By Stacey Lindsay
The ideal existence of recent years, born of a desire to stay afloat in this world, is resilience. We know we need resilience to get through and remain buoyant. But where does resilience come from? Is resilience an inherent character trait, or do we acquire it?
Quite the opposite, says Taryn Marie Stejskal, Ph.D. tells us that resilience is the essence of being human. “You’re already resilient,” she writes in her new book, The 5 Practices of Highly Resilient People: Why Some Flourish When Others Fold. “How do I know that? Because you have survived every rejection, disappointment, loss, hurt, and turn of events in your life—and you figured it out,” she says.
Stejskal’s intrigue for resilience began nearly two decades ago when she was a graduate student and later a neuropsychology fellow. Through interviewing hundreds of people along with examining her own lived experience, she began to notice commonalities amongst how people effectively faced life’s inevitable moments of challenge, change, and complexity, which she deems “The 3 C’s.” This led to found “The Five Practices of Highly Resilient People”— the top ways that create a more positive and productive outcome when addressing adversity.
We spoke with Stejskal, who is known as “Dr. Taryn Marie,” about why resilience is both critical and misunderstood. As she tells us, “The Five Practices” are a blueprint for facing difficult times, when “we get to be reminded of the inherent strength and talents that live within us.”
A CONVERSATION WITH TARYN MARIE STEJSKAL, PH.D.
The word resilience is tossed around a lot these days. How do you define it?
Resilience is effectively facing those key moments—challenge, change, and complexity—and allowing those experiences to enhance us rather than diminish us.
Perhaps more simply, resilience is taking the hard things in our lives and allowing them to make us better.
Why is cultivating our resilience important today?
For many, we tend to imagine that in life, things will get easier. But in fact, what has happened, especially in the last couple of years, is that it feels to many people that life has gotten harder. It’s gotten more uncertain, more ambiguous, and scarier. And so we’re at odds with what we had imagined the trajectory of our life would be versus the reality of our experience. Add to that the volume and intensity of The 3 C’s—challenge, change, and complexity—that we have today is really intense. So the tools and the strategies that we’ve had, the coping skills, either aren’t working, or they aren’t working as well as they used to.
You write that there are five universal resilience practices— vulnerability, productive perseverance, connection, gratiosity, and possibility. Why is vulnerability so critical?
The next most misunderstood element of all of this is vulnerability. Brené Brown has paved the way to make vulnerability part of the ethos of our dialogue. Yet, when I’m speaking to large groups of people at organizations, I ask, ‘Who here is living their most fabulous, vulnerable life?’ Almost nobody’s raising their hand. We recognize the value of vulnerability, yet very few people are actually doing it. This is really an aha moment for people. It’s common to think of resilience as being like Teflon—movable, stoic, having a stiff upper lip. Since a lot of people still fear that their vulnerability will be seen as a weakness, they don’t think about vulnerability as being a part of resilience.
The first thing to know about vulnerability is that in its purest form, vulnerability is not degrading or disparaging ourselves. It’s not like going back to middle school and being the first to point out our faults before anybody else. Vulnerability is about allowing our inside self—our thoughts, feelings, and experiences—to match the outside self we’re sharing with the world as closely as possible. The closer the two selves are—the inside self and the outside self the world sees—the greater congruence we have within ourselves.
Vulnerability is important when we’re facing challenges for two reasons:
First, when we allow people to see what’s happening for us on the inside, we receive more support, resources, and information. We have an opportunity to allow others to see and understand what we are going through, which helps us more effectively navigate The 3 C’s.
Second, when the inside self and the outside self do not match one another, we’re running two human operating systems simultaneously. This means that when we’re facing hard times, we’re burning our energetic capital twice as fast when we need these energy reserves the most. Vulnerability is an important and foundational practice of resilience because it allows people to see, know, and understand the adversity we’re facing, along with giving them an opportunity to support us.
How can we begin to practice greater vulnerability to then cultivate our resilience?
