I recently came across this article in Harvard Business Review online: “Resilience is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about resilience lately, and how it’s a skill many of us understand very little about. What does it mean? How do we do it? There are times in all of our lives when we’re overwhelmed by external events (or internal ones, like depression and illness). We can get discouraged, feel like a failure, and wonder how we’ll ever get back to what we intended to do. This has certainly been me the last few months: my life has been crammed with teaching and other work, as well as elder care. I’ve had little time and even less energy for anything resembling creative pursuits, as the long hiatus from this blog will attest.
We might think of resilience as the ability to “bounce back” from every hardship: failure, depleted energy, disappointment, and so on. The article talks specifically about our tendency to think that the more we’re “on” the more productive we are, when actually the opposite is true. We run ourselves into physical and mental exhaustion, and then just keep going, thinking that resilience means pushing past whatever is challenging us.
Creatively, this can mean pushing on with a project we secretly know isn’t working, because quitting seems like failure. Or it might mean pushing ourselves to do our creative work when we’re already exhausted from every other facet of our lives, and then not producing good work, and then berating ourselves for not producing good work. It might mean viewing the rejection process like a gauntlet, to be endured until it turns us off submitting altogether.
But resilience isn’t just about pushing through no matter what. Yes, there are times when we need to keep going, because our resistance is telling us that something deeper, better, is waiting just the other side of this block. Sometimes it can signal a breakthrough, and we’ll be glad we persisted.
However, resilience is also about stepping back, recharging, and then coming back to the work with renewed energy and spirit. It’s not pushing until we hate the project, our writing, and everything to do with our creative life and wonder why we should even bother.
Resilience means taking a strategic time out. It means allowing ourselves down time, for our minds and bodies. It may seem impossible, when we’re already squeezing in writing between all the other commitments we have: to work, families, friends, etc.
It means coming back to the work after a long hiatus. Beginning again, and again. Not letting ourselves get discouraged when we haven’t done as much as we’d hoped. Re-committing to our work, befriending our creative selves and the work itself. Coming to it with a gentle heart, like an old friend instead of an enemy to be conquered.
It means being honest with ourselves about our time, our energy, and how we spend them. Being satisfied with making an honest effort, and not making excuses. Acknowledging when something isn’t working and making steps to do something that will work. For example, setting aside a project that has become unworkable, and taking your writing time to do something else: freewriting, journaling, poetry if you’re a prose writer, trying various writing exercises, etc. If you are consistently not making it to your desk at the scheduled time, ask yourself what would work. Try a new schedule, and commit to sticking with it for a week or two, and see how it feels. I’m a big proponent of morning writing, but I’m a self-acknowledged night owl. There are times when I work on a different schedule, or take time off to give myself a break.
Resilience also means learning to take criticism in stride, to use rejections as a means of better learning the marketplace, or to improve our craft. To see it as proof that we’re still in the game.
As you can see, resilience means many things. It’s also something we have to keep developing. Like a muscle, it gets stronger with more use. The key is to believe we can develop it: it’s a skill, not something the lucky few are born with.
What area do you need to build resilience in? Sticking to a writing schedule? Persisting in the face of rejection? Starting a new project? Let us know in the comments!
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