If you were anywhere near central Indiana last winter, you learned how to become an expert at dodging potholes in the streets. Eventually, you probably memorized the locations of the worst holes and learned how to dodge them effortlessly, just like learning a waltz or ballet.
Or maybe not.
Thankfully, the holes on the road where I live were patched fairly quickly, but now there is about a mile-long segment so filled with patches that driving on it has a certain off-road quality to it. I thought perhaps that section of the road might be completely repaved. Instead, a sign was posted that reads, “Uneven Pavement.” It immediately brought to mind the famous Bette Davis line from the movie “All About Eve:” “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” Forewarned is forearmed.
If only we could have a heads-up before encountering uneven pavement in life — perhaps then we could be more resilient when hitting our personal rough patches. According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, significant sources of stress or potholes. (Okay, that last item wasn’t on their list.)
The good news is that resilience is a quality that can be learned. Because everyone is unique, different combinations of steps may be necessary for each individual to learn to become more resilient. Below are some tips to increase your “bounce back abilities.”
Resiliency begins with flexibility and adaptability. It may sound like a simplistic comparison, but it can be helpful to think about how nature survives a storm. Trees that can bend during strong winds survive much better than those that don’t. If you tend to be more rigid in your approach to life, it would be helpful to learn some flexibility. I know a person who is somewhat of a micromanager. When he asks his assistant to complete a task, he becomes frustrated when that person doesn’t approach the problem exactly as he would. Many times there are multiple ways to accomplish the same goal. No single approach is right or wrong. Some may be better than others, but the bottom line is not to get bogged down in the minutiae. In short, learn to let go. Don’t become wedded to a “my way or the highway” mentality. Doing so can alienate your team members, and sooner or later, you won’t have a team — which brings me to the second point …
Cultivate a strong network of support. Resilient people have a supportive group of family, friends and co-workers to lean on when things get rough. The people we surround ourselves with can make a significant impact on our lives. Positive attitudes can be infectious. A support system of positive people who can help to build you up during hard times can make a world of difference for your own attitude and outlook. Resilient people tend to maintain a more positive outlook and cope with stress more effectively than others. It is also important to ask for help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to lean on others during bad times. They want to help you, just as you would want to help them if the roles were reversed. For some people, it is difficult to ask for help, but doing so can be a significant boost to your ability to survive times of uncertainty.
Learn to embrace adversity. Not a single person can escape adversity, because it is part of life. While some people try to hide from the bad times, fearing confrontation, resilient people see difficulty as a challenge, not as a permanent condition. Even though a situation may seem overwhelming, learning to view it as a series of smaller parts that can be dealt with one at a time can help you to work through most difficulties.
Keep things in perspective. This is one of the most important lessons to master when it comes to developing resilience. The ability to maintain perspective when those around you can’t is a true talent. My grandma always said, “It takes all kinds to make a world.” Generally speaking, when she said this, she was referring to people who had no common sense and who could take any problem and blow it out of proportion. These people are out there. They get worked up over the insignificant — and they work in your office. Don’t let their unfounded worries and fears have a negative impact on you. Take a step back, a deep breath and a fresh look at whatever problems you may encounter. Troubling issues often aren’t as bad as they seem, or as bad as they are being portrayed.
Accept that change is part of life. Nothing lasts forever, and because of that, you will have to face the unexpected from time to time. Learning to “roll with” unanticipated events or outcomes is a skill that can help you both personally and professionally. The world will not end if your Plan A does not come to fruition. Just dust off your Plan B and forge ahead.
If you can master some of these skills, you will improve your ability to negotiate whatever life places in your path.•
Jonna Kane MacDougall is assistant dean for external affairs and alumni relations at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. A professional career/life coach, MacDougall can be contacted at 317-775-1804 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are those of the author.