When I first started school at five years old, I used to get upset when things didn't seem to go my way. If I tripped in the playground, dropped my snack, or didn't get to play with my best friend, it seemed like the end of the world.
In middle school, the situation was similar. I'd get upset in math class because I couldn't understand a formula or equation, I was reluctant to admit when I'd made a mistake, and being picked last for soccer practice was a catastrophe. As an aside, I still don't understand math… but somehow it doesn't seem so important any more!
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't a difficult or particularly sensitive child, I just wasn't very resilient. I didn't have that ability to bounce back from problems, setbacks or challenges that some children seemed to have, and I took feedback personally. For example, some of my classmates could be given a detention one day and be back to causing mischief the next, without a care in the world. If my teacher kept me after class, I'd worry for days about what I'd done wrong, and I'd wonder whether I was permanently relegated to my teacher's "naughty list."
Fast forward to high school, and things began to change noticeably. I started to become more confident, both in my academic ability and in myself. Once I'd got past the initial fear that I wouldn't be able to keep up with my peers, I started to enjoy my classes and found that I could contribute just as much as everyone else did. I didn't worry so much about what other people thought, and it felt great!
It helped that I had a fantastic, supportive, close group of friends around me, who would stick up for me no matter what (even when I was the one in the wrong!). With a support network like that, I felt like nothing bad could happen, and that it'd be easy to fix it if it did. Problems and challenges started to seem less significant, and much more manageable.
With my new-found teenage confidence, I also developed a certain stubbornness and a perfectionist streak (which my closest friends and colleagues may confirm still exists today!). This allowed me to take constructive feedback on board, and I'd vow to improve my work, and get it "right" and impress my teachers, rather than feeling deflated and giving up.
Finally, and most importantly in my opinion, I had a defined goal to work toward for the first time. I wanted to get good grades, so that I'd be accepted at university. Then, I wanted to complete my degree, so I could get a good job. When I was younger, I felt like I was completing assignments and homework for the sake of it. Now, though, I was working toward something real and tangible, and the sense of purpose spurred me on.
Today, I think of this feeling of confidence and having the ability to bounce back as "resilience." I work hard to keep my resilience levels up, partly because I remember what it was like when I had little, and partly because I know it's important for my career and for keeping me on track to achieve my goals.
Sure, there are days when my confidence takes a hit, I feel like I don't have anyone to talk to about a work problem, or I lose sight of my goal. Those days are tough, but I've tacked up a few mantras above my desk to remind me that it's not as bad as it seems:
When I have a difficult day, I repeat these to myself, I ask friends or colleagues for advice, I remember what I'm working toward, and I remind myself of the positives. After all, it's just a bad day. It's not the end of the world!
We all possess some degree of resilience, but some of us can draw on it more easily than others. And some of us, as I know well, can develop it. Take this quiz to discover how resilient you really are, and find out how you can bounce back from setbacks, develop a solid support network, become more flexible, and take on challenges. By doing this, you can become more resilient and more likely to succeed, despite the challenges you face... whatever they are.
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