Why do some people go through extremely difficult events and come through better and stronger than ever, while others do not?

What is it that makes them different? What is it that makes them so… resilient?

Before we begin to scratch the surface of that question, what is resilience?

Here is one definition that I was introduced to during my George Mason Leadership Coaching Program:

“Enhancing the capacity for successful adaptation in the face of stress, challenge, and adversity” – GMU Leadership Coaching Faculty

There is quite a bit to unpack there. Specifically, I would like to call out a specific choice of wording that makes this an extremely powerful concept – Enhancing.

Enhancing speaks to the fact that we all have the ability to be resilient – to bounce back from the difficult times in our life – not just bouncing back to where we are at the start though. Resilience is all about bouncing back stronger.

So let’s begin to uncover our personal power of resilience.


Resilience is a very personal journey – a journey that we are always on, and one where we are always evolving.

The impact and power of resilience is somewhat of a scary thing – not because of what it is, but rather because of the why and when of our need for it.

Resilience comes into play when we experience a significant change – specifically, a change where life will never be the same afterwards. 

A death of a loved one, or receiving a serious medical diagnosis are two examples that probably pop up in everyone’s mind. Both valid examples, but how about some positive changes?

What about exciting examples like getting married, starting a family, achieving a large amount of success all at once?

All of these things create change to the point where the world we lived in yesterday ceases to exist, so therefore we must march down the road of our new reality.

My Leadership Coaching Cohort and I learned all about resilience this past week, and after the initial introduction to the topic, we were asked to journal about where we experienced resilience in our life around positive and/or negative changes.

In a few quick minutes, I jotted down:

  • The transition from middle school to high school
  • My experience with sports and digging deep in the heat of the game
  • Leaving college with a lack of clarity around what I was going to do
  • Getting married and starting a family
  • Losing loved ones

The list could go on and on.

The point though, is that we need to be ready to flex our resilience muscles throughout our lives. It’s not just one moment that we have to be prepared for – it’s a life long journey.

We don’t always make meaning of what we experienced in the moment – sometimes it happens days, weeks or years later. The key point is that we grew from going through it, and are that much more equipped when we are faced with the next challenge in the future.

I don’t say all that to intimidate or scare us. Rather I say it to underscore two points:

  1. We need to continually build our resilience throughout our life
  2. Our personal resilience and ability to respond to change will give us an incredible number of opportunities to grow and evolve – to become a better and stronger version of ourselves each and every time

So how can we build our resilience to be ready for the times when we will need it most?

Build Your Capacity for Resilience

Our capacity and ability to live a resilient life comes down to a very specific mindset.

Do we have a growth mindset or a fixed / victim mindset?

Let’s be real – throughout our life we will be dealt a bad hand (or 10)… no matter how much we’ve been living a value-based and moral-driven life, eating well, being kind to others, etc., life will happen to us.

The power of resilience and our ability to grow comes down to our choice on how we react to events.

Do we play the victim card and blame others for what happened?

Do we refuse to see a way out, the silver lining, or a chance to learn?

Do we retract into our personal turtle shell, and when we do pop out, are we full of anger and resentment?

Or… do we choose to embrace growth?

Yes, we will still feel the pain, anger, sadness and/or anxiety, but in that, and after that, we will choose to persevere. We will see the opportunity to learn, grow, and become more than we were before.

So in that vein, I want to share the program’s resilience model and the 5 key sources for building and flexing our resilience muscles when we need them most, along with what I took away from our resilience module.

The Mason Resilience Model

Note: the headings below are components of the model; any comments, thoughts or opinions that follow each heading are my own.

Meaning in Life

It’s likely no surprise to anyone that ‘Meaning in Life’ spoke most to me.  What is our ‘why‘ for being here?  For being given this gift of life?  Honestly, one of the reasons that this topic resonates the most is because it is the least clear to me as an individual.  All too often, I lose sight of the fact that our meaning is not what we do rather who we are and what we stand for.

When was the last time you met someone new and the first thing they asked you was, “What do you do?”  I fall into this trap all the time.  Defining myself by what I do vs. everything else that makes me who I am.

And the implication for resilience… if our meaning in life is tied to such a tangible thing (job, money, affiliation, etc.) that can be taken away, then we are vulnerable to losing our entire sense of self in one moment of change.

Take the time to really dig into who you are – what makes you special and unique.  Go deep on defining your purpose.  And the next time someone asks what you ‘do’ – tell them who you are!

Physical Wellbeing

If our body and internal wellbeing is out of whack, then we won’t be ready and able to handle the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty when major change comes our way.

Invest the time in your health, fitness and wellbeing to ensure that your physical self (mind, body and spirit) is ready take on the challenges that lay ahead.

At the risk of a bad metaphor, make sure your car is finely tuned and the shocks are properly conditioned to handle the bumps and potholes in the road ahead.

Social Support

We don’t have to go it alone… Leverage those who are closest to you when you need them most.

Another lesson I struggle to learn.

I have an incredible support system around me and often fail to see it.  I live in my head and often want to figure it out all on my own.  I don’t want to burden those around me with whatever it is that I might be working through.

Spoiler alert – I burden them anyway… just in different and unintended ways.

Understand where your support system exists, and find ways to continue to strengthen your circle.  If we all cultivate and nurture our social support system, then they will be there for us in every way shape and form when we need them the most.

And don’t forget… be there for your circle too!

Positive Emotions

“Positive emotions are the seeds of resilience” – Prof. Barbara Fredrickson, PhD

Resilience will grow through a strong focus on optimism and positive emotions.

It becomes the mentality of, “I’m in a tough spot AND I will prevail.”

One nugget that really struck me this past week was that there needs to be a positive possibility to help us propel us forward and towards positive and productive change.  Most importantly, we need to create that possibility for ourselves.

We need to be willing to see the opportunities and possibilities in any and every difficult situation – so let’s keep a positive lens, and be opened to what can be.


Let’s start with the definition: To face and deal with responsibilities, problems, or difficulties, especially successfully, or in a calm and adequate manner.

Once again, understanding that things will happen to us, how do we choose to deal with them… how do we chose to cope?

Something I believe strongly in is that the events in our lives our neutral – we as individuals assign whether that event is good or bad; whether the event makes us happy, sad, or something in between.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Having to deal with death or some other horrible event is tough to view as neutral – honestly I don’t pretend to live this belief very well at all.  It’s something I need to practice.  I’m also not advocating that we should condition ourselves not to feel when something happens.

The event, while neutral, will not stay neutral.  My message here is that we must condition ourselves to take a step back from these challenging events and the emotions that surround them to chart a positive and productive path forward after we process the event, emotions, and impacts to our life as we knew it.  Despite what happened, how can we see a better path forward?  How can we best cope?

Continue Your Resilience Journey

While I hope you all take several nuggets away from this post, I wanted to highlight the most critical one.

We all have resilience in us – it is not something that some people have and some people don’t.

Take the time to reflect on the various components of the resilience model and be honest with yourself about which areas are strong for you, and which need more work and investment.

To be and become our best we must be ready and able to take on the challenges that life will throw our way.  Let’s start (and continue) to work those resilient muscles today and every day so that we are ready to confront whatever comes our way.

Discussion Question: What component of resilience do you need to invest in the most?  What is one way that you can begin to strengthen that muscle this week?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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