Resilience

So, given all the emails, web pages, articles in The Conversation, in the THE, from UUK, CBI, UKRI, etc. etc., what can I provide that might add a few drops of value to this massive bolus of expert commentary. Well, I have a couple of observations that you can judge as to their utility in due course. Let me begin with one for right now – that relates to resilience.

Like almost all of you, I have never been through anything like this – the bizarre juxtaposition of a fully disrupted working life, a disruption to the world economy on a scale not seen since the Great Depression, with a more or less normal domestic life, albeit sans outings. The closest thing I have experienced to the present was the evening I watched on television the jumbo jet sailing into the World Trade Center tower – 9/11; I definitely felt my feet leave the ground that evening (I was in Western Australia), and I recognise that same feeling now.  Where exactly are we going?  I cannot know – I am no better than the rest of you in predicting what is coming. How, then, to deal with such uncertainty?

Whilst the current uncertainty might be 100 on a scale from 1 to 10, we have all had our ups and downs throughout the course of our lives. A colleague recently came to seek my advice on making the decision to leave the University – things weren’t going well for him and he had decided to “jump ship”.  We discussed the pros and cons of this “nuclear option” – moving house or a long commute, family disruption, new department, etc. etc.  My main point was that this option was a last resort, to be enacted maybe a few times in a career at most, and what he really needed to focus on was developing his toolkit for how to survive tough times – to develop his resilience.

Many aspects of life are cyclical – I confess that how to cope with the downturns is something I personally took quite a while to learn. I used to take the view that perfect circumstances were what I deserved, and imperfect ones were an aberration to be fought against with all my might, and to be regarded as a palpable injustice.  That self-righteously indignant approach fails on a number of levels, which I have had to learn the hard way.  It fails to recognise the inherent balance of things – that in reality each of us on average are equally likely to be faced with as many unfavourable circumstances as favourable ones.  In all likelihood, you will face as many head winds as tail winds.  So, rather than regard them as your sovereign right, cherish those tail winds, put up as much canvas as you can, and sail hard – carpe diem, make hay while the sun shines,… – all these clichés do indeed have substance to them.

OK, so…easy to push hard when the going is good, but what about the converse. When more difficult circumstances arrive, how should we approach them? Of course, what makes the present circumstance so particular is that it has come to all of us at the same time, but in any case how do we respond individually?  I have a few suggestions, which have helped me.

Firstly, we do need to recognise the problem – even if we are not conscious of it, we are all feeling the stress.  We need to actually recognise the issue of being resilient and try to think about it.  A great start is to look at the big picture and ask the big questions.  What is important to me?  Does what I am doing “have a heart”?  Do I believe in the path I am taking?  Am I being true to my values?  Important elements of life to get right.  And when things aren’t right, when we are not happy, sometimes circumstances can bring out behaviours in us that take us far from our values – so, we need to stop and reflect on that.  The “look in the mirror” test….do I feel good about what I see?

Secondly, we do indeed need to focus on how to take positives out of a difficult situation. So, we need to do things that help us maintain our mojo and our positive sense of who we are.  Things that make the world a better place – even very small things.  And make positive contributions even when they seem to go against the grain.  More clichés….two wrongs do not make a right.  It is amazing how creative you can be when faced with adversity if you open up your mind to the possibilities. And then, how positively one small creative act can feedback to lead you to another.

Thirdly, try not to own problems you can’t resolve – some battles and challenges are just bigger than you can deal with – like the global corona virus pandemic. Focus on the things you can influence and make a difference where you can.  Sometimes we load ourselves up with the problems of all those around us – this load weighs us down.  It’s a logical argument – if you can’t materially impact on it, why spend your time fretting about it.  Another way of expressing this is that we all need to own our own issues.  And that is not to undermine the principles of Think Globally, Act Locally – each of us, in respecting social isolation, are making our own small but additive contribution to the global effort to reduce the effects of this pandemic.

I wish you great resilience!

As ever, thanks for reading.