About resilience… who wants to bounce back to THIS? Bounce forward instead.

Published by Peter on

In a discussion about burnout and resilience with other coaches last Friday, I heard someone say, “I prefer my clients to bounce forward, not bounce back.”

That’s one of those clever twists that plays well on a tee shirt or in a meme. Smile and forget it.

Still, the more I thought about it over the weekend, the more I appreciated its depth.

A couple days later, on Sunday, I was walking with my partner on the beach in San Francisco. We’d just come from a memorial service and were talking about a number of things: work stress and burnout, the difficulty of being a family caregiver, and how crushing it is to lose a loved one.

You know, happy Sunday afternoon beachy stuff.

That’s when I figured out the reason I like “bounce forward” over “bounce back” to describe resilience.

Half Moon Bay, several years ago.

A small change in perspective can be huge

When you hear a twisted phrase like that, it’s easy to simply appreciate the wordplay and then forget it.

Resilience, after all, is defined as the ability to recover.

resilience (n)
1 : the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
2 : an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

Merriam-Webster dictionary

But imagine you’ve suffered burnout at work. The stress has finally reached overwhelm, to the point where you have to take some time off just to regain your basic health.

This is not at all uncommon. Many coaches see it with lots of clients. Many coaches have experienced it at a prior workplace, which is one reason they become coaches. (Including yours truly.)

Burnout seems to be on the rise. Employee mental health is a trendy topic in business circles. And because of this, there’s a focus on employee resilience.

Which is great! I’m all for resilience.

But if you’ve burned out in this way, how motivated will you be to bounce back?

If you’re bouncing right back into the same situation that caused the burnout to begin with, what’s the point? I mean… really, what’s the point?

Why put the pieces back together just to recreate the same terrible situation?

What does it look like to bounce forward?

Bouncing back implies a lack of growth. It’s a return to the way things were before the burnout, or before the traumatic event. Sometimes bouncing back is exactly what’s needed. Sometimes.

For most people, organizations, and communities, however, bouncing forward would be so much better.

In many ways, bouncing back from a crash is actually regressive. Take the discussion about “return to work” now that the pandemic is essentially over. One group (those who held power, wealth, and privilege in the old workplace) wants to go back to exactly how things always were—bounce back. Another group (the rest of us) have seen a new possible future and want change—bounce forward.

Most of my clients who have come to me with burnout or even just a feeling of being stuck, have come to me specifically because they don’t want want to bounce back into the same situation that got them here in the first place.

Failed approaches and dead ends aren’t what they need. They want something more. Something new. Something better.

Thus, bounce forward.

How do you bounce forward?

Bouncing forward looks different for each unique situation. Context matters. The individual involved matters. So there is no one-size-fits-all approach, definition, or prescription that you can follow to get it right.

That said, bouncing forward involves some common elements in all cases.

  • Learning from the situation
    Get true clarity on what happened, and make sure you’re placing blame in the right places. If you blame the wrong people or structures, you may simply be setting yourself up for continued repeats of the same breakdown in the future.
  • Clarity of intent and desires
    Do the deep work to really understand who you are and what you want going forward. Not just tomorrow, but in the long run. If you point yourself in the wrong direction, you may make a lot of progress… but at some point you’ll find yourself not where you really want to be.
  • Clarity of control and influence
    You can spend your life wishing things were different, or you can be honest and clear about where you have agency to make change. Let go of the things you have no control over; that’s all just wasted energy. Put your energy where you can make change.
  • Ownership of your own future
    Recognize that you have choices. Choices have consequences, and you may not want to suffer certain consequences. But you still have choices. If you choose to bounce back instead of bounce forward, do it with intention, and take responsibility for the choices you make and the consequences that flow from them.

I can help.

I work with top executives and middle managers to improve their leadership skills, their workplace culture, and the effectiveness of their teams. I also help individuals identify and achieve their personal goals. Would you like to become more aware, be more effective, be more empowered, and feel fully prepared for your next steps?

Let’s talk.

You can help.

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