Resilience – “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”.

Resilience is that quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes. Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after misfortune, resilient people are blessed with such an outlook that they are able to change course and soldier on.

“Success hardly ever comes overnight – it comes from having the resilience to pull yourself up, reboot your resolve, turn failure into opportunity, and give it another go.”  Richard Branson

We all can become more resilient.

One way to build resilience is avoiding the secondary stresses in life.  These secondary stresses come about when you stress yourself over not getting what you expect or stress yourself over feeling stressed! The less you trouble yourself about unattainable expectations, the less needless stress you’ll experience. Procrastination is a great example of a secondary stress. First, you worry about not doing something you should do. Then you continue to procrastinate. The stress of the unfinished event stays with you. Eventually, the stress wears you down. Another example is worrying about things you cannot control.  The psychologist Amos Tversky knew that pessimism was a secondary stress. He once said, “When you are a pessimist and the bad thing happens, you live it twice.  Once when you worry about it and the second time when it happens.”

What are the secondary stresses you have in your life?  Might you try to handle some of them?

“Resilience won’t make your problems go away — but resilience can give you the ability to see past them”

It is clear that job seeking and career planning require resilience. There are a lot of rejections. It seems to be a roller coaster ride of good days and bad days. It can be very stressful to put yourself out there. Good ideas and good opportunities materialize and then disappear. Just think about how hard it is having to respond to friends and family who ask, “how’s it going?”.

So I will leave those of you who are job seekers, or anyone looking to improve their resilience, with these six tips from the Mayo Clinic on dealing with adversity.  They really fit in any circumstances.  For the job seeker, they are the elements everyone preaches.

1)Get connected. Building strong, positive relationships with loved ones and friends can provide you with needed support and acceptance in both good times and bad. Establish other important connections by volunteering or joining a faith or spiritual community.
2)Make every day meaningful. Do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose every day. Set goals to help you look toward the future with meaning.
3)Learn from experience. Think of how you’ve coped with hardships in the past. Consider the skills and strategies that helped you through rough times. You might even write about past experiences in a journal to help you identify positive and negative behavior patterns — and guide your future behavior.
4)Remain hopeful. You can’t change the past, but you can always look toward the future. Accepting and even anticipating change makes it easier to adapt and view new challenges with less anxiety.
5)Take care of yourself. Tend to your own needs and feelings. Participate in activities and hobbies you enjoy. Include physical activity in your daily routine. Get plenty of sleep. Eat a healthy diet. Practice stress management and relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing or prayer.
6)Be proactive. Don’t ignore your problems. Instead, figure out what needs to be done, make a plan and take action. Although it can take time to recover from a major setback, traumatic event or loss, know that your situation can improve if you work at it.

Being honest with myself, I am doing pretty good on all of them but #1 and #6.  I guess those two are the things to work on!




A man’s got to know his (self-imposed) limitations

Perhaps the title of this post is familiar to you as a slight modification to the classic Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” quote (“A man’s got to know his limitations”).

Many people know that I am a runner.  Talking about running the other day led me to think about limitations and how they apply to so much of life.

A couple times a year my son, Nathan, and I run a race together. (Note: By this, I mean we are running in the same race, not “together”.  Nate is way faster than I ever was). The shared experience is great.  There is always plenty of time for talk before the race about race strategy . . as well as life.  And we generally find a way to have a post-race beer or milk shake – or both.

Nate and I were talking about our upcoming big race in May in Fargo, North Dakota.  As we got talking about running, Nate asked me about my training and my goals.  To paraphrase the conversation, upon hearing my modest goal and current SLOW state of training, Nate challenged me.  He told me I could run “that fast” for an entire half marathon (13.1 miles) right now. He continued with saying that another 12 weeks of training ought to make me much fitter and faster. Even though I have only managed to run 3 miles at the goal pace so far, Nate had an entirely different view – I can go faster – even though I am the one experiencing my own training.

