Emotional resilience is the product of our own experiences. The unique thing about emotional resilience is that unlike physical resilience, experiences need not be the same as the adversity that we now face.
In the training environment this type of “crossover” is exploited to help create emotional resilience in a number of professions. Airline pilots, the military, sales people, law enforcement officers and most recently healthcare professionals employ Immersion Simulation Environments to introduce controlled, simulated stress in a way that allows these professionals to develop emotional resilience.
The Internet abounds with software programs and even video games that allow a business person to “practice” their financial forecasting skills in their business management. Computer games and board games even provide an opportunity for emotional growth and the development of life skills.
But there is no “Flight Simulator” for life… or is there?
The “Flight Simulator” for life adversity and business adversity however is experience. The confidence that comes from encountering and overcoming the ebb and flow of daily life gently fills our canteen of emotional resilience. It is in dealing with the burnt dinner, the flat tire, the person in the ten item checkout line with 12 items, and the crying babies in the theater they give us the opportunity to build our emotional resilience.
A fine example of emotional resilience occurred during the late years of the Dot.com craze of the 1990’s. Robert had built an online business with his two brothers. The business had grown slowly to over a million dollars in sales per year with virtually no overhead because it was a virtual company. Each of the brothers were professionals with successful careers and solid business credentials so their success seemed inevitable. Unfortunately, the bubble was about to burst.
By March of 2000, Robert saw that sales were beginning to fall and inquiries to buy the brothers out, previously an almost weekly event, had completely ceased. Unlike his brothers, Robert had recently quit his job as a mortgage company president to devote himself full time to the business. The change in business climate would have caused most people in his situation to panic and in fact that was what happened as the Dot.com bubble burst. Robert however drew deeply from his emotional reserve and accomplished what most in those days could not, he calmed his fears and charted a new course.
An objective analysis of the company and the business plan disclosed a flaw that was common to most Dot.com’s of the day, there was no unique selling proposition and the product had no benefit not found for a similar price in most cities in the United State. The company was doomed!
In the book and the movie Dune fear is referred to as, “The Mind Killer.” It is through emotional resilience that we overcome the fear that chokes out thought and suffocates creativity. Robert and his brothers now took a great gulp from their canteens and took a bold move, selling a company whose sales were falling. They accomplished this by getting creative with marketing and actually improving sales. They knew that the improvement would not be sustained and they resisted the urge to “hang on” when sales finally turned around.
When they sold the company, they made a small profit above the capital it had taken to turn the company around. The new buyer, who had seen all the financials, was thrilled when the company continued profitable for another 9 months, long enough for the new owner to add new products and develop relationships with the existing customer base. Everybody won!
Whether or not we in fact use these “life lessons” to fill or drain our canteen is entirely our choice. We all know individuals who spend their lives complaining. Every little setback is a major problem, every challenge an insurmountable object. Some of these individuals when faced with a truly tragic adverse life event “rise to the occasion.” Everyone one around them is amazed that this individual is “managing so well.” Unfortunately this is the rare outcome of failing to build emotional resilience from everyday life. In reality these individuals when studied (and they have been) are really drawing their resilience from the other three canteens and in fact most often from their spiritual canteen. When studied objectively it is often discovered that these individuals are emotionally overwrought or emotionally numbed. Their emotional canteen is bone dry and they are compensating from their other canteens.
On the other hand we all know people for whom life’s little tragedies are nothing more than minor tribulations. These individuals are lights in the lives of their friends and colleagues. They are safe harbors when the emotional waters become stirred. They are often described with phrases such as “unflappable” or “steadfast”, or “strong.”
With these individuals the trials of everyday life reassure them of their own strength and fill their emotional canteen.
It is not just our challenges that fill our canteen. While our relationships fill our relationship canteen the emotions that are relationships create within us fill our emotional canteen. That is right, we get a two for one return on our investment. Even better, our emotional canteen is filled by the casual relationships we have at work. While is true that some of these work relationships fill our relationship canteen by being friendships as well, the encouraging pat on the back from a boss, the applause or accolades of colleagues and even the comradery at the water cooler provides a sense of belonging and inclusion that quickly fills our emotional canteen to overflowing.
Our emotional canteen is also one of two that we can share with others. During times of adversary we can actually help fill another person’s emotional canteen by sharing the life experiences and the feelings that surround those experiences with that other person.
The beauty of this ability to share emotional resilience is that it does not take even one drop from your own canteen. In an almost miraculous fashion the sharing of the contents of an emotional canteen allows us to pour almost perpetually into the canteens of others and yet retain a full canteen for ourselves. It is not until we begin to sip or gulp from our own emotional reserve that we, ourselves, need to seek replenishment. Live richly, love honestly and fill the canteen of emotional resilience.
(Excerpted from my lecture series and book Avoiding Business Disasters: Lessons from the Disaster Field Office)