The Rewards of Bouncing Back

By James Gelatt

Perhaps because people who work for nonprofits generally do not seek monetary or other material rewards that characterize the for-profit world, the need to be resilient may be especially important.

Resilience—not experience, not what you know, not what you have learned how to do—will determine who succeeds and who fails.

So, how resilient are you? I’ve compiled this quick survey, drawing on material from sources as divergent as American Psychological Association, Web MD, and the Resiliency Center. Answer on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 = “That’s not me at all;” and 5 = “That’s me exactly.” Be honest. No one is looking.
  1. I am usually optimistic. I tend to see the glass as half full.
  2. When times get tough, I have a network of friends to whom I can turn ”“ and do turn.
  3. I don’t beat myself up about mistakes. I “cut myself some slack.”
  4. On a regular basis, I set aside time to keep in shape mentally, physically, spiritually.
  5. I have what I would consider a playful, childlike curiosity.
  6. I’m flexible, mentally and emotionally.
  7. I trust my “gut.” I think we can know as much from intuition as reason.
  8. I have a solid foundation: I know what I can do and do well, and I’m willing to take on challenges.
  9. I have a clear sense of where I want to go ”“ but I’m able to adapt to the winds of change in getting there.
  10. I believe in something larger than self. I can’t necessarily tell you what it is, but I believe that there is more to life than just making it through today.
How did you do? A score of 40 or better suggests you are really quite resilient; 31 to 39, hanging in there. And below 30: been there. I know how you feel. Time to do some things to rejuvenate your mojo.

The good news is that there is evidence we can do just that ”“ improve our resilience capacity. Drawing on what experts have had to say about how to become more resilient, consider the following.

Focus. Know what you want and be able to articulate it. It’s not about being open to any opportunity but rather knowing what you love doing, what you do well, and who you know who can help you get there. If you are thinking of making a career change, understand what will be required. (I know. That sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes we overlook the obvious.)

Reseed and cultivate. What skills do you want to enhance? Whether you are planning (hoping?) to stay where you are or want to move on, it’s time to revisit what you do well, and how you can do it better; and what you have always wanted to learn and just haven’t gotten around to.

Let’s stop here. If you are serious about improving, you need to carve out the time. Carve out a place. Change your shirt. And then some.

Carve out the time. It can’t be sometime ... next week ... I’ll get to it. If you want to learn Spanish or take a course or improve your writing, you’ve got to commit time to it. Set aside the time on your PDA, calendar, whatever. If you don’t block out the time, it won’t happen.

Carve out a place. You are not going to learn something watching TV. There is no such thing as multitasking. If you want to get serious, find a place that you dedicate to the objective. It could be your car, a Starbuck’s, a library (preferable).

Change your shirt. Seriously. Pick out something ”“ a shirt, a blouse, something that you put on that says: “I’m at work.” And wear it only when you plan to be there.

Take care. It’s also important—I know, you’ve heard it before, but that doesn’t make it any less true—it’s also important to take care of yourself, mentally, physically, spiritually.

Mentally — Daryl Connor, author of Managing at the Speed of Change (1992), found that resilient people consciously built up a resiliency reservoir. They did it by reading, painting, listening to music, kicking back, doing nothing. We almost never do nothing. Do we really need to be texting while we are walking?

We all want to stay informed, but news programs (or so-called news programs) which focus on the confrontational can make you feel that nothing is going well. Watching a news report once makes sense. Watching the same news on four different channels just raises the stress level.

Doing nothing includes getting enough sleep. Not only does sleep repair the body physically, it makes us less grouchy and more alert. Both of which improve our attitude, which in turn improves our resilience.

Physically — You know all the reasons why it’s important to exercise, and you feel good when you have done so. Carve out the time.

Spiritually — There needs to be something larger than self. I’m not talking about organized religion necessarily, although that’s certainly one path. We need to believe in something beyond the day to day. In her research, Harvard’s Diane Coutu found that resilient people possessed “a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful.”

We all need an anchor. It can come from volunteering or practicing Yoga or singing in a choir. If you don’t have an anchor, find one.

Connect. Research shows that people who have strong family ties and good friendships are less likely to get sick, even if they work in dysfunctional organizations. By contrast, loners are more susceptible to crack under difficult conditions. Having friends not only provides an outlet, it gives us balance. It’s a way of reminding ourselves when the situation at work is oppressive that ”“ hey, maybe I’m not crazy.

Satisfice. Satisficing means “I can live with it.” Satisficing occurs when we opt for a course of action that may not be the ideal but is acceptable. In other words: Cut yourself some slack. Forget about the dust bunnies and play a game. Forget about raking the leaves; play in them.

Laugh. There may be no better medicine. It worked for Norman Cousins. When he was told that he had a terminal illness, Cousins designed his own healing regimen which included a positive attitude, faith, and lots of laugher ”“ especially Marx Brothers comedies. Cousins wrote: "I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep...When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval."

Commit to your own self-renewal. To coin a phrase, resilience is a journey, not a destination. John Gardner said it well in his book, Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society:

“The future is shaped by men and women with a steady, even zestful confidence that on balance their efforts will not have been in vain. They take failure and defeat not as a reason to doubt themselves but as reason to strengthen their resolve. Some combination of hope, vitality and indomitability makes them willing to bet their lives on ventures of unknown outcome...First and last, humans live by ideas that validate their striving, ideas that say it’s worth living and trying.”

You are resilient if you want to be. Enjoy the journey.

James Gelatt is the author of Managing Nonprofits in the 21st Century. Republished with permission from Contributions Magazine. A free subscription is available by clicking here.