Finding ways to be resilient during times of adversity
During the past two years, I have met with public servants from across the federal government through the Partnership’s leadership development programing to discuss the concept of resilience. Through these discussions, I’ve seen the importance of defining resilience as both the ability to tap into a well of inner strength and as a process of adapting in the face of adversity.
While the journey to develop resilience is deeply complex and personal, the lessons we learned from these conversations highlighted four key areas that may help you build up your inner strength and effectively adapt to adversity.
- Learn from others – Many individuals in our leadership groups heeded advice from early in the pandemic to connect with friends and loved ones to provide supportive environments for one another. An unexpected highlight of these connections emerged in the inspiring stories they shared with each other. These included stories about a grandmother stitching together clothing for her siblings during the Great Depression, a young neighbor overcoming cultural barriers as an international student and a single father navigating the world of virtual classrooms. These stories served as powerful lessons of endurance, flexibility and personal growth. They also demonstrate the impact of curiosity and allyship in creating inclusive environments, even when those environments are restricted by technology and distance. Rather than seeing resilience as something done on one’s own, our discussions emphasized the idea that reaching out to others created important bridges of support and that “the strength of others gives us strength.”
- Reflect on your path – Several individuals who began feeling overwhelmed with a sense of frustration or fear during difficult situations countered these emotions by creating moments of self-reflection. Simple, daily acts of journaling, meditation, prayer or 15-minute walks allowed them to think back on their life experiences and the challenges they had overcome. These memories often provided a boost of confidence by helping them rediscover how they responded effectively to difficult times and how they could take those lessons learned and apply them to their current situation. As one participant said, “Reminding yourself where you’ve been helps you see a path for the road ahead.”
- Find your focus – Early in the pandemic, one individual shared the idea that, “Accepting change is a part of life. It’s one of the most difficult things that we are constantly asked to do.” This comment prompted many in the group to talk about the need to focus on the daily areas of life that they could control. Activities such as naming potential issues, identifying the impact of those issues, brainstorming healthy responses and assessing one’s responsibility to be a part of the solutions are helpful ways of finding areas of control in one’s life. Some participants indicated they would ask themselves, “What is a piece of a problem that I can tackle right now,” or “What is one thing I can accomplish today that will help me towards my goal.” Through questions like these, individuals were able to set aside the weight and frustration of the unknown and put their energy and attention into productive and reaffirming areas of their life.
- Consider your limits – A theme that appeared in our most recent discussions centered on the idea that building resilience is like strengthening a muscle in the body. It requires patience and consistency and could suffer from setbacks. When individuals felt less resilient, participants talked about the importance of knowing their limits: when to reach out to others, when to step back from stressors, when to take care of their body and when to rest their mind. By knowing their own limitations, they could weather difficulties and adapt their strategies accordingly.
As we close out 2021, the lessons learned from federal employees across the country demonstrate how these key areas – learning from others, reflecting on your path, finding your focus and considering your limits – can help us as we each prepare for a new year filled with possibility and uncertainty.
Janira Garcia is a former member of the Partnership’s Public Service Leadership Institute team.