Sinking Boats and other lessons in Resilience

Article contributed by guest author Patricia Conlin.

As I close off another summer and prepare to send my boys back to school for another year, I remember some lessons that I relearned that are reminders or what is important to all of us on resilience.

This summer, I spent a lot of time at my cottage. It’s beautiful up there and more so because my father, who passed away in 2017, built the entire cottage including most of the furniture. I have fond childhood memories of our adventures and time together as a family each summer at the cottage. I’ve always noticed that at the cottage, everyone is more relaxed and life is full on food, games and swimming in the lake which is pure heaven. In July, I decided to buy a new boat for our water access cottage. I was also getting pressure from my boys to get a bigger motor to use with skis, knee-boards and tubes up there for even more fun so I caved in and made the purchase. I brought the boat up with my boyfriend who is a seasoned cottage owner so I didn’t bother getting involved in the whole boat launch prep. We went to a new boat launch and everything seemed to be working well. I was left with the boat in the narrows to drive a very short distance to the marina while my boyfriend parked our car few miles away. Unfortunately, we had forgotten one very important thing….to put in the plug! So I found myself mysteriously dragging on the bottom and then beating myself up for being an incompetent driver and not navigating well and then blaming myself when I heard a thud and knew I had damaged the motor somehow. I finally got out of the narrows somehow but my boat was dragging oddly at the back. I managed to get to the marina dock but was shaky. We loaded up and I was to too embarrassed about my driving to tell my boyfriend that the boat was dragging. The whole way over to the cottage I was silently cursing myself for wrecking the boat. When we docked and saw all the water coming in, we quickly figured out the real problem. We took immediate action and got the bilge pump working, drove the boat around the lake until massive amounts of water drained and then found a plug in the glove compartment. We realized after trying to fit it in many times that it wasn’t the right plug. Luckily, we managed to plug the holes with some of my Dad’s old plugs in his shed but had to take the boat back to the dealer to fix the prop and get a proper plug the next day as it was still taking on some water. The dealer paid for the prop damage because he realized they hadn’t fitted the plug properly but told us to always check the plug before we launch.

Good advice!

What lessons did I learn from this adventure? Well, isn’t it true that most of us jump to making false assumptions not only about ourselves but about others in a stressful situation. Also, why are we so hard on ourselves when things go wrong? Is there a way to reprogram our thinking to better manage during times of crisis, conflict or problems? We all have these so called garbage thoughts but the secret is to not listen to them too much or at least talk back to them. As Business Professionals we receive a lot of negative feedback at times and it can be draining and often we start beating ourselves up when we hear negative words from others. Too much work, too little, difficult staff, difficult client, deadlines etc. all add to our stress cooker day. And then we go home and face home challenges with kids, parents, chronic health issues, lack of time etc.

How can we navigate more successfully?

One word-RESILIENCE.

I have spent years becoming more aware of my thinking patterns and how they impact my performance. During the boat launch adventure, I was aware of my negative thinking so was able to review it objectively and learn from it quickly instead of holding on to the negativity. I went back to the cottage and relaunched the boat successfully the following weekend to gain skill, reinforce a positive outcome and gain confidence in my ability to manage as a new cottage owner. In other words, I learned from my failure. I was even in a way grateful for the failure because it taught me to be careful and I have taken more time to learn about boats and boat launch techniques for next year.

To be resilient we need to stop beating ourselves up and instead be more aware of our thoughts, emotions and actions and work to course correct them for a more positive outcome on a regular basis.

What do you think is the single most important factor in success as a Business Professional-Resilience?

This one soft skill is what I believe has made me successful over the years despite huge upheavals in my life the past 10 years and something that you can work on each day for more success in work and in life.

