Dump The Dictionary and Learn The True Meaning Of Resiliency

Resilience is a way of walking though life.  As I explored the wisdom we all get in hindsight, I realized that there is another word we might use: PREsilience (preventive resilience). These are skills and actions that can be cultivated, developed, and taken BEFORE necessity strikes. It is about being pro-active and prepared.  If not prepared and proactive, your head will resonate with after-the-fact “if onlys.”

In short, human resiliency is far deeper and more all encompassing than how the dictionary defines “resilience.”

Definition of RESILIENCE from Merriam Webster:

1: The capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress.

2: An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

Inherent in the first definition is the notion of returning to an original size and shape. This might be true for bent metal, but it is not enough for people in this global 24/7 world.  In fact, the common phase, “bounce back” works for tennis balls, blow-up clowns, and trampolines but not for the human system.  Instead, true resilience is the ability to grow forward through challenge or opportunity, becoming wiser, smarter, stronger, and better able to create a sustainable future.

There is NO bouncing back!  No! Not! Never! Going back to an original state might feel comfortable but it denies the very opportunity of personal and organizational growth. In a constantly changing world, returning to old habits, old structures, and old behaviors can actually be counter-productive. Growing forward contains more power.

Today, resiliency also means one is willing to turn right when everyone else turns left. It implies courage, tenacity, and taking the uncharted course.  For an individual, it also means listening deeply to one’s inner voice rather than the chorus that surrounds you.

The second dictionary definition is hampered by the words “adjust easily,” “misfortune,” and “change.” Let’s examine those words.

Resilience is seriously hard work, requiring body, mind, and spirit to be engaged. It requires learning from errors and that takes humility. It can take collaboration and connecting with others and that takes interpersonal skills.  Some parts might be easier than others, but all adjustment requires effort.

“Consider the fact that maybe God closed the door because He knew you were worth much more.”
– Seth Adam Smith

“Misfortune” is a word that belittles the tremendous turn of events many of our brothers and sisters face on a daily basis. My friend W. Mitchell – an amazing keynote speaker – leaves audiences spellbound with his story of losing his fingers, his face, and suffering 3rd and 4th degree burns over most of his body, only to become a paraplegic four years later in a plane crash. One would never call these accidents “misfortunes.” Call them horrible. Terrifying.  Life-threatening. And ultimately, Mitchell took these events and shaped his life in ways to make him more powerful than ever before.

“We always experience anxiety when faced with opportunity.”
– Sam Horn

Likewise, great opportunities rather than “misfortunes” might demand our energy, strength, determination, and courage.  It takes resilience to find the resources to build an incredible cardiac hospital network like Narayana Hrudayalaya in India (a 98% success rate in cardiac surgeries), or to seize the worldwide need for potable water and create-as Matt Damon did with Water.org.

Lastly, there’s Webster’s phrase “recover from… change.” Such a catchall statement! There are many kinds of changes and some don’t require “recovery” but rather rejoicing.  Think of the birth of a child, a long-awaited promotion, a move into retirement, a wedding day, and perhaps the momentous day graduates throw up their mortar board and declare themselves free of college (even if burdened with debt).

Resilience is about sustaining an organization, a life, a relationship.  Resilience is complex, multidimensional, personal as well as professional.  It’s about growing through the dark night of the soul and finding sunrise on the other side.  Presilience is practicing it now, building pre-emptive resources within yourself, your organization, your world.

This article was originally published on Eileen’s website, and is reprinted with permission.

© 2017, Eileen McDargh. All rights reserved.

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