| Sep 15, 2022

The Missing Piece to Understanding Resilience

It’s a concept in psychology that has perhaps never been more relevant, but trying to reclaim what was lost after challenge or upheaval misses its true meaning.

As an entrepreneur or leader, the road to success is almost never smooth: You might face learning challenges like Richard Branson, abuse like Oprah Winfrey, or even get kicked out of your own business like Steve Jobs. Resilience subsequently becomes a key determinant in whether you achieve what you set out to accomplish. But you might need to reexamine your understanding of what resilience is if you don’t want to sell yourself short.

Don’t Just Bounce, Adapt

Around the water cooler, resilience means the ability to bounce back. It is using a survivor mentality, great emotional regulation and problem-solving skills, self-compassion, social support, and other tools to face problems head-on and recover. Do this well and you won’t lose much, if anything at all.

But the problem with this traditional definition of resilience is that it skips a key element that the American Psychological Association uses to explain the term: Adaptation. Put another way, resilience requires thinking or doing differently and being flexible. If you simply return to where you were using the same old train of thought or habits, that’s not resilience. It’s just recovery.

Accepting a Different Path

True resilience isn’t just bouncing back. It’s changing, which doesn’t always get you to a previous state or hedge against loss. In some cases, resilience means ending up in a dramatically different place than where you were and that your life never will be as it was. 

One professional who discovered this firsthand is Amanda Wigal. As told in Supersurvivors by David Feldman and Daniel Kravetz, Wigal suffered a traumatic brain injury in a boating accident. Prior to the accident, she had owned the small promotional products company, Brandables. But the company was far from Wigal’s identity, and in fact she hadn’t enjoyed her previous work there as an employee. After the accident, however, Wigal needed a goal to orient her recovery around. Returning to the helm of the company became that goal.

To get back in charge, Wigal first had to accept significant help from her mother. She also had to form carefully constructed daily to-do lists, relearn basic math skills, and completely reorganize herself with whiteboards and sticky notes so she wouldn’t forget client information. On top of everything, because of the Great Recession, she faced new economic hurdles that would make any professional sweat. Because she needed the company to stabilize her, she refused to let it fail.

And it didn’t. 

Wigal’s accident fundamentally changed her, resetting her priorities and how she maneuvered through the day. Friends who had known her as a party girl left, and she had to get comfortable enjoying her own company. She could not proceed as she once might have. But showing true resilience, she succeeded on a different path.


Embracing Your Own Resilience

All too often, leaders who encounter struggles are not clear on the difference between recovery and resilience. They believe that, if they can just overcome enough to get back to where they were and press forward with their original goal, it’s enough. As a result, they can fail to see viable alternatives that, instead of surviving, mean thriving.

Approached properly, resilience delivers a person affected by upheaval or challenge to a self that can achieve more, influence more profoundly, and maximize whatever strengths and resources they have. It unlocks who they might be in a way that ultimately delivers deeper fulfillment and joy. To ensure you have the right mindset about it, ask yourself: 

  • In what ways are my challenges a benefit? How do they teach me or enable a new way of doing?
  • What makes me capable of walking a different path than what I first imagined?
  • How can I use this as an opportunity to connect and/or help others?
  • What do others say I could do?
  • How can I lean on my previous or new core values despite the limitations I now might face?

Grab What is Potentially Better

When hardship hits, it’s understandable to look back and resist change. That’s particularly true if you have connected your goals to your sense of self. But without change, resilience doesn’t really exist. It requires letting go. Embrace that and you might just access a life that’s significantly better than the one you had been pursuing. 

Wanda Thibodeaux

Opinion Contributor, Strixus

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux is a freelance writer, editor, and podcast host based in Eagan, MN. view profile


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