It challenges my assumptions about me – and what I am capable of

That is one of the things I love about running, and having someone to talk about running with.  It challenges my assumptions about me – my limitations, my “giving in” to aging, my general attitude.  I “know” what I am capable of. Nate is a 20-something who is a talented runner and still has running potential to fulfill.  The ravages of time have not caught up to him.  Maybe I am right about my running capability.  But waaayyyyy more interesting is this: what if Nate is right?  Might I be self imposing limitations on myself? Might the pain of pushing harder be some artificial barrier?  Might challenging myself to be a little more uncomfortable be a ridiculous barrier?  If I could run a few seconds faster per mile, wouldn’t that be success?

That got me thinking about our self-imposed limitations in all facets of life.  Often these limitations are well meaning.  They are based on facts we have collected and experienced.  They might be the result of learning from hard work. Perhaps we are pushing ourselves to the limit. On the other hand, might that limit be artificial?  We are “too busy” to do something (yet we have time for Facebook).  We are too tired (yet we binge-watch Netflix).  We don’t want to think about some potential change (even though the status quo is sub-optimal). In preparing for a race, it hurts to run a speed workout.  The pain is real.  But might there be more there?  Is there an adjustment – physically or mentally – that might push me a little further to go a little faster?

How about you?  I honestly believe everyone one of us sets a limitation in what we can do, whatever the task we are working on.  Maybe it is a work duty.  Maybe it is a personal goal like connecting with a friend or eating better or more family time. We know, through repeated effort and personal reflection that we have “done our best”.  We couldn’t possibly do any more.  But is that real or is it a mirage?  Is that limitation the result of “giving in”?  Is it some part of our mind or body telling us, “this is all I can do”?  Have we ever paused to scrutinize that thought or feeling? Have we ever spoken it out loud to another person and absorbed their reaction?  I know in my case, it is a mixture between “Nate is nuts, he doesn’t understand how much slower we get when we age” and “Hmmm, maybe I can change my training a little bit to see if I can get faster”.

Now the inner dialogue has changed from “This is my limitation” to “Is there something more?”

The word “limitation” can be defined as something that is the “utmost extent” or as far as we can go.  But it can also be defined as something that “bounds, restrains, or confines” us.  This second definition leaves open the chance that we can break out of the confines we have set.

I would like challenge you to look at something important to you.  What is the limit you have set for yourself?  Might you be able to do it better?  Are you willing to think of it as a limitation, rather than just conceding it is “reality” or “where I am today”? Are you willing to speak about the limitation to another person and consider their feedback? I do not think you have much to lose.  You can try to get past that self-imposed limitation.  If you do, you win.  If you don’t get past the limitation, you still win.  Because you have challenged your own perception and done something about it. Who doesn’t like a win/win situation?

I’d love to hear about a self-imposed limitation you are going to tackle.

Who is the villain?

In his book, “I wear the Black Hat”, author Chuck Klosterman admits to a little story about himself.  I am usually drawn to stories an individual tells where they put themselves on display as an example for the rest of us.  They are a role model.

Klosterman (now in his 40’s) says: “I’ve had the same archenemy since eighth grade.  He’s a guy named Rick Helling”.  Klosterman mentions that Helling ended up pitching in baseball’s major leagues for a few years and met with success.  What made Helling his archenemy was this: “I went to a basketball camp with Rick Helling in 1985 and he was the single worst person I ever met.”  He ends that paragraph with this sentence to make sure we all understand the depth of his anger: “As long as Rick Helling walks this earth, I shall never sleep soundly”.

So what made Helling “the single worst person”? He was a jerk in eighth grade.  He was physically more gifted than other boys his age, so he did whatever he wanted in the camp.  He did not listen to instructions from the camp counselors.  He complained about the officials.  To Klosterman, Helling was “an egocentric bully.” Okay.  So 25+ years later, Klosterman still holds this deep hate in his heart, all based on one week in a basketball camp, when they were 14 years old.  He wrote about looking at baseball box scores hoping to see Helling fail during his career.

Wow, that is a lot of anger to hold onto for such a relatively minor “offense”.  That is where the role model part comes in for me.  Don’t we all do that?  Isn’t there someone in your past or current life that you have a similar feeling for?  If you really explore your thoughts and feelings, there is a deep-seated negative feeling for someone that may be a little irrational.  Rather than moving on (especially when the other person is probably totally unaware of your feelings) we harbor these “interesting” feelings. Can you relate to Klosterman?

