Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reflection 1 for Uni - Resilience

Reflection 1
To be honest for the first time in my life, I don’t know what to write.
It’s almost a case of I lack the inspiration even begin writing what I have to write, and it’s not the case that I don’t know what I am supposed to be writing…..but more of a case of where do you start with these things.  But for those of you whom are out of the loop right now (which would be 99.9% of you), this term as a part of my MBA I have elected to take a paper on personal and professional development.  As a part of this I am to write a bit of a blog. And I figure hey if I am going to do this once, why not chuck the draft up on here first, and give the Uni the “directors cut” version.
To be honest it all seems a hell of a lot clearer from behind the visor while riding my bike.  I am no longer hounded by decisions I “have” to make for others. I am no one else ego.
I suppose when you put moments like when I have had a good day, a good ride, a good dinner with friends…….in those moments I am near my peak. I am in the zone a bit. It seems too addictive.
Outside of that I feel that life just doesn’t have the same buzz – I forever question why I am here.
It seems that 20% of my life is these “highs” that seem fantastic, yet addictive, 70% of it seems…..well to put it blankly boring, and those parts are infectious. If I have a ‘boring’ time doing something, it seems to cascade to all future events until I hit one of these “zone” events that break the cycle. Oh, and yes I know 70 + 20 is only 90% - but to be honest while 20% of my life is highs, 10% are pure low. Not boring, but pure black. Whether I am frustrated, sad, angry…..they are like looking down the downward spiral.  So I think I have found what I was after to talk about.
The topic Resilience is an interesting one for me. As I think in my case – it feels like a bit of a double edge sword.  On one hand it has helped me maintain relationships for decades (10 year anniversary with wife next month), it has helped me build a career on fixing problems and damage control, it has helped me keep my life on-track and steer away from many negative influences………But on the other side, people assume that; you will land on your feet, you can handle more and more extreme situations, you can take more and more pressure.
My first true experience of Resilience was when my mum left. I was 14 at the time, after a successful year at school, living in a family that was just getting up there – the world was literally my oyster (I was even promised a motorbike and that we would expand our property). Life was looking good.

I woke in the morning after noticing a bit of a commotion upstairs. Nothing major, and besides – I had a friend around so I did not need to occupy my brain with much else except mucking around with a mate. Dad came home, he looked a bit angry – but that was nothing new, usually something small. But something was out with house. Then I clicked - “Where’s mum, dad?” (Expecting some kind of response like “Oh, just shot into town to get some eggs for breakfast”.
I got one word – “GONE!”
For a fraction of a second my brain went to pure chaos. There were so many things messed up that I didn’t understand anything. Then like a white board being wiped clean my mind went clear, all my questions (“Where? Why?....” ) All gone in a second. My brain went to some other mode, with a clear almost automated mode I had compiled a list of things that needed to happen. I did not need anymore information about the situation.  It was like a car crash and I was first on scene – the decisions I made now had to be clear and precise and most of all unemotional.
“Bianca can you give me a hand to fold the washing” I said to my sister.
”Give your mum a call, I will go stay at your place tonight” I said (almost demanded) to my friend
”Dad I am going to stay at Carls place tonight, Bianca will go stay at Amy’s OK” Not expecting a response merely stating the facts.
For the 2 years I had to deal with realities that seems almost a complete phase shifts from what my life was suppose to be. Angry bursts, bonfires of personal goods, court cases, depression…….my father thought he had lost it all. I had to make decisions – without being resilient about the situation I could not have survived seeing my father like that.  But likewise it made me the person I am today. And set me up for much bigger problems I would have to face later in life.
You suddenly become the “Resilient” guy – or the garbage can depending on what side of the fence your own.
It seems that there are countless studies on how resilience is a good thing, on how we should encourage resilience. But I can’t help but feel that the promotion of resilience, is more selfish that selfless. Why do we promote resilience? To adapt a person to suit more of the requirements they may face? Or to make it easier for us to deal with them?
If you think of someone as a tool, a means for something (if this is a relationship, or a job – either requires a person as a means).  When you make that tool harder and more adaptable – why? Because it can do more jobs for you?
However people are not tools. Where is the reward for these individuals overcoming the odds, where are the rewards to show the work they put in?  Even Coutu, when talking of colleague whom was incredibly resilient – noted that his only reward for this was the fact that he was still alive. Stating “It always astounded me that he was never promoted to managing editor”. (Coutu, 2001).
Were people scared that too much pressure would snap him? Was his resilience ‘nice’ but not the safe bet?
Unless you are a type ‘A’ personality – resilience is not something that is spoken out loud, type ‘b’s whom talk about their hardship is considered charity cases. It is not considered heroism, it is considered survival – something you should feel sorry for.
So often after I explain stories to people about my resilience through situations, the common response is “Oh! I am so sorry for you”.
Why? Why do people feel the need to respond this way? The events in my past were not a plague that haunted me. They were hurdles in my life that created me the person I am today. Without them I would not be half the man I am today.
People do not interpret resilience like other aspects in life such as a weight lifters body, or a scientist’s brain. The natural reaction you give someone whom has displayed resilience is pity.
The other side to resilience that I have felt is the cold calculating way it operates. You switch to pure survival, self preservation, and mode. I have hurt many people, and myself when operating on pure resilience. I have found over the years that I have had to try and combat against my natural resilience to maintain relationships with people. If I had remained cold – they would have been cut from my life many years ago.  In many situations, self preservation and saving face is more costly than simply being a bit selfless.

