Building Resilience

"When you’re going through hell, keep on going." - Winston Churchill

With all respect to Mr. Churchill, moving forward can be easier said than done. Dealing with adversity or change can be isolating and wear you down emotionally and physically. It often reveals your growth opportunities and who are your true allies and friends.

One is never fully prepared for adversity or change, but you can better position yourself to deal with them ahead of time by focusing on three things.

Continually renew, up-level, and create new skills.

Skill enhancement allows you to remain relevant, and more likely, you can bring value to an organization when facing adversity or change.

I remember talking to a mid-level attorney, "John," who was comfortable and was not interested in advancing. I mentioned how he needed to up his game just to stand still. John did not believe me. Six months later, he called me when management eliminated his job.

It is not just about preservation. Tackling new skills gives you the ability to draw from different experiences. And the more you take on new assignments, the easier it is to adapt during turbulent times. One woman, Rose, I worked with, was with an organization going through a significant re-organization, and she called me up to thank me for pushing her to take on new things. Rose told me by doing this- there were more opportunities for her in the re-org, and she felt more comfortable saying yes to things that she had not done before.

Resiliency builds up in your body when you take on new challenges. When you triumph, you know you are capable of more, and when you don't, you realize that having failure is not the end of the world.

Mindset is Critical.

I am not, by nature an optimist. I tend to see the worst-case scenario playing out. I do this so I can be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. And I have trained myself to be more optimistic. Why?

The studies show that more optimistic people are more resilient. 

And while there is a genetic aspect to optimism, you can still train yourself to think more positively.

Being optimistic does not mean that you look at the world through unrealistic rainbow glasses. It only means you approach difficult situations more productively. An added benefit is that you will have less stress and anxiety.

Here are a few ways to increase your optimism:

  • Re-frame situations in a positive light
  • Surround yourself with more positive influences
  • Think of difficult times that you came through and how you benefited
  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Appreciate what you can and cannot control
  • Focus on how to solve the problem, not the problem itself
  • Imagine how your life will be when you emerge successfully
  • Act as your best self/leader would in the situation.

Take Control

When we are facing a challenge or adversity, we feel out of control, and there is nothing that we can do to move forward. Most of the time that is not true.

And it is crucial to take action – even if that action is not 100% successful. 

The mere act of taking action, whether getting feedback or talking to a mentor, can make a huge difference mentally. You should also reflect and applaud any progress you make... and I mean any.

A law firm attorney I know, Barbara, was shocked when her entire team left her at her firm. She relied on the team to give her business. Her firm gave her a few months to show that she could develop business on her own.

Barbara, at first, was panicked, and then she told herself focusing on "woe is me" was not going to help her. Barbara drafted a plan and started acting on it. She made a list of contacts and then started dialing the phone. With each call, her confidence grew. This was true even though she was not getting business from the calls yet. However, she recognized that people were happy to hear from her and were potentially interested in working with her. Barbara then started getting a few follow-up calls and meetings.

At the end of the time, she had gotten a little business from one of these calls and had a roadmap she could share with the firm to develop more business. They kept her on, and Barbara's book of business continued to grow. In speaking with Barbara, she will tell you how that day when everyone abandoned her felt like the worst day of her life, and today she will tell you it was the best. Barbara took that day and built her own book and now she controls whether she works at a firm - not someone else.

To get to the other side of "hell" - it is critical that you build skill, become comfortable trying new things, adopt a positive attitude, and take action.

Because as Churchill also said:

"Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

So if you "remain calm and carry on," you will become more resilient and better able to navigate change and adversity successfully. 


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Sheila Murphy

Founder of Focus Forward Consulting

For over 20 years, as a former senior legal officer for a Fortune 50 company, I successfully developed, coached and transformed talent in corporations and law firms, as well as...