There are so many conversations about “resilience” floating around out there right now. It’s one of those words we’ve put on a pedestal. Just like the buzzwords “pivot” and “new normal,” we’ve heard “resilience” everywhere we go today, so much so that I fear we’ve glossed over the actual depth of the word.

Let me step back for just a moment…

I recently sat down for coffee with a retired business owner here in the Twin Cities. He’s seventy-six-years-old and spent five decades at work. His work life began as a young boy when he would work for other farmers at night after finishing his chores at home. Mom was ill, and there were medical bills to pay – so he did his part. Listening to him speak, he shared stories about the journey he had walked with the vigor of a twenty-year-old. He spoke of all the struggles he had faced in running his business, approaching challenging projects, and the ups and down’s of leading people. 

These are some of my favorite moments… sitting down with founders whose experience is deep and whose resilience runs deeper. It’s an honor to share space with them. These seasoned veterans have done it all, and when you get them talking, they’re never afraid to be real. They share their successes humbly and speak of their challenges unhindered. Authenticity flows free when you’ve made it to this point in life. Two things stuck out that he shared in our conversation…

First, “You’ll never make it if can’t is part of your vocabulary.”

Second, “A good imagination is the best thing you can have.”

When we speak of resilience, these are two essential concepts to stay focused on. First, the moment you add “can’t” to any conversation about a challenge you’re facing, you’re done. You might as well pack your bags and head on out the door. That single word and the power behind “can’t” is enough to sabotage any possibility or hope you have to succeed… at anything.

The toxicity behind that word spreads quickly. In a world where we’re worried about spreading COVID, we should be concerned about spreading “can’t” to those around us as well. It is just as contagious and equally deadly.

One way to remove “can’t” from the conversation is to replace it with a good imagination. Resilience requires an attitude that is open to all the possibilities, and it requires us to think openly about new solutions that we haven’t encountered before. Too often, we box ourselves in, relegated to a set of solutions we’ve used in the past, and not adding “what if?” to the conversations. Imagination is a resilience game-changer… one that we encourage in our kids but rarely celebrate or tap into as adults. Maybe we’ve become jaded or are simply satisfied with the status quo. Either way, imagination needs to be part of our resilience strategy. 

I use the word “strategy” when talking about resilience because that’s what you need. You need a plan for how you’ll react when things hit the fan. You need a vision for how you’ll show up when the chips are down. Resilience is fun to talk about when things are good. It can be easy to have conversations like the ones above when we feel like we’re winning. But how about those moments where things are caving in on us? 

We don’t need resilience in the good moments.

We need it when things get tough.

As a sixth-grader, I used to ride my bike on a particular route. It took me right past the house of a girl that I thought was cute. That route took me down a steep hill, and I could coast to the bottom with no effort. To get to this girl’s house, though, I had to pedal back up the other side of that hill – she lived at the very top. No matter how much momentum I gained coming down that hill, pedaling up the other side was a struggle. But I knew there was a prize at the top. Maybe she’d be outside, or perhaps she’d see me through her window. So, I pedaled, through the tough parts.

It takes no resilience to coast. I coasted in life for a long time. I got married and had kids, built my career, and created a life for my family. Coasting was easy. Then, I got divorced, started a business, had to rebuild my finances, started a blended family, and began raising teens. No more room for coasting. This is when I learned about resilience on a very personal level… when the challenges came. Those challenges have become the greatest gifts in my life.

In those challenges, I’ve been reminded that you need to pedal hard (uphill) to get where you want to go. I’ve learned that “can’t” isn’t part of the journey, and I’ve been taught over and again that a little imagination goes a long way.

I started this off by writing about a seventy-six-year-old founder. Now let me shift gears to my fourteen-year-old daughter. A freshman in high school, she came to me frustrated about her math. It’s more challenging this year, and she is an intensely smart kid to whom things have always come easy. Math, right now, isn’t so easy. It will require some resilience… removing “can’t” from the conversation and adding some imagination to the solutions. She’s going to need to pedal harder than ever before. That’s resilience, and I’m looking forward to adding it to my kids’ vocabulary and strategies as we’re training them to be healthy adults someday.

The Takeaway

Say no to “can’t.” Use your imagination. And remember, if you’re coasting today, it’s the perfect time to create your own resilience strategy. Do it now, before you have to pedal hard to get up that hill.

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