I was at a recent company event, something I’m privileged to join and which champions women in business. I generally love these sessions as they have someone from the company or a successful business, usually the higher echelons, come and share their wisdom and experiences. The topic for this one was about resilience and confidence, the latter summarily distilled to simply the Australian motto ‘give it a go’. However, it was the resilience side that piqued my interest.
At the end of the discussion there were plenty minutes left over for questions, and since I was sitting on the front row, I out my hand up – if I hadn’t been sitting on the front row, I’d have probably chickened out since unbeknownst to me probably another 150 people had arrived behind me. The question I asked was an important one for me: has your resilience ever been broken and what did you do to recover? Naturally it wasn’t as straight-forward or as elegant as that, and being the first question and absolutely naïve to the microphone, I had to say ‘is this thing on?’ <sigh>. One of the leaders promptly smiled and responded ‘every day’, and the other relayed a time that they had a challenging time at a certain point but they got through it. Neither really helped, but perhaps it was too much of a public forum to announce. It would have taken a lot of courage.
Having been through an arduous time personally, I wanted much more of an answer, for I am one of the ones that broke. Not for any cataclysmically awful reason, just that lots of things ran away from me at the same time and I felt I couldn’t cope. I lost confidence in myself and my abilities, and after having always thought of myself as resilient (I’ve even presented presentations on it in the past) and able to conquer anything, it was a foundering of myself and my abilities. Oh, and it hurt like hell. Like having your brain torn apart and wandering around in a shell of yourself. I distinctly remember being on a conference call, one of the 9 or 10 that day, and someone pinged me a messaging app from a Senior HR role asking some usual business type question. Within 3 lines I was telling someone I barely knew that I was about to cry. There are a myriad of reasons and points leading up to that moment, but I knew then that I was fucked.
A few years ago a colleague put it to me that you wouldn’t trust someone to build you a bridge if they’d never done it before: it was the experience that you needed. Not the theory, not the reciting of dissertations, best practice or quotations of famous architects, it was the person that had gone there and built the damn bridge. So back to the leaders teaching of resilience. How much advice can someone offer you on resilience and confidence, if they have never not only had their resilience tested, but found the limits of their resilience?
Learning About Yourself
For me, a year and a half on, there is still real fear and a real sense of confidence loss. Thoughts that it will happen again are common, and it is scary. It’s the realisation of vulnerability, finding you’re not invincible and can break. You’re not infalliable. This may seem obvious, everyone knows they can fail, but experiencing it is another.
One thing I did take from the talk was of survival. I made out alive with a few mental scars to help me along the journey next time, and the end results mean that mentality needs to be treated like a muscle: it needs to be flexed, but also nurtured. Do things that push yourself to your limits, but also take time to massage that big brain and let it have a rest day. Meditation, music, sleep, relaxation, something to take away the every day stresses.
In turn, what have I learnt about my own resilience? That I have limits.