You can start with a personal vulnerability audit. Reflect on: Where are the places, and who are the people with whom I’m demonstrating vulnerability? Where is my inside self congruent with my outside? What are the environments, and who are the people with whom I am not demonstrating (as much) vulnerability? Do your answers reflect that you’re engaging in vulnerability in many places in your life. Or maybe you’re not demonstrating vulnerability in your life to a significant degree at all. If you are engaging in vulnerability in some aspects of your life, reflect on how you might like to expand those places and people with whom you are vulnerable. When we’re already engaging in vulnerability in one area of our lives, we have the opportunity to examine how we can translate that capability to other parts of our lives.
You write that resilience is an active process that doesn’t always feel good. What do you mean by this?
Yes, facing The 3 C’s is difficult, and demonstrating resilience doesn’t always feel good because we’re navigating a difficult time. There’s this sense that if we’re doing something good for us, in this case, practicing resilience, it will feel good. But in fact, it doesn’t always feel good by virtue of whatever the issue is at hand. We often don’t see the full complement of our strengths, our talents, or just how savvy, thoughtful, and tenacious we were in that moment, often, until we’re on the other side of it.
I had a personal experience that encapsulated this for me: As a Masters swimmer, one year at Nationals, I was in my first trimester of pregnancy with my oldest son. I felt awful. I was nauseous, out of breath, and constantly dehydrated. Not really an ideal state for me to complete at my peak athletic performance. Yet, that year, I swam some of my best times. I didn’t feel good in my body, but I competed well. Just like my first trimester symptoms at Nationals, challenge doesn’t make us feel good, yet, we can still effectively navigate challenge and create good outcomes, even though demonstrating resilience feels tough and uncomfortable in the moment.
We get to relieve ourselves of the notion that we’re somehow doing something wrong if demonstrating resilience doesn’t feel good. Just because it doesn’t always feel good doesn’t mean we’re not doing resilience right.
You say another myth about resilience is the idea of “bouncing back.” How do you reframe that?
I don’t know when bouncing back became synonymous with being resilient. If anyone has read just one article about neuroplasticity, we know that every experience changes us down to the cellular level by way of our neurons rewiring, reshaping, regrouping, and regenerating in response to our experiences. So why would we ever expect to go back to the way we were, when we know that we are fundamentally and forever changed by life? Resilience is not about staying the same, but instead, about evolving and allowing ourselves to be changed for the better. Instead of seeing resilience as going back, as bouncing back, we get to understand that resilience is about harnessing the wisdom, growth, and perspective we earned amidst adversity and going forward, bouncing forward, incorporating what we learned.
Lastly, you created the concept of a “reverse bucket list.” Walk us through this.
We know that a bucket list is a listing of pleasurable things that we want to do and experience during our time on this planet. As I’ve had the good fortune to be able to do some of the things on my bucket list, I’ve realized that I learned more from the hard times I went through than the pleasurable times. Yet, I thought: How often do we feel ashamed about our challenges or the things we’re facing? Unlike our bucket list items, we’re not often broadcasting the tough moments on social media.
However, those moments are often the most expansive and instructive. So, I created the reverse bucket list, which invites us to look at the challenges that have come up in our lives and reflect on what these times taught us. To better understand our reverse bucket list moments, we can ask ourselves: How has this challenge formed me for the better? How has it shaped me into the person that I am today? This allows us to cast a new light on the challenge and to begin to look at it as an experience that’s part of our formation. Then we can celebrate what we learned from the reverse bucket list moments. We’re not celebrating the hard things that happened, but we’re celebrating what we learned.
Click the book cover to purchase your copy!
Taryn Marie Stejskal, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized expert on resilience in leadership and in life. She is the founder of the Resilience Leadership Institute (RLI) and has led executive and global leadership development at Nike and Cigna. You can order her book, The 5 Practices of Highly Resilient People: Why Some Flourish When Others Fold, here, follow her work on Instagram, and watch her TED Talk here.