Keys to Resiliency


Resiliency. It’s a broad, fancy word which simply means your ability to bounce back after difficulties, disappointments or tragedies. It’s a fundamental skill, yet it’s not something any of us are taught. We sometimes learn by example, seeing how our parents or other family members react to situations, but most of us learn to navigate resiliency through trial and error.

When people think about being resilient, they think about recovering from big life challenges, events like job loss, accidents, illness and death. We all know people who have been through these challenges (in some cases, we ourselves are those people) and we know some people who recover quickly and some people who stay stressed out, indecisive, sad or depressed.

But resiliency is also important in the workplace. How do you react when you give your all, only to have your boss be unimpressed? How do you react when a project you’ve been working on for weeks or months get shelved? How do you feel when you are the catalyst for a team project and someone else takes most (or all) of the credit for your ideas?

Many people will tell you that you just need to “get over it” and move on. But pretending you aren’t upset, or feel slighted or belittled, only delays the inevitable: you blow up (usually at someone who had nothing to do with the situation you’re upset about), or you break down (crying, yelling or worse). The key is to recognize these feelings and find ways to cope with them in the moment (or soon after) to ensure you bounce back quicker.

We all know people who are incredibly resilient. And it isn’t that nothing affects them; it’s that they have a tremendous ability to recover from disappointments and move forward. The most resilient person I know is my 95-year-old Aunt Mae. She recieved a college education in rural Georgia in the 1950s and single-handedly raised her daughter after her husband suddenly died.  She has outlived ten of her 11 siblings (she’s the oldest) and, until his death seven years ago, took care of her 103-year-old father-in-law. From my perspective, life has been pretty hard on Aunt Mae, yet she is the happiest, most content person I know. How is that possible?

I’ve talked to my aunt about her life over the years and what I’ve realized is she’s mastered the keys to resilience:

  1. Take a minute — When something traumatic (and only you know how you define this) happens, take a minute to get your bearings. Don’t run out and make any immediate decisions. Give the logical part of your brain a minute to regroup.
  2. Let go — Whatever happened, you can’t change it. Whether your project was pulled, you had a meltdown with your child or someone close to you died, what’s done is done. Accepting what happened will go a long way toward recovering from it.
  3. Forgive — Letting go and forgiving are two different things. Just because you accept what happened as fact doesn’t mean you’re ready to forgive (your boss, yourself, the universe). But forgiveness is the next step in recovery.
  4. Ask yourself the hard questions — Once you have let go and forgiven you are now in a good intellectual and emotional position to start asking questions. What could you have done differently? (If the answer is nothing, that’s fine!) But being able to see where (or if) you went wrong is vital.
  5. Don’t ask questions for which there are no answers  Sometimes, there are questions people frequently ask and find there isn’t a good (or sometimes any) answer. So what’s next? If you ask yourself questions for which you know there are no answers, you’ll just be frustrated and angry, which are two emotions that are not conducive to the healing process.
  6. Don’t miss the lesson — In nearly everything that happens to us that we perceive as negative or bad, there’s a lesson; and many times, we are too caught up in our pain and anger to see it. There’s an old saying that “history repeats itself because no one listened the first time.” That also applies to learning from our mistakes.
  7. Move on — You have been working your way toward becoming resilient in steps one through six, and now you are ready to move forward.

Remember resiliency is not automatic. It is a conscious choice that will require time, commitment and energy. You will likely not go through the seven steps without setbacks, bad days and frustration. But if you practice, commit and follow through, you will become a resilient person who can handle anything life throws at you.

Kim Martin-Haynes is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Rosalinda Banegas

I recently did research for a paper on Homeland Security Securing Cyberspace and Critical Infrastructures From Terrorists Threats. Structural as well as operational resilience is imperative to decrease the probability of disasters. In my opinion, we should apply resilience to every facet of our lives. To survive disaster and learn from it is key. Great piece.

Sharese Williams

Great article! Absolutely true! Resiliency is as equally important in our professional lives as well as our personal lives. The seven keys listed are very on point! Thank you!!!