What is Resilience?
Resilience is the ability to bounce back. To turn obstacles into opportunity. To reach inside, dig deep, and find the motivation to keep on going. But there is more than one kind of resilience. And some have more than others.
Resilience can be Taught
In order to talk about resilience, we first have to talk about vulnerability. Brene Brown, renowned psychologist and researcher, defines vulnerability as “…uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.”
As humans, most of us have a moment of what I’ll call ‘existential crisis’ between the ages of three and seven. Something happens and we realize that Mom and Dad can’t protect us from everything—that we are vulnerable. This is a moment of crisis, but also a moment of potential, because, as Brown says, vulnerability is, “the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity.” Vulnerability is a window into our humanity. It is about letting ourselves be seen. We can’t access our vulnerability if we are being inauthentic. And we can’t access resilience without vulnerability.
For many people, there is a counterpoint to that existential crisis moment. This counterpoint moment is sort of like a light switch being turned on. As Christian Moore, the author of “Resilience Breakthrough,” says, “Becoming resilient starts with the realization that the adversity you experience—any pain, discrimination, or challenge—can be converted into a powerful fuel that can actually bring opportunity.”
For many that counterpoint moment, that potential is realized fairly quickly and we begin to develop resilience. But if this doesn’t happen naturally, there’s good news. Resilience can be taught. Dr. Carol Dweck at Stanford University backs me up on this with 20 years of research. In her book Mindset: The new Psychology of Success, Dweck explains that the only requirement is a growth mindset. She defines this mindset as, “the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.”
In fact, we all have resilience—it’s just a matter of knowing ourselves well enough to observe what kind of resilience we have and how to channel it. If we haven’t discovered it yet, this could be the moment—this global crisis could be an awakening in many ways. An invitation, first, into vulnerability, and then into resilience. For others, it is an opportunity to exercise their resilience and expand what they are already in touch with.
Resilience in Action
About ten years ago, when I was living in LA, I was doing an agent showcase. At the time, I was a struggling actress, desperate for representation. I had a terrible crush on my scene partner—we would flirt shamelessly during our rehearsals every week. A friend told me he had a girlfriend, so I asked him about her, and sure enough, he did. And yet, he was flirting with me as if he were single and available! He was leading me on. I was a little miffed.
The next night, we were to put up our scene for the agents. I had a lot at stake and I really wanted to do well. We showed up at the studio and were alone in a room running our lines. And in that moment, this man looked at me and said, “You want me so bad, and everybody knows it—they can smell it on you.” Wow. How dare he? Yes, it was true—if he were single, it might have been a different situation. But he wasn’t. I was humiliated. I was furious. But I said nothing.
I remembered hearing Alec Baldwin, the actor, say something many years prior about how he handles adversity on set. “Use it,” he had said. Whatever happens, put it into the work. So I did. I put it all into those lines. I channelled it in a way that made it work for me. We brought down the house. And after that, I was civil to him, but I didn’t engage with him any longer and I didn’t explain myself. I just walked away. He ended up getting an agent. But I got something better. My dignity. Because of my resilience. Because I was able to take Alec Baldwin’s suggestion and use it.
The Four Types of Resilience
Four weeks ago, I began a free live Zoom group called “Thriving In Captivity,” where we discuss the same topics I’m writing about here. If you’re interested in joining, you can email me directly for the link at email@example.com. And the videos for each week are posted on my Instagram page. This week in our Thriving in Captivity group, we’ll be talking about what Moore calls the four types of resilience:
- Resource Resilience
- Rock Bottom Resilience
- Street Resilience
- Relational Resilience
In my performance for the talent agents, I used street resilience. This type of resilience comes from a defiant feeling towards skeptics and adversity that makes you think, “Oh yeah? Watch me.” It’s taking a “proving-the-doubters-wrong” point of view. You won’t break me.
Resource resilience, on the other hand, is about using what you have available to you—whether that’s the contents of your bank account, your connections, or your knowledge base—whatever resources you have at your fingertips. Right now, for example, I see a lot of people using the internet as a resource. What have I got going for me?
Rock bottom resilience is about accessing hope when all hope seems lost. One thing to understand about “rock bottom” is that the definition is really personal. It’s about a moment when a person feels they just cannot continue with the status quo—that things simply cannot continue as they are. This is probably happening all over, certainly in the medical field right now. Innovation is a must. When we cannot go on as we are, we go on as we never have before. There’s nowhere to go but up.
And relational resilience is about people. This is the one that most everyone has access to. It is the bedrock of all resilience. And as a coach working with relationships and recovery, I can tell you that this type of resilience comes up a lot for those of us on the path toward wellbeing. We can do lots of things that seem impossible for the love of another. When people are counting on us, we fight like hell. In my career, I’ve seen many people get sober because of someone they love—their children, spouse or parents. Sure, there comes a point when a person must internalize that outer motivation and make it inner motivation—which is to say they begin doing it for themselves. But if doing it for a loved one gets them in the door, they’ve got a chance at making it. I’ll do anything for love.
Diane Coutu wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “Resilient people have very sober and down-to-earth views of those parts of reality that matter for survival.” That about sums it up.