Getting back to Klosterman, there is, of course, some great irony to his story.  It turns out that as Helling reaches the end of his baseball career due to injury, he becomes the first advocate for drug testing in baseball.  He implores the rest of the Major League players to not give in to using performance enhancing drugs.  He said if everyone cheats, it is not a true sport.  And in the end, his sentiment won out, transforming baseball’s ethics.  So Klosterman’s arch enemy, the villain of his long-held story for so many years, turns out to be the good guy.  And that is disconcerting.   Klosterman admits that he is now the villain in his own story.  He remembers something from eighth grade, demonizes another person for years, and holds onto ill-will when so much of life has gone by.  Klosterman realizes:

“I am the villain in my own story”

I find that fascinating. We all hold onto stories about others, well past their shelf label.  Don’t we unfairly pigeon hole someone for an ancient slight or because they were who they were?   I know, first impressions matter. And if someone truly hurts us, we get a pass on ever liking them.  But I believe there are a lot more “Rick Hellings” in our lives.  It makes our life easier when we can point to someone else as the villain.  We, like the cowboy riding off into the sunset, are the hero of our story. Someone else occupies the bad space.  That kind of thinking doesn’t make us a bad person.  It just means if we really think about it, we might be the villain in our own story! The great thing is, we can rewrite the story if we wish to.

Are you willing to do that?


I was listening to something the other day that struck me about how the word “different” can be applied to ourselves in unique ways.  Depending on our own perspective, “different” can be good, but it could also just as easily be bad.

When we self-reflect, we have an inner dialogue going on.  It could be: “I am different” in a positive way.  I am unique.  I have something extraordinary to give that most other people cannot give.  I bring a different value, different perspective and different experience to a situation.  I might even look different from the rest, but that difference may be part of the story.  I love the fact that I am different.

Or, it could be:

“I am different” in a negative way.  I stand out, when I really just want to blend in.  I am not like everyone else.  They don’t understand me.  My differences make me unworthy or unimportant.  The others don’t have my background, so they can not understand me..  My differences make me unattractive socially or for a job or for consideration as a friend. I wish I was the same as everyone else.

Is either of these – positive or negative – right or wrong?  In the story I was hearing, the individual was a female marine helicopter gun officer.  Talk about a person who is a l little different already!  People in the military are accustomed to a command-and-control environment for decision making.  Their experience is with a very defined -and well understood – hierarchy.  It is in fact different from a civilian career.  She goes on to talk about being severely injured in battle and losing much of one of her legs. Now she is different because she has a prosthetic leg.  Her new career is as an elite athlete participating in Paralympic events, including triathlons. Female. Marine. Prosthetic leg. Triathlete. Traditional or different?  Can you see how she might view herself as being “negatively” different?  Can you see how we might make that same judgement if we simply saw her resume or LinkedIn profile?

She had a choice in life.  She could look at herself, decide she is different from most people and resign herself to the choice that people will never understand her.  Or decide she is different.  But just like the rest of us, she has dreams and aspirations and goals.  Despite the fact that she is physically different and people can see it, perhaps isn’t she the same (not different) than the rest of us below the surface?

For job seekers, the differences might not be as telling, but that does not make them any less stronger.  There is the difference that is not seen – I lost my job and “they” did not.  Or, I am looking for a job and “they” are not, so I am different from them.  I will be uncomfortable in social scenes where others are talking about work and I have nothing to share.  How can someone relate to me because my situation is so different from theirs?  So it becomes hard to ask for help or to seek council because we allow perceived (negative) differences to segregate us.

How easy it is to fall into the trap of thinking “negatively different”?

It is true – we are all different from everyone else.  But there are some commonalities that most of us share.  We like to help others.  We can empathize with other’s situations.  When someone is down, we want to build them up.

So here is a totally different approach to take.  The next time you are feeling “negatively different” or embarrassed to ask for help, do this. Think of the other person.  You can make the other person feel better by asking for their advice, help, or a connection.  After all, it is probably what they would like to do.  Why not invite them?