As a life coach, most of the requests for my work are from people who want to make heart-centered changes in the way they work, mentor other coaches, or re-balance the way they live. At another level, I’m attuned to the level of resilience they have that will support them in making the changes that really matter to them. This is important, since creating significant changes that feel deeply satisfying usually requires taking risks and shifting some habitual ways of doing and being.
As Linda Graham, MFT, says in her recent book, Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster, resilience gives us "the power — the flexibility— to choose how we respond. It takes practice, and it takes awareness, but that power always lies within us." Resilience develops in us with the love and acceptance of who we are by our parents and/or other key people in our lives. It continues to expand as we allow ourselves and are encouraged to keep growing and developing our inner potential of skills and interests.
This is what Carol Dweck, author of Mindset— The New Psychology of Success, calls the "growth mindset." If you've grown up with this attitude that you can do things differently and make positive changes in your life, you're more likely to be able to learn from inevitable failures and errors and continue to move forward. You may even make a huge leap that could be a major mistake, but becomes instead a highly fulfilling outcome that takes you by surprise!
Take Elle Woods in the film Legally Blonde. As a smart, good-looking, popular college student, she has doting parents and friends who support her in her goal to meet a wealthy man to marry and support in his upward-bound career. She clearly has great poise and confidence in herself. Her first re-defining moment comes when she applies and gets into Harvard Law School to win back her prep-school boyfriend who will also be in her Harvard Law School class.
Now her resilience quotient is really tested. Coming to Harvard is for her like going to a college fraternity party, and she hasn't a clue about this new culture she's entering with its own brand of intellectual expectations. She has enough confidence in herself that she doesn't give up when treated as a social and academic outcast. However, she keeps hitting walls and feeling stuck because she's not yet clear about either what's really important to her at this time in her life or how to empower herself by accessing her potential. [Note— Helping clients achieve this kind of clarity is an important part of the work of trained life coaches like myself.]
Her inner "aha!" moment arrives when— dressed as a "Playboy bunny" at a party of her classmates from the law school— she finally sees that this is exactly how her former boyfriend really regards her. Still in costume, she goes to buy herself a laptop computer for classes that very evening and for the first time gets serious about studying law on her own terms.
If Elle Woods had asked me to be her career-transformation coach at a low point in her Harvard experience, I would be very curious and interested in exploring the quality of her resilience under considerable personal challenge. Her fearlessness, warmth, enjoyment of adventure, and compassion for others are at the heart of her ability to reach out to people in friendship and to share her own vulnerability.
I'd also help her become aware of the kind of support she already had from several influential mentors at the law school. In what ways did they help raise her confidence in her potential and abilities to become highly successful as a lawyer? What did she learn from them about her own resilience at just those times when she lost the sense of who she really was and her purpose in being at Harvard Law School?
A key question here for Elle Woods is, "What do you need to believe about yourself to take all your fearlessness, warmth, adventurousness, and compassion for others to shine as an outstanding lawyer in your own, authentic way?
Resilience in coaching, then, is what you can learn to build and draw upon to go further than you ever imagined. Coaching helps you develop awareness of your own resilience to turn professional and personal challenges into new ways to live out the life you really want. The more resilience you develop, the more you'll empower yourself to launch into the full range of your inner potential for working, creating, and living well!