Building Resilience, by Abby Jandro from Serendis.
"In 2014, I had my first miscarriage. It was a devastating event for me that represented a loss of possibility, broke my belief in my body and shattered my confidence. My grief grew in its intensity as infertility became more and more my reality. I felt wholly unprepared for the all-encompassing world of ‘trying to have a baby’, and the fact that it was my body that was presenting the challenge. Everywhere I looked I was reminded of my inability to conceive and successfully maintain a pregnancy. On Facebook pictures of babies were everywhere. I would meet up with friends who would happily announce their pregnancies as I would smile with a broken heart. At dinners people would ask, ‘when are you two going to have kids’ to which my husband and I would hum and ha our way through an answer. It’s an experience that I would not wish on my worst enemy."
A year and a half of doctor’s visits and one surgery later, my husband and I did successfully fall pregnant with our son. Our joy was immense having this extremely wanted baby in our lives. And then a year later, we learned a new term, secondary infertility. This is when you aren’t able to sustain a pregnancy after the birth of a child. Yes, there is a term for it! Over the last few years, we have experienced three more miscarriages, a second surgery and explored other options for expanding our family. At this stage our journey continues.
This experience and challenge with building a family is by far the biggest, most prolonged and most trying adversity I have faced in my life. While some people have faced more difficult experiences, and some less, we all have faced something that deserves the label adversity or even tragedy. The death of a loved one, the breakdown of a relationship, unexpected loss of a job or prolonged illness to name just a handful. Adversity is inevitable. To live a life that is full and meaningful, that has purpose and intensity, you are going to face adversity.
To say that this experience was or is separate from my work would be naïve, as it would be for anyone experiencing something huge in their personal life. My work is a big part of my life, and I have the honour to support many amazing people on their career and leadership development journey. To be fully present and take steps forward during the most difficult times felt almost impossible.
Resilience in the face of adversity is a common statement, but what does it really mean? Resilience put most simply is the ability to effectively cope with adversity (big and small). It is characterised by your ability to bounce back, persist and find solutions to challenges.
Not every adversity is as monumental, prolonged or obvious as what I have described. In the workplace it can look like being passed over for a promotion, having a project cut, not winning a piece of work, experiencing a restructure or even receiving some difficult feedback. It is these situations that present us with the best learning ground for the biggies.
After a recent workshop I facilitated on developing resilience, I was approached by a Director in a large global organisation. She said the workshop had come at a perfect time for her. There had been numerous changes to structure and approach in her organisation, and it was unsettling everyone. Her next statement was a golden one, “It was good to remember just how resilient I am”.
Wow. How true, and a great place to start. Resilience is always present at some level. You can think of it like a pond that is consistently fed by a brook. There is always some level of water in the pond. In dry years, the water level may drop, just as in tough years your resilience may feel thin. In rainy years the water level rises, and it is of course then that it is best to prepare for the dry season.
So, how do you fill that pond and build resilience?
Dr Jeff Schwartz, a neuroscientist from California that we collaborate with at Serendis offers a four-step approach that you can put to the test. The concept is called Self-Directed Neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is our brain’s amazing ability to rewire and take on new functions based on changing needs. The practice of Self-Directed Neuroplasticity involves focusing your attention and exercising choice around where you put your mental energy.
To start, think of a recent experience at work that tested your resilience. What were some of the thoughts and feelings that automatically surfaced?
1 - Relabel
Identifying an unhelpful thought and labelling it as just that is the first step. Common ones include but are not limited to ‘I’m just not good enough’, ‘This negative feedback means that I’ve failed’, or ‘I can’t make a mistake or there will be serious consequences’. Did you have unhelpful thoughts that surfaced in the situation you identified?
2 - Reframe
Putting a new frame around the picture is the next step. This involves recognising the assumptions driving the thoughts and identifying a different more helpful way to think about the situation. Instead of not being good enough, a more helpful frame may be, ‘I can see areas to improve in X and Y, yet I have accomplished Z quite well’. Instead of feedback equalling failure, perhaps ‘there is something great I can learn from what this person has said, what do I need to do now?’ What is a more helpful frame for your situation?
3 - Refocus
Actively choosing to put your energy and attention on the positive frame is the heart of this step. You do have a choice. It’s not always easy in the beginning, but with practice it can become habit. Choose the message that will best support positive beliefs and purposeful action. What does this look like for you?
4 - Revalue
Understanding where this situation fits with respect to your resilience, values and life is the final step. It involves finding meaning in the event and placing it appropriately into the scheme of things. Often one small situation does not add up to much when you are considering it across a career or a lifetime, and this can be helpful to recognise. Identifying lessons learned and opportunities gained makes this situation a valuable opportunity to practice building your resilience. Where does your event fit in your career and life, and what have you learned?
As a final note, while I suggest using this process on smaller events to begin with, it has helped me with my big one. Recognising the unhelpful thoughts about what infertility meant about me and working to shift this thinking has led to a much more balanced and fair approach to the situation. And now with some time and perspective, I am able to recognise the gems in the muck. Most notably, the support of family, friends, colleagues and professionals. I am kinder to myself and able to be more compassionate with others, and I am immensely, indescribably grateful for what I do have.
We are all resilient, and with a little time and energy you can be become even more so. Remember to be patient with yourself as you learn and start practicing today!
Abby is an experienced coach, consultant and facilitator who has worked with organisations ranging from small start-ups to Fortune Global 500 companies. With a supportive, straightforward approach and results-oriented attitude, she is driven to help clients reach their full leadership potential.
Abby holds a PhD in Organisational Psychology and leads Serendis’ research initiatives. Most recently this work has culminated in the validation of our Inclusion360 assessment for leaders and the development of Inclusion Pulse, an organisation and team level culture assessment currently entering the validation phase. These digital tools assist clients to understand how they can create more inclusive workplaces and truly maximise the diversity of thinking and experience within their teams.
For more information on the services Abby and Serendis offer, please visit www.serendis.com.au.