Reflections on Resilience

Although I’m physically fit and love mountain biking, I “retired” from my favorite hobby earlier this year For most of my adult life, mountain biking has been my favorite hobby. Unfortunately, it has not been without consequences – five years ago I hit my head on a tree while biking. This incident has had an impact on my life ever since.

After hitting my head, I immediately didn’t feel right. A few days went by after the incident, and I still didn’t feel good. In addition to being lethargic, I was having difficulty thinking clearly and processing information. About a week after the incident, a strange new symptom started – I became perpetually dizzy. While my other symptoms have lessened over the years (although not completely) this sense of dizziness has become a constant in my life, even now as I write this paragraph.

In spite of the chronic nature of my symptoms, for years I’ve been focused on achieving a full recovery. No matter how slow or incremental my improvements were, I could see and feel them over a several month period. Lately, however, I have been stuck and have even regressed because of mountain biking.

Twice this past year, I have had setbacks: one came after falling hard on my side which resulted in whiplash; another happened after a light hit to my head on a small branch. Years earlier I would have felt no effect from these incidents, but now in my more fragile state, any little bump to my head or jolt to my body can cause my symptoms to worsen. After several years of trying to keep my mountain biking hobby, it became clear I needed to turn to a safer activity for exercise – so I’ve started running.

Resilience requires acceptance of a new normal and a willingness and ability to adapt.

The fact that I’m now running surprises those closest to me because I’ve always disliked it. However, I’ve embraced the change and the challenge – I’m reading about running, working on goals to get better, and even investing in the right clothing and gadgets to help me be a better runner. In quick order, I’ve shifted from being a mountain biker to being a runner. I do miss mountain biking, but I’ve accepted my circumstances and have adapted.

What is Resilience?

I remember the first thing someone said to me after hearing my concussion story and subsequent challenges: “Wow. Randy, you are really resilient.” The notion of me being resilient caught me by surprise – I hadn’t thought of my experience and new reality as a story of resilience. One of the common themes I’ve found in most resilient people is that they don’t initially think of themselves that way. They are too busy living life – despite whatever circumstances they find themselves in – to consider themselves resilient.

I’ve also initially struggled to think of myself as resilient because I’ve always felt there are far too many people with more significant struggles than my own. Clearly I don’t own the market when it comes to adversity and resilience, but my understanding of it doesn’t merely come from my personal experience – it also comes from the various stories of resilience that surround me.

The definition of resilience is “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”[1] As I thought and read more about resilience, I started to embrace my own story. For me, resilience means going on in spite of – it is about being able to persevere in the face of adversity. Resilience requires acceptance of a “new normal” and a willingness and ability to adapt. Those who are resilient get up, move on, and continue living – often in less-than-ideal circumstances, and sometimes with significant limitations.

Acceptance and Adaptation are Key to Resilience

A key attribute of all resilient people is that they have accepted their situation and adapted to their difficult circumstances. For me this has been demonstrated in my transition from being a mountain biker to a runner. I’ve also been forced to adapt how to work as a result of my ongoing symptoms because I don’t have the energy I used to.

I have always been a driven and productive person, so much so that these values have become part of my core identify. And while my drive and ability to remain productive is still intact, it’s at a far lower level than it was before my concussion. I simply can’t work at the intensity I used to, both because of lower energy levels and that one of the key things that makes my symptoms worse is working on a computer.

I have adapted to this reality by changing how I think about productivity. Being productive is less about how long I work or how many things I get done, and more about what I get done. I now choose to focus most of my energy on meaningful and important tasks (like this book) and less on the multitude of meaningless items that used to fill my to-do list. I’ve learned that while I don’t have control over how many things I can accomplish in any given day, I do have control over where I focus my energy.

Resilient Organizations

The same insights related to my personal experience and understanding of resilience also apply at an organizational level. When faced with challenges and difficulties – whether they’re financial, legal, natural disasters, or otherwise – an organization’s survival and ability to preserve is dependent on their acceptance of the situation and willingness and ability to adapt.

The first thing that resilient organizations need to embrace is an actual acceptance of whatever situation they find themselves in.

Organizations that approach difficult challenges with an attitude of “Let’s just wait it out” are not accepting their new reality. They are instead putting their heads in the sand and denying that things have changed. Instead of innovating and adapting, they are stuck and at risk of not surviving. The first thing that resilient organizations need to embrace is an actual acceptance of whatever situation they find themselves in.

The second thing they must do is adapt. Like individuals, a common theme of resilient organization is that they don’t think of themselves as resilient – they are too busy working and innovating despite whatever circumstance they find themselves in. Going on in spite of is key for any organization’s survival. Regardless of what difficult situation you find yourself in, keep moving forward. Don’t give up or wait for things to get better – doing nothing is not an option.

At both a personal and organizational level, resilience is an important quality. Always remember that no matter our circumstances and in spite of our struggles, we still have the freedom to choose. Freedom to choose our attitude, freedom to choose how we respond to our circumstances, and freedom to choose what we do next.

[1] Merriam-Webster, “Resilience,” accessed December 9, 2020, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/resilience.


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Randy Grieser, Author, Speaker

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