I loved watching the recent Olympics! Where else can we watch and get a sense of life as a high-level athlete up close? We see profiles that illustrate the amount of time, energy and effort it takes to maintain the human body, physically and mentally, at the highest level of competition. We are privy to the raw reactions of each athlete as they experience success or failure or unexpected trauma. That raw vulnerability touches my heart in the moment and makes the entire experience so unique and special. I am always left wanting more.

One aspect that stands out dramatically is each athlete’s ability to focus in the moment. For those who fail, it’s the ability to process and regroup quickly and effectively. This is the ultimate example of resiliency in action. Each athlete has trained to deal with failure in an expedient manner. They still display human reactions — such as anger, frustration, disappointment — but their training is such that they can move through the emotional side quickly, or perhaps compartmentalize it for later analysis, and continue to compete at a high level.

Most of us don’t necessarily train to deal with adversity the way high-level athletes do. Nevertheless, if we go through the conscious process of dealing with failure and working through it, we can, in most cases, bounce back and move forward within a reasonable amount of time. There are always exceptions, and those who need more time should never be shamed into rushing through the process.

Let’s look at some lessons we can draw about developing resiliency for our own journey. First, understanding our natural reaction to adversity creates the awareness of how it affects us. The effect is universal but also unique to each person. Desiring to move through it quickly is understandable on an intellectual level, but not easily done.

Resiliency is crucial to executing a career plan and navigating life beyond graduation. Students often focus so much on attaining the goal of graduation that they are not prepared for the process of a job search. The challenges and rejections of landing the ideal job, getting into graduate school or accomplishing another desirable goal takes work.

Students frequently tell me that before graduation everything looked clear cut, so they didn’t take time to visit the career center or participate in job search activities. Once thrown into the fire and attempting to land a professional position, they find out how unprepared they have been. Many don’t realize that a well-executed job search requires a shift of focus and a solid knowledge base. It’s just like taking a course of study. The process is multifaceted and takes time and practice.

This is where your resiliency starts to kick in. Implementing a job search plan is a learned skill. Get the best advice you can from your school, professional organizations and qualified contacts. If you know yourself well through career assessments like ours at Human eSources, you will have a clear sense of what talents and gifts you have to offer and what you consider to be essential for satisfaction in the opportunities you pursue. Additionally, you’ll know the exact culture you desire to work in, one that will nurture you further.

A solid job search means you attack your plan just like you did your classes: commit the time and energy and keep moving forward. If something derails Plan A, resiliency will help you realize you need to create a Plan B and maybe C. Life is notorious for unforeseen roadblocks. For those who never contemplate anything but forward movement, it can be devastating when major obstacles occur.

That’s where resiliency saves us. It’s not realistic to believe that everything will always go perfectly. Forgetting that can cause us to freeze, draw back and sometimes become stuck. As we evaluate our actions and plan, hopefully we can begin to see where we were vulnerable. A personality type-based tool can help you weigh your strengths against your vulnerabilities, creating a sense of empowerment through knowing yourself well.

This is resiliency at its best. In taking the time to work through the process, we grow in awareness and maturity, which will serve us well in the future. Resiliency gives us the renewed energy to go on — whether it be to continue on the same path, to question the path, to change the path, or to abandon the path. Think of resiliency as the buoy that bounces up in a storm; we need to grasp on until we can determine the next move that makes sense.  

Let me share a personal example. From a young age I wanted to be a teacher, nothing else. I participated in experiences that confirmed that choice; therefore, I never explored any other major. I pursued my major with gusto. When student teaching time came around, I had a great relationship with my supervising teacher and graduated mid-year, ready to move into a permanent teaching position at that school. Jobs were tight, but I had a plan and my supervisor was my advocate. I could never have anticipated how life would derail my career plan so dramatically.

One Monday morning shortly after I graduated, I received a phone call from a teacher. She told me that over the weekend my supervising teacher had been hit and killed by a drunk driver in front of a restaurant. I remember feeling very confused, numb. Trying to process the news was hard. Hadn’t I just seen her last week when I subbed at school? Wasn’t I supposed to substitute for her a day this week? I had a disconnect that just didn’t seem to take in the facts I was being told.

This is impossible, I told myself, how could she be dead? Reacting in a very confused state, I drove to her house and knocked on the door, fully expecting her to answer. As my mind began to accept this new reality, I had to suffer and mourn the loss of a friend and mentor while realizing the impact it had on my future. Now my advocate was gone. But there was more to come that I could not have predicted.

After the funeral I was asked to come and take over my supervising teacher’s class. After all, I had just left that class about two weeks earlier. Maybe my plan was to be fulfilled in a very undesirable and unexpected way.

When I returned to the classroom and looked around, I saw her stamp on everything. I looked at the children and they were in as great a state of shock as I was. We had no emotional support but each other. I was overwhelmed emotionally. I realized I needed time to process all that had happened, and I was not ready to take the helm so quickly. There was no choice for me and I had to decline the offer of the position.

Resiliency became my buoy during that experience. I learned that no matter how sure something appeared to be, one should never put all their eggs in one basket. I also realized that resiliency involves processing our experiences on both an intellectual and emotional level, and that there is no exact timeframe for how long that will take. It’s resiliency that brings us back and gives us the motivation and impetus to move forward.

At that point I listened to my gut and acted on intuition that was later validated when I was exposed to personality type theory. It confirmed that I am creative and love to innovate and design, so that’s what I immersed myself in doing. I devised another career plan to add to the mix, one that would use my educational background and strengths in teaching and training, program design and coordination.

I pursued several opportunities in different fields that employed my talents, each one with a tailored resume showing how I could contribute. I ended up in a position that was a very good fit and was offered access to further education as one of the benefits.

Soon after, in graduate school, I was exposed to personality type theory, which truly unlocked all the secrets of my talents and gifts that I was not consciously aware of. Once you confirm and embrace those, you are well prepared to tackle life’s next adventure — even after a major setback.

Here are a few tips that you may want to consider to build your resiliency response:

  • Self care: think about your positives, forgive yourself, accept that EVERYBODY makes mistakes
  • Change the narrative: look at the experience from other perspectives. You probably did the best you could in that moment
  • Build flexibility: reflect, meditate, realize that life is not predictable
  • Look at the big picture: maintain perspective and remember this is just one experience
  • Communicate your feelings: people you trust will normalize the experience and support you
  • Keep moving forward: as soon as it feels doable, take baby steps

Resiliency. Don’t forget it’s in you, even if you doubt it in the moment. It’s there and will appear right on cue.