They say that resilience is when you find a sense of meaning in life. Well sometimes that meaning can be as simple as trying to prove them wrong or spite. These aspects of it are not very published – in fact not much negative is published about resilience is published. Extreme Optimism states that everything is good, but any intelligent person will tell you the world is out to get you in the end. Therefore sometimes resilience stems not from the facts of everything seeming good, but from the pessimists belief that it will all fail – and optimist belief that you can prove all the facts wrong.
I guess that is a scary element I have to deal with right now. My purpose has changed, my meaning has changed. I am no longer Stewart Farr, or the loving supporter and husband of Yuqi…….I am also now going to be a dad. It seems like I need to draw a line in the sand, everything on this side I can be resilient about, everything on that side I have to be more human/emotionally connected too.
Improvising solutions has pretty much become my career. When the crap hits the fan, I seem to be pretty much one of the last one left standing. However when people learn this, or experience it – they seem to either utilize it or avoid it.
I have had situations where I was avoided as I had seemed to come out of situations unscathed, and I have had other situations where they feel that because everything else has failed, I am some kind of magic bullet for them. This has carried on to the extend where employers have put me in situations where I become some form of scapegoat so that even if I am unable to improvise a solution in time they can fall back on to me as the failure.
I mean you have been so resilient about these things in the past – you will be fine. You will save my skin. Being the ‘last resort’ person is not always a way to get good credit with others – sometimes it can burn you.
So are resilient individuals the saviours of the world? I don’t think I can save the world.
I think that relying on people like me won’t save the world.  Contrary to what popular literature says. Yes being resilient means you can make those last minute decisions, or that you can recover quickly. But we can’t solve the problems of others – we can’t save companies we are workers of. We don’t have the personal investment to save it. I am just more likely to pack up everything and leave a situation as a self defence mechanism than I am to try and rescue it.
These types of cold calculating decisions are what make me resilient. This decision process is what has helped me recover from adversity. This is what has kept me alive this long.
According to Viktor Frankl believed that resilience was based around some sense of purpose or meaning (Frankl, 1946).
So the short is that if your not a part of this meaning (for them), what do realistically expect them to do when you apply significant pressure to them?
So while resilience can help and individual, making it suitable application with owners of firms who have personal investment. Is it really a trait suitable for the workers of these firms? Won't they protect their own skin?
Frankl, Viktor,. 1946  Man's Search for Meaning
Coutu, Diane,. 2001 Building Personal and Organizational Resilience
                Harvard Business Review