What is resilience?
I always call it ‘the ability to bounce back from obstacles’. Then, during COVID, I realised resilience isn’t always about the bounce back. Sometimes it is about the climb or the crawl.
The MLK quote – “If you can’t fly then run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl; but by all means, keep moving.” – comes to mind.
So, ‘true resilience’, therefore, is simply about getting back up. Moving forward. Making progress. Sure, but there’s a little more to it than that…
Resilience is progress towards a goal.
But progress towards what?
It’s hard to practise true resilience without a target.
King Solomon writes – ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish…’ Proverbs 29:18 (NKJV)
Sometimes perishing isn’t a physical death; it’s more like a spiritual, emotional, mental death. Without a vision, without something beyond today to live for, tomorrow feels… pointless.
So, to be able to practise true resilience, a goal, a vision, a purpose is paramount.
That’s why, as bizarre as this may sound, resilience is really easy(ish) to practise as a world-class athlete.
The goal is set for you, as is the timeline and, in some respects, the team and the path to achieve the goal is quite evident, too. I won’t delve into what that looks like in this post, but I share more on high performance teams and success protocols in my corporate workshops.
For example, this year, some athletes have missed out on the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary (myself included) for a variety of reasons. Injury. Poor performance. Peaking at the wrong time (e.g. Alex Bell). Selector’s preferences (e.g. relay teams are not always formed of the top 4 fastest men or women in the country! And sometimes the lower-placed finishers at UK Championships are selected ahead of higher-placed finishers…).
So, what’s next?
Missing out on the fulfilment of a goal is definitely an L, right? It’s definitely an obstacle or adversity to overcome, right?
I’m not sure what that may look like in your life or career. Perhaps a promotion that you were passed over for. Perhaps a job that rejected you. Perhaps you didn’t get the A-Level of GCSE results you were hoping for. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…
But the beauty of having breath in our lungs is this – tomorrow is another day.
Resilience is adaptation of the goal.
My mantra in 2016, after rupturing my achilles tendon and what I believed at the time to be the death of my Olympic dream, was – ‘The best is yet to come.’
I actually had to repeat that as a daily affirmation and scribble it down around my room and home because, on many days, it was difficult, almost impossible to believe.
But, the best was yet to come.
I created a business.
I re-established myself in Manchester with friends and my church-home.
And I ultimately returned to the track and my Olympic dream became a reality.
I got way more than I expected!
But my intention was truly to quit, to retire and to stay retired. I didn’t plan to come out of retirement. So…
Is quitting resilient?
Hmmm… this is why this question about ‘true resilience from the perspective of a world-class athlete’ requires detachment from a label of a title or position. True resilience is moving forward beyond the entanglement of who you are equating to what you do, and moving forward as a human being – independent of a title (i.e. human-doing).
Quit the title, but never quit on yourself.
True resilience is moving forward. Full stop. True resilience is getting up. Full stop.
And sometimes, resilience requires a shift in the vision, a shift in the goal. A shift in the title or position you currently hold.
That may not be a forever thing; it may simply be for a season. (E.g. my retirement from sport in 2016 didn’t last forever.)
But, to wrap up this excerpt on ‘true resilience’, I am keen for people to understand this – resilience is not moving forward with a brave face and chin up.
Resilience is emotional.
Resilience requires you to first feel all the feels, acknowledge the pain and the hurt of the adversity – the anger and frustration of missing out and even feeling like ‘life is unfair’, if that’s what you need to say aloud at first.
Resilience allows you to mope for a moment.
Let me put it this way – as an athlete, when you suffer injury, you don’t immediately bounce back or move forward. You physically can’t.
You are forced to pause, and sometimes even to break down more, so that you can build back up on a more solid foundation. Sometimes a surgeon has to go back in to cut and prod and shave down bones, tendons, ligaments… The repair is painful. You can’t skip that step. So why try to skip that step emotionally, mentally, spiritually?
That’s the part I love to surprise people with when it comes to true resilience from an athlete’s perspective.
But, when you do it right, the messy climb also becomes a beautiful testimony.
The Resilience Challenge
So, let me challenge you with this simple, but effective three-step plan I use when working with my coaching clients –
- Identify where you are (and who you are) right now
If you’re down and out right now, take a moment to feel the pain, dig deep into it, seek therapy if you need to, journal, talk with a trusted friend (please not just social media!).
Then, build from that solid foundation of having the reality check and knowing where you are.
- Identify where you want to go and who you want to be in the future
When you know where you are, figure out where you want to be. Is it the same vision and the same title or are you making a shift? Remember, even in the shift, you’re still you. You’ve perhaps grown and changed, but don’t let the beatings harden you. As I heard my Pastor Paul Reid state the other week – ‘move on with a thicker skin and a softer heart’.
Okay, so you know where you are and where you want to go. You know who you want to be.
- Identify how you plan to get there
Now, you get bold and get connected with the right people to guide you; your resilience recovery team is just as important as your high performance team when you’re back on top! (Because you WILL be back on top, my love.)
And equipped with the wisdom and inspiration provided from your brilliant recovery team, create a plan of action. And… move forward. One step (or leap, if you’ve got it in you!) at a time!
Please remember, the best is yet to come. I hope you can believe that.
P.s. This post was in response to a question one of my workshop clients had submitted ahead of our session in April! If you’d like to have an AskAbs feature, drop me a message.