The HR Juggler

Resilience and Reinvention

Posted on: June 12, 2011

Resilience…can you learn it? That was a question posed to me this week and it got me thinking. Whilst I have no doubt that individuals can develop the quality of  resilience, I am not at all sure that they can be taught, beyond potentially providing some tools and techniques to facilitate an individual’s self-awareness.

The word resilience originates from the mid 17th century and derives from the Latin ‘leaping back.’ Referring to a substance or object’s ability to spring back into shape after bending, stretching or being compressed, and also the quality of an individual to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions, it is now frequently used in a business context, in particular as a trait that we admire and expect in our leaders. It is interesting though to note that resilience in this context does not suggest that someone has a super-human ability to rise above the stresses that others feel, more that they can take the pressure on board, accommodate it as part of themselves and remain true to their values and personality and not be ground down by the difficult external factors.

In my experience, most of the resilient individuals I have worked with have a high level of self-awareness and are conscious of their ability to work within the pressure and stress of the environment, without fully absorbing it or becoming crushed by it. They are able to deal with change, be flexible and pragmatic and maintain an optimistic and self-confident, driven outlook. But at times even the most resilient of people suffer setbacks and can lose confidence temporarily. In my view it is at this point, the recognition of things having gone wrong, the humanity and humility that goes alongside this, to learn from their mistakes and, in time, the ability to reinvent themselves and eventually ‘leap back’ to their true self that makes this quality of resilience so valuable and sets those that have it apart from their peers.

So, can you teach it, does one learn it from experience or is resilience an innate ability? I’d love to know what you think.

15 Responses to "Resilience and Reinvention"

Hi Alison,
Great question. This may not answer it directly but here’s where my mind went when I read your post.

Rather than a quality that is either present or not present, I think that resilience fluctuates in direct correlation to an individual’s confidence level in any given situation. So if we can identify an area where a person has demonstrated resilience in the past – we can help them find commonality with the current situation and ask them to extend their resilience quotient.

Thanks for opening this up for comments.

Thanks for commenting Susan and for sharing your thoughts on this

Hey Alison,

Good post and a topic I have been musing myself for a little while.

I dont think that you are born with the ability to be resilient. I dont think its a skill you’re born with at all – to me its more a process that we learn.

As we go about our day-to-day lives we come across situations where we need to be able to cope; to be able to navigate our way through the mire to get back to a semblance of what we consider normality.

When we are hit with these situation we learn how to cope / man up / be resilient through trial and error. What works for one person doesnt necessarily work for all.

At an individual level it’s all about how to best protect yourself whilst promoting your own well-being. However to be able to do this you need to be aware of your self; a concept which I dont belives comes naturally to all. Another topic that gets mu thinking!


Really good points Mel, thanks for popping by. Interesting to note that the individual level can work the other way round too: promoting yourself in a business context whilst protecting your own well-being.

Great food for thought – thankyou.

Hi Alison,

I agree with Susan here and would add some mulling thoughts;

I believe that you can teach it, learn from experience and have an initial innate resilience (looking at child psych. developments)

However, as adults it can become harder to learn; I would say that it depends on existing base levels for attachment, initiative and self-control and if the values of the organisation and leadership styles complement where the individual is at.
I’ve come across few confident individuals who think they can make a difference, have healthy boundaries, are not afraid of initiative and understands that self-control develops over time. How all this is communicated, managed and perceived over a period of time is another matter!

Thanks for opening the floor.

Thanks for commenting. I definitely agree that many of these type of things are easier to learn as children. Lots to mull over 🙂

I may be wrong, I often am, and I think you learn it from your experiences. And your ability to show resilience does depend on other stuff going on around you. At least that’s how it feels to me. My Mum’s death helped me to face up to loss. And yet there are times when I don’t cope very well. These times are usually stressful and I think we can only manage so much. This is not the same as the vulnerability we are willing to expose when with trusted friends. Then – when loss and other things manifest themselves that feels (to me at least) a strengthening thing.

I’m going to stop now – going round in a nice circle 🙂

Cheers for the blog post!

Thanks Doug – I think you are much more often right than wrong with your comments and the one above is spot-on 🙂

A good read Alison, and is in line with a post I wrote not long ago on it –

Thanks Sukh and also for the reminder of your post which I loved reading at the time and have just enjoyed revisiting. The bucket analogy is very true.

I think resilience is a very learnable and teachable set of skills. However, you have to be very open to seeing adversity as a teaching moment – that there is something to be gained from almost every experience.

Great post!


Thanks for popping by and commenting Bobbi

Resilience and responsibility go hand in hand with Collaboration and Compassion.

With Resilience you develop your ability to respond and be response-able. Compassion towards yourself nurtures resilience so you can handle more responsibility.

When you are compassionate towards yourself you can collaborate with yourself.

When you can collaborate with yourself you conserve energy that can be used to show compassion to others and help them collaborate with themselves. By helping people to help themselves you help them exercise the response-ability that will build their resilience.

So these four pillars are what holds not just you but your social circle and at a wider level, the whole of society.

Jazz Rasool

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