Life happens every day. Over time, we will experience a bit of everything – good, bad, great, sad, and sometimes, like the recent crisis we are living through, catastrophic. Our work life is no different. With the ups come the downs: in typical times, a great team player may leave the company, or perhaps a loan does not come through. It can be very frustrating and sometimes scary.
Growth is not linear; it is all over the place. To be able to work with the uncertainty, I’ve found that as leaders, we must develop resilience. If we are not feeling well ourselves, it will be much more difficult, if not impossible, to lead.
Although I have often failed, I’ve always tried to be balanced. Two years ago, I started to experiment with improving my resilience. As with anything, I discovered activities that worked and others that did not. Some didn’t fit in at first, but later I found a way to make them work. What follows is a list of my experiments in resilience.
I don’t often think about how exercise affects my performance at work. I do notice, however, how much calmer and more energetic I feel after I have worked out. Recently, with the Covid-19 lockdown, I finally saw the effect that exercise has on my well-being. I stopped exercising for a week, and I no longer felt like myself. That is when I decided to restart, whatever I could manage, and I have been exercising every single day if only to release the stress I have accumulated.
Exercise releases endorphins and other hormones, which act like painkillers, and produce a natural high. Over time, exercise can help us deal with much of the stress we experience at work.
It can even help us increase resilience as we train our bodies to handle better the emotional discomfort we may face at work.
“Building physical energy capacity is sometimes referred to as ‘toughening.’ In the largely sedentary world of white-collar workers, the absence of any regular physical demand precludes the natural toughening that occurs simply from a physically active life. The result is that as we age, most of us have less energy available to cope with challenging and stressful situations.”
— The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr, Tony Schwartz
Writing helps us process the events around us. Many of my articles, including this one, are motivated by the problems I encounter. Those problems and my writing are how I work through what I’m facing. Writing helps me understand better and to find solutions that I would not have otherwise visualized.
You don’t need to publish articles to get the same benefit. Journaling is a great tool, as well. The entries don’t have to be long, but maintaining the daily habit can make a big difference. A sentence may even be enough at times. There are times when I have felt stuck, and I don’t feel like writing, so I draw what is happening in my head instead.
We’ve all heard the benefits of meditation. Meditation can change the brain, reduce anxiety, and improve concentration. It can also help our brains age better. Those that meditate consistently over long periods have more grey matter in their brains as they age so that, in essence, their minds are better preserved.
For years I have wanted to meditate consistently, but I could never find the right place or time for meditation. Lately, I have found a functional physical space for it during my lunch hour, where I take 15 minutes for myself. With the recent lockdown, meditation has been another anchor for me, during those 15 minutes I’m meditating I almost forget about what is happening and can be present. It’s a lifesaver that is keeping me afloat.
Connecting with Others
I have been reprioritizing my time. Previously and historically, I would focus on my work, thinking that that is what I needed to do. Lately, I have been making more and more time for connecting with others. If I need to call someone and remember in the middle of work, I pick up the phone and make the call as long as the window of time supports it.
The time I spend with friends and family fills me up with energy. Lunch in the middle of the day with friends is akin to therapy.
Often, with work and responsibilities, we forget about ourselves and our hobbies. From my teenage years until I was 20, I painted. I then stopped because I spent all my time developing my career and starting a family. This past year, I realized I needed to go back to my hobby. I wanted to paint with no agenda and not worry about “mistakes.” I started by painting the pine trees I could see from my balcony.
I paint almost every Sunday for about an hour. If it takes me ten minutes to set up my painting and get my hot tea ready, that’s fine. I don’t stress, as it’s part of the time that I spend doing my hobby. If I take my entire hour painting a tree trunk, that’s fine, too. It’s my time, and it helps me come back renewed.
Working with a Coach
I had first read about using a coach in Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg’s book, How Google Works. In short, their advice was that as leaders, we need coaches who can see how we are performing and can help us learn to be better.
It has been two years since I started working with my coach, and I will continue for the foreseeable future. Having someone who knows me and helps me see my circumstances from another perspective has been invaluable. With her help, I have grown and gained much more peace than I would have on my own.
I happened to have a call with her when our city went into lockdown due to the coronavirus crisis. I was overwhelmed with keeping my house, family, and company going. That call saved me, and I am not exaggerating. It helped me get into action again to find a way through this situation.