In the aftermath of the UK’s divisive referendum decision to exit the EU, the need for a spirit of resilience has never been clearer. So what does resilience mean, in real terms, and how can you develop it?
Resilience through character education
Resilience must start at school. It represents a golden thread running through the formal, and critically, the informal, curriculum. It’s perhaps easiest to see how sport, artistic expression and performance can help build personal resilience; for example, in the form of a win against the odds or when acting out the plays of the Bard. However, it is equally important in other subjects, from maths to geography and French.
I am hopeful that the government’s ‘character education’ initiative, which aims to instil character into pupils, will roll out across the country, allowing pupils to emerge from education better equipped to thrive in modern Britain and ready to connect to the rapidly changing labour market. Funding has been provided to projects that encourage character traits such as perseverance, resilience and grit, confidence and optimism, motivation, tolerance, integrity, curiosity and focus.
How I developed resilience
Reflecting on my own school years, when I was 14, I went to bed one night and woke up the next morning blind. It was entirely unexpected and unpredicted – how could I continue? My resolve to do so was based around many things, but at the heart of it were the three dreams I had had since being very young: the desire to do A-levels, to win a place at Cambridge University and to represent Great Britain at sport. These three dreams gave me the capital ‘P’ of Purpose.
Later, in 2007, when I was part of the team bidding to bring the Olympic and Paralympic Games to the UK, it was resilience again that pulled us through, built on a shared vision, connected purpose, and a monumental mission. Resilience enabled us to overcome the negative press and sceptical public to win the 2012 Games for London.
In addition to purpose, there is another key to resilience which seems, to me, to be about controlling the controllables. For example, when planning the 2012 Games, we didn’t have a Beijing Games-sized budget, we had no control over that side of things; had we competed on those grounds we would have come out with a poorer version of the same thing.
What we could control was what we did and the way we did it. By focusing on this, we were able to produce a modern, diverse Games made in Britain, by Britain, for Britain – rippling out right around the world.
Resilience also involves being able to see both the challenge and the opportunity in change. If we want to achieve different results, if we want to step – perhaps even leap – into the future, we need to seize the opportunity in change. During our planning for the 2012 Games, not one of the individuals we surveyed said they were “strongly likely” to buy a ticket to come to the Paralympic Games. We realised we needed to alter the perception of the Paralympics and to create a new Paralympic paradigm.
To return to our current challenge in the UK: at an uncertain time, we need to demonstrate resilience, and act as role models. Leaders must dig deep and business must go big. We must control the controllables, connect people with purpose and unlock potential.
As individuals, as businesses, as Britain, it will be resilience that pulls us through, that enables us to thrive, just as it did for me when I was 14 years old; throughout the bidding process for the Olympic and Paralympic Games; and for most of my adult life.
Adopt the power of resilience
- Dream your dreams in daylight; don’t leave them in the night. Derive your purpose from these dreams.
- Clearly identify all the things you can influence and control around you, that are allied to your purpose.
- Don’t waste time or energy on stuff you cannot control.
- Always seek opportunities in making or adapting to change – and acknowledge the positives that challenges bring.