“In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” —Robert Frost
We’ve all heard the saying “life goes on” and whether or not we’ve used it meaningful or on the surface, chances are there have been times in our lives where this quote helped us move past something challenging. Resiliency is a characteristic we all need at various points in our lives in order to embrace life’s challenges and come out on the other side healthy and, preferably, stronger.
With that in mind, I have been interviewing a series of colleagues and friends with varying backgrounds to get their take on resilience and its meaning. This week, I spoke with Wealth Psychology Expert and Author Kathleen Burns Kingsbury to find out why resilience is important to her, her practice, and her clients. In her profession, she has a unique take on the subject having spoken with and coached hundreds of clients who, at some point, all needed to use this particular trait inside them.
What is resilience?
Resilience is the ability to emotionally recover after a personal or professional set back. Ideally, you learn something from this experience.
Where does it come from?
I believe that people that are resilient are often born with this trait. However, I do believe that it is a skill that can be developed and strengthened over time as well.
Having worked as a therapist for almost 15 years, I observed many families where two children would experience the same family trauma or dysfunction very differently. The child who was more resilient was able to function and move toward adulthood in a smoother manner; whereas the child that was less resilience would get stuck developmentally — ending up needing my services. The interesting part is if a person engages in therapy and is able to learn new coping skills, they can become more resilient.
Why is it important?
Life is challenging and the ability to be resilient helps individuals achieve a greater level of contentment during their lifetime, and professionally, I think it helps them achieve more in the business world. Those who are not as resilient tend to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, workaholics, etc. that are used as an attempt to feel better—but actually make them feel worse. Part of recovery from any of these issues involves building up a client’s ability to learn and grow from challenges; and bounce back quickly.
I also think of top athletes and how the ones who end up number one in their sports (Lindsay Vonn, Venus and Serena Williams, Tom Brady, etc.) are able to experience a set back and bounce back quickly — sometimes within minutes or seconds. They don’t overly focus on the mistake, but instead quickly learn, adjust, and more forward.
As someone who personally has had to work on this in my teens and early twenties, the ability to do this so quickly is fascinating to me. I am much more capable of bouncing back quickly when it comes to my business, but still at times struggle to move forward as quickly in my personal life. I am a work in progress as they say!
How do we build resilience?
This is a great question and one I have not thought a great deal about. My instincts tell me that resilience is role modeled by parents as a child grows up. How parents handle setbacks, from tripping and falling when you learn to walk, to getting your heartbroken as a teenager, or failing an exam in college, can help a child learn how to be resilient. Coaching young people to learn from their mistakes or accept that life is flawed is a gift parents can give. But many parents struggle with wanting to protect their children or are perfectionists who aren’t quite resilient themselves, and have trouble providing this coaching to their kids.
Sports are great for young people to learn these resiliency skills. And as adults, business coaching, life coaching and therapy can help tremendously. Learning to build up the ability to feel feelings, then move forward as opposed to stay stuck in an experience is often the underpinning of these disciplines. While I didn’t think of it as building resilience when I was counseling women who had anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating issues, it really was about building up their ability to identify and tolerate feelings; understanding that being flawed is okay and part of being human. I would teach them how to not only survive difficult situations but thrive from having gone through the experience.
How can we increase our awareness and ability?
Self-awareness is key. When I talked to friends (or in the past, clients) about how they thrived in a family system that was highly dysfunctional, what they always say is “early on I knew something was wrong and I had to bide my time and then get out.” This early awareness that their family system was not healthy couples with their ability to not personalize it (in other words, saying “this is my fault and I need to fix it”) allowed them to disconnect in a healthy way. These are the most resilient people I know. If you didn’t have that awareness growing up, you can develop it in adulthood through self-reflection, coaching, therapy, and more.
When it comes to working with advisors, my mission is to help them be more self-aware in order to improve their client service. In the process, they are also increasing their ability to bounce back when a meeting doesn’t go exactly as planned. It takes a commitment to look within, learn from experiences with others, and to acknowledge what is and what is not within your control.
In your experience, do women tend to be more resilient than men?
Now that is a loaded question! I don’t know what the research says, but in my experience resilience is not necessarily related to a person’s gender. I do believe that women, on average, have a larger support system that they can call on when things go wrong in their life (especially as they approach middle age – compared to men) and that this may contribute to their ability to eventually thrive after an emotional set back such as the death of a spouse. But I also know that women are socialized and hardwired to be relationship oriented – at times to a fault. Therefore, many women struggle in a different way than men when they are trying to bounce back from a personal or professional relationship being in flux.
Life may be beautiful, but it is not perfect (nor should it be). With a strong sense of self and a growing effort to increase our resilience, we will continue to lead a satisfied and content journey through life; positively affecting ourselves and those around us.