The Power of Resilience

Joan F. Marques - MBA, Doctoral Student
Burbank, California

Bouncing back. We may not have the literal buoyancy of a rubber ball, but if we had no resilience at all, YOU probably wouldn't have been able to read this article at this moment, and I wouldn't have been able to write it.

Resilience is a powerful trait that enables us to withstand more than we would ever hold possible. Remember the story of the professor and the jar, filled with rocks? When asked, the students admitted the jar was full; yet, the professor repudiated that by pouring fine sand in the jar. The sand found its way and nestled itself in the spaces between the rocks. Again the students thought the jar was full after the sand addition, and again the professor repudiated their opinion, now by pouring water in the jar?Although this little story can be interpreted in many positive ways, it definitely illustrates the power of resilience as well. If we compare ourselves to the jar, we encounter the same principle. We always think we've had all that we could bear; yet we always find ourselves being capable of more. It's the resilience in us that creates enough elasticity to yet go another mile, in the meantime getting over wounds we thought would never heal.

A definition of the term resilience, which may be as good as any other, is one provided by Hill, Borenstein Goodman (2002), who state that "according to the laws of physics, resilience is the ability to demonstrate the quality of elasticity" (par. 1).

Our humane frailty is therefore very deceptive, because in reality, we are capable of so much more. Resilience ties in well with perseverance and persistence. Actually, if there were any family ties possible between words, these three could be siblings. All of them represent strength and endurance to a level that could be decisive for the quality of our lives. Steinberg (2002) underscores this with her statement, "what history shows is that people often do survive, and their resilience [is] quite miraculous" (par. 1).

And Hill, Borenstein Goodman (2002) also add their understanding of the interdependency between at least two of these traits by stating, "When we humanize the word [resilience], we speak of those who bounce back from adversity, those who persevere through difficult times and return to a healthy state of being." Hill, Borenstein Goodman further explain that "[resilience] seems to be related to confidence, self-efficacy, flexibility and optimism" (par. 3).

Even our economy has been showing signs of resilience by bouncing back from the recession in which we found ourselves just a few months ago. The greatest effect of resilience is that it defies expectations. When everyone thinks this is the bitter end, the phenomenon called resilience seems to create some kind of perverted pleasure in smashing all the expectations, laid out by economists, accountants and financial analysts to pieces, and emerging with the greatest surprise possible.

If we pull this analysis a little further, we can conclude that resilience may very well be seen as the trait that initially triggered hope. After all, once we detect the possibility of unexpected positive outcomes, we start holding on to them. Think of September 11, and all the victims' family members who held on to the positive thoughts of their loved ones still being alive. Although many of the positive thoughts finally faded away as time went by, they helped the surviving family members and friends through the thickest of the initial despair, right?

In business, resilience is priceless. Lawrence (2002) effectively explains this in his review of the recent ups and downs in the oil and natural gas production sector by stating, "Answers will come by experience, risk and hard work in an environment of unpredictable prices, labor shortages and mature reservoirs. It probably doesn't take a Nostradamus to predict more hard times for producers. The encouraging news is that we've been there before - and survived!"

Important to know is, that "The more stable we are psychologically, the more we can tolerate the stresses of outside events," (Hill, Borenstein Goodman, 2002), and, hence, be resilient. These authors also explain that "Resilient people don't avoid life's hard knocks; they bounce back, survive and flourish."

So what is it that makes some people more resilient than others? Is it an inborn trait or can it be learned? Hill, Borenstein Goodman (2002) share the opinion that resilience "can be learned and that people can [learn to] become more resilient" (par. 3) They exclaim that "resilience [may be] based on past experience of mastery, of positive outcomes from transitions and from reinterpreting past events." These authors continue that "resilient people seem to externalize blame and internalize success." (par. 3) Hill, Borenstein Goodman (2002) conclude that "the belief in one's resilience seems to allow people to take risks-most successful people have had some failures." (par.3)

It might therefore be of good judgment to carry with us, from now on forward, these matchless words from the old, wise Confucius: "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."


Lawrence, F. (2002) Learning from the past--strategizing for the future. Oil Gas Investor. (9-11)
Steinberg, S. (2002) Helen Dunsmore: History and human frailty. Publishers Weekly, 249(3), 59.
Hill, Borenstein Goodman. (2002) Heads Up! Psychology Today. 35(1) 12.