Resilience lessons from a summer staycation

A couple of years ago my colleague Jo shared her leadership lessons from Glastonbury, focusing on vision, values and authenticity. My summer holiday this year hasn’t been nearly so exciting. On the tail of a global pandemic and with a young family in tow, things look a little different in my household, but nevertheless I still had a few moments of insight over the summer drawing parallels between my week of home decoration and some key principles for building resilience.

1) Don’t overlook the obvious solution

One of my aims for the week was to paint the skirting boards in our dining room. Now, I’m currently 7 months pregnant and I don’t know how many of you have tried painting skirting boards when pregnant, or with a pumpkin strapped to your abdomen which has broadly the same effect, but trust me when I say it presents a few logistical challenges. I found myself contorting into various positions to reach both the desired area and the tin of paint and although it felt a little like I was tying myself in knots, I smugly managed to find a way to do it. About half an hour later my husband came into the room and said, “why don’t you move the paint tin?” I had been so wrapped up in negotiating the baby bump that it hadn’t even occurred to me there was an easier place to put the tin of paint!

Resilience lesson: How often in life do we get so wrapped up in the end goal and the most demanding hurdle that we overlook the obvious solution? Sometimes it just takes a conscious check in with yourself to take a step back from the problem and get a new perspective, and other times we need someone else to point this out to us. When faced with a challenging situation, give yourself the head space to take a step back and surround yourself with people you trust to confide in for a different perspective.

2) Remember all the other times you have solved similar problems in the past

Back to my painting contortionism. Despite being part of the 10% of the population that’s left-handed, thanks to living in a right-handed world I also have reasonably good control of my right hand. This means I was quite quick to try painting with my right hand for certain areas instead of straining to reach with my left. It felt clunky and clumsy at first and definitely not natural. I noticed how I was holding the brush, and rather than taking a traditional pencil grip like in my left, for some reason I was holding the brush in the same way a child learning to write might. This was giving me less control over what I was doing and felt even more uncomfortable. I realised if I adopted the same grip in my right hand as my usual left, whilst things still felt unnatural it was a lot easier and more comfortable than what I was doing before.

Resilience lesson: When faced with a new challenge or something that feels unnatural or uncomfortable, it’s easy to forget everything you have ever learned and applied from previous situations and think you have to start from scratch. In the majority of cases there is something you can take from your previous experiences to apply to the new one to make progress more quickly, or to feel more comfortable in the ambiguity. Trust in your past experiences and achievements and use this to inspire you in your current challenge.

3) Don’t waste time regretting the journey

A couple of days into our project I found myself thinking “why didn’t we do this sooner?!” With relatively little effort and a short amount of time, we made huge progress on a number of tasks that have been irritating me for months and my joy at our transformation was quickly followed by beating myself up for not having done it sooner. However, I quickly noticed my negative self-talk and reflected on our journey. Yes we have lived in the house for two years now, but we moved in when my daughter was only 8 weeks old, there were a lot of other things that needed doing on the house before we could get to this cosmetic work. We’ve been impacted by three lockdowns, and while we could have done things sooner we would have had to compromise on family time or other activities to do so. It was totally pointless wasting energy at this point and taking the shine off our progress by lamenting that we hadn’t done it sooner.

Resilience lesson: Don’t waste time regretting the journey you have been on. Absolutely, learn from these feelings and consider adapting how you behave going forward (for example now I know how long it takes to paint a door frame, I know I can squeeze in another one without it needing to take over the whole weekend), but know that you made the choices you did for the right reasons at that point in time. It’s easy to look back with hindsight and think you could have done things differently, but be kind to your past self.

4) You need the right conditions to feel resilient

Leading on from the point above, despite having been in the house for 2 years we hadn’t really had the right conditions to do this work beforehand. Having a toddler at home and two working parents doesn’t leave a huge amount of free time. It wasn’t until we had a clear week (with our daughter still in childcare) that we could contemplate what turned out to be some relatively simple tasks. And without the headspace that week gave me I doubt very much I would have had these realisations, despite having a psychology degree and coaching people on resilience being a significant part of my day-to-day work.

Resilience lesson: You can’t just flip a switch and feel more resilient, in control or capable, and you can’t force it. Listen to your body, surround yourself with supportive people, give yourself permission to take a break and get a new perspective. If you feel up against a wall, step back and think about what you have control over to move beyond the wall.

5) What works for one doesn’t work for another

Fortunately we had enough jobs around the house to complete that my husband and I didn’t need to collaborate on many tasks, as we take very different approaches to DIY that don’t necessarily work well together! We divided up who was going to do what at the start of the week and left each other to it. The important thing was that by the end of the week we were both happy with the progress we had made, and it didn’t matter that we took different journeys to get there.

Resilience lesson: What works for one person in building their resilience might not be what works for you. For some people it’s having time alone to think, reflect and recharge. For others it’s the exact opposite, and they need to be around other people to get that same result. Some of us recharge with exercise, for others it’s a good book or a Netflix binge. Find what works for you and don’t worry if that’s different to everyone else around you, or if their strategies don’t work for you.

Building resilience and supporting others is a huge part of the work we do at Connor, whether that’s through our Outplacement and Career Transition programmes, working with line managers, or running specific Resilience and Wellbeing Workshops with employees.

To find out more about how we can help you or your teams feel more resilient in the face of life or business challenges, please get in touch using the form below, or call us on 01491 414010.


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