Here are a few key ways to boost your own inner resilience to achieve more Success this Fall:

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  1. Catch your negative thoughts – When you become aware of a negative thought, ask yourself – Is this true? Often it is not true. Even if it is true, ask yourself, is there a way to create a positive outcome or accept the reality of a situation and learn from it without beating yourself up. In the past, I have had very demanding clients. Sometimes, they would be extremely critical and I would start to feel badly about myself. I would question my abilities. However, as I have learned this technique, I have consistently been able to separate fact from fiction. Instead of reacting or retreating because I felt badly, I have learned to respond to the comment or situation with confidence to improve the outcome every time. A way to do this is to move from an emotional state to a rational state and write down the key elements of the situation and how best to respond. For example, a client decided he hated all our work for no reason. He was negative about everything. It hurt yes but I caught the negative quickly. I responded with empathy for his frustration but then wrote a detailed note full of facts on what we had done so far, a comment on what our expectations are from him as a Partner (yes you heard it! Don’t let anyone disrespect you-EVER) and facts on the project, recommendations and an action plan. In short, I regained my power in the relationship by standing my ground and not letting my own negative thoughts weaken me of impact my performance. He started responding more positively and we successfully completed the project to his complete satisfaction.
  2.  Believe in yourself – Yes, sometimes we screw up. Sometimes, we overreact, say dumb stuff and do dumb stuff. So what. We are human. Any solid relationship that can’t take a little humanness, isn’t worth it. Be real. Believe in yourself and know that you are doing your best. When you aren’t doing your best, give yourself a kick in the butt and do your best. When we hear bad news or miss revenue targets, we sometimes go into a performance slump. The number one reason we stay in a slump is because we stop believing in ourselves. So always believe in yourself. When you screw up, pay attention. Why did it happen? Did you get off track somehow or were you not paying attention to signs from a candidate or client? A vital soft skill which I teach others to cultivate is self-awareness and other-awareness. I have saved and made many placements using awareness and honing this skill. If we are caught up in doom and gloom, we exude that instead of the confidence we need to be successful. So when you make a mistake, consider it a lesson or a redirection and keep going confidently towards success.
  3.  Fail and fail again – Life is about falling down and getting back up. It’s hard to become resilient if you never fail. Failure hurts but that pain teaches better than success. Failure hones skills, teaches humility, gratitude and strengthens are resolve. It helps us become resilient. So don’t beat yourself up when you fail. Tell others. Learn from your mistakes. None of us are perfect and the concept of perfection is impossible to achieve. We need to teach our kids and others to strive to improve every day while celebrating what we have accomplished already. Success comes from trial and error and those who are too afraid to step outside their comfort zone will not be able to achieve the success they seek. I love telling stories and my best stories come from my so called failures. My screw ups and mistakes turn into fodder for humour and lessons. Laugh at your failures then get up and try again!
  4.  Stay healthy – Working hard takes energy. Resilience comes from a healthy mind, body and spirit. It can be fun to party once in awhile or gorge on junk food, but a consistent neglect of your health will impact your performance over time. Contact me for easy tips on boosting energy and getting a better sleep.
  5. Learn – Adopt a continually learning mindset instead of staying fixed in your ways. Do this at both work and home. Find hobbies or passions your enjoy out side of work. For me, it’s ever expanding vegetable garden challenges, new recipes, my upcoming podcast series or finding time to practice a language skill and have been teaching my boys basic life skills that they will need like cooking, cleaning (yes, this one is a struggle…J) and cottage maintenance. Always work to improve your skills at work as well by learning more about tools, trends, and ways to better interact with clients and others. I have found that learning new skills builds our resilience muscle. As a Business Owner, I have worked hard to expand my revenue streams in Talent Solutions with growing divisions in RPO, Leadership Coaching and Training, Corporate workshops, Transition services and speaking which makes each day exciting and highly engaging.

I am getting ready to speak at NAPS again this Fall in Texas for their Go Big or Go Home conference. My talk will go into more detail on how to be Mentally Prepared for Anything. Resilience is key to our success and a soft skill we can all develop.

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