There was something special about Marlene Chase, who served as editor-in-chief of a national magazine where I used to work as an associate editor. When a crisis (like a technology breakdown) hit and we didn’t know when the problem would be solved, she set the mood for our whole department to remain calm. When we got tired of dealing with uncertainty about articles that came in past deadlines, she motivated us to stay flexible and positive. When we wanted to express ideas but were uncertain how good they were, she encouraged us to share and listened with respect.
It wasn’t that Chase didn’t get stressed, fatigued, or discouraged herself. In fact, she faced all of those feelings. A widow with a disabled son, she knew what it was like to live with the pain of grief and sorrow every day. A creative person whose vision for the magazine involved some controversial changes, she experienced the challenges of getting others on board with innovative ideas. A quiet and humble leader, her talent was sometimes overlooked, yet she was able to achieve great goals despite her challenges. The reason: She was a resilient person.
She showed me that resilience, more than most other skills, was essential to success in the workplace. In the years since I worked for her, I’ve learned that resilience is the most powerful skill to have when dealing with uncertainty in both our professional and personal lives.
Learning how to be a resilient person — someone who can manage uncertainty and recover from adversity well — is crucial because it develops our inner strength. Challenges and crises will inevitably hit everyone, and we can’t always predict when they’ll come. Only those who have developed resilience are strong enough to navigate themselves (and others they lead) through uncertain times well.
Think about all the uncertainty you face on the job. How do you deal with the uncertainty of working for goals you can’t be sure you’ll reach, because of stressful demands and distractions that slow down your progress? How will you manage surprise budget cuts or staff changes? What will you do when you encounter unexpected problems on a project?
Now think about all the “what ifs” in your personal life. What if you get sick or injured? What if a close friend or family member dies? What if you can’t pay your bills? What if you can’t find a spouse — or you do, but your spouse betrays you? What if one of your children gets into serious trouble?
The questions can go on and on, because uncertainty lurks in the background of every part of our lives.
Thrive Global founder and CEO Arianna Huffington insightfully pointed out the importance of resilience for people navigating uncertainty and challenges in her recent article “The Resilience Imperative: Collective Resilience Begins at Home.” She describes how problems such as fear-mongering and scapegoating can spread through workplaces and cultures like wildfires — causing tremendous damage — if we don’t build resilience. But resilience, she writes, empowers us to stay healthy by acting like an immune system boost preventing unhealthy attitudes and behaviors from damaging us. Just like germs, uncertain circumstances will always surround us, but we can stay strong despite its presence by tapping into our resilience.
Huffington will deliver a keynote speech at the Leading to Well-Being Conference in April, where leaders and learners will discuss the latest research and innovative ideas about resilience. The many well-being practices that she’s an expert on (such as getting enough sleep) are powerful ways to become more resilient. So, too, are other aspects of resilience that will be covered, like understanding how the human brain works, choosing positive emotions, discovering a sense of purpose, and dealing with change. Learning how to become a resilient person in these uncertain times involves assembling a toolkit of options that we can use to build inner strength. I’m looking forward to the conference to add more tools to my kit and keep building resilience.
Recently, I’ve experienced lots of change in my life — and with change, comes uncertainty. I’ve started a new job. My daughter has left home and started college. A myriad of other changes have happened in my life, and I can’t reliably predict how any of those situations will turn out. But there’s something I can count on, for certain: I can be resilient, no matter what the future holds.
We will face many different types of uncertainty in our lives. But we don’t have to let that reality cause us to worry. Resilience will give us strength to carry on with confidence in the face of any type of uncertainty!
Whitney Hopler works as Communications Director at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being (CWB) and has written for many media organizations, from About.com to the Washington Post. Connect with Whitney on Twitter and connect with CWB on Twitter and Facebook.