Perhaps you can think of a time when you felt that all odds were against you or that there were barriers at every turn. For some, discouragement sets in, and people stop in their tracks not knowing how to go ahead. For others, setbacks are simply speed bumps along the way to the planned destination. They may slow down a bit, but then they carry on. They are resilient. Given that resilience is obviously a desirable trait, it is a curiosity to consider what circumstances or experiences contribute to this response.
After decades of research, the good news is that resilience does not come from rare or special qualities, but results from the everyday human interactions that occur in relationships in families and communities. These interactions allow people to adapt when there are disappointments, leading to coping mechanisms that build capacity and skills for future similar events. The task, then, is to try to sort out what works for or against success for particular people in a given set of circumstances.
Researchers point out that resilience can be learned but that it is something that cannot be taught. It is an ability that evolves as situations arise, actions determined, decisions made and setbacks resolved. In workplaces, resilience can be fostered through stretch assignments that allow people to test their limits while developing new coping skills through adversity or failure.
In listening to a recent interview, a research scientist commented that his life was largely a life of ongoing failures since every new idea had to hold promise or be abandoned. This was acceptable and ordinary for him and did not diminish his obvious enthusiasm for his work. In the same interview, the researcher remarked that we have no idea what we are capable of until we try something new – anything new. With this in mind, stretch assignments seem a winning strategy to develop individual resilience and future leaders.