success. We also cannot afford to be afraid of making mistakes or to be afraid of taking calculated risks. If we can conquer such fears, then we will capitalise on the opportunities we have been given. Now that is an invigorating thought.
“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” – Margaret Thatcher
We should not be scared to fail, and never lose the courage to keep on trying until we achieve success. When we experience setbacks and failure, which we all experience at some point, it is important to see them as temporary. The moment we consider them to be permanent, we will lose our courage and motivation to try again.
J.K. Rowling, the author of the bestselling Harry Potter book series, delivered her Commencement Address at the annual Harvard Alumni Association in 2008. It was titled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination.” Among other words of wisdom, she shared the following in her speech about her life:
“I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain…. without being homeless. I was the biggest failure I knew.”
Rowling came out of her failure stronger and more determined, which was the key to her success. She also shared the following profound words during this speech:
“You might never fail on the scale I did, but… failure… is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”.
There are many examples of people from all different walks of life who failed, but who were resilient enough to stand up again and become successful. You and I are no different from them, and there is no reason why we can’t follow in their footsteps. If you are successful at self-leadership, then you are resilient and strengthened against difficult experiences.
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius
Stress and burnout
Stress will always exist in some form or other. We can’t wish it away – it is a part of our human existence. It does not help if someone tells us not to stress, as, unfortunately, there is no stress off-switch. The stress monster will haunt us until the end of our days.
Teaching, or telling ourselves to stress less is not an easy thing to do. I instead prefer to focus on how to deal with it. That, I think, is the trick… The better we control the stress monster, the more we can marginalise its effects in our lives, and the more successful we can be at achieving our personal goals.
The better we are at managing our stress levels, the more resilient we will become when handling life’s challenges. If we don’t actively work on managing our stress and finding ways to reduce it, then we will never be able to take charge of the stress monster, which will eventually lead to burnout. Each of us is unique, and it is therefore important that we find our own, unique ways to manage our stress levels, apart from the obvious things, like enough sleep, eating healthily, taking supplements, trying to laugh more, and spending more time with family and friends.
“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” – Lou Holtz
Hekkie van der Westhuizen, PhD
“If you are interested in the topic of Self-Leadership, please look out for my exciting new Self-Leadership book, launching in August 2021”