The other day I presented my new workshop on resilience to a group of medical residents. I was forewarned by the physician who invited me to present not to raise my hopes about the eagerness of the audience. “These guys are overworked, burned out, and probably a bit dubious about a workshop touting individual resilience when the ‘system’ overall encourages homogeny.”  

Hmmm, this could be any number of cultures.

“Got it,” I told her, undeterred by the challenge but aware that I would need to somehow address what I knew to be true for them right now: that even though I couldn’t change their specific culture, I could still help them develop strategies to better navigate the pressures of residency and beyond. 

The challenge reminded me of the Zen proverb: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” 

Forcing solutions almost always backfires, and in my view, is counterproductive to all forms of resilience. With this in mind, I made a point to simply present the material without trying to win anyone over. The residents smiled at me even as a few brazenly texted or whispered to their friends or caught up on assignments. One young man looked so tired I thought he might be sleeping with his eyes open. He appeared glued to the wall. 

At this point in my life and career, I know better than to take such things personally. 

In the end, all I wanted was a small opening. A little sign that they heard me and would at least consider what I offered them–a few simple tools to grow their resilience every day. So that they would feel less beleaguered about the long road ahead and trust in their own abilities to get there. 

I knew I’d succeeded when, in closing, I asked the group what they now knew about resilience that they didn’t beforehand. Radio silence. Until Sleeping Man chimed,”I didn’t know resilience can also be about finding joy.” 

They had listened after all. 

Because resilience is not the same thing as perseverance.  It’s far more nuanced. In order to cultivate sustained resilience, especially amid times of struggle, we must find ways to experience joy. How we do this is up to us. I like to walk my dog atop the Westerly Creek dam while listening to a good book on tape You might enjoy a juicy steak and night on the town. One resident talked about choosing not to catch up on social media at home, but to get on the carpet and play with her young son. 

Here’s to small openings that let the light in

Nancy Sharp

Award-winning author Nancy Sharp is a master of resilience and making bold change. As a top motivational speaker, she presents to corporations and organizations on resilience, change, and overcoming adversity. Nancy holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction and authored the bestselling memoir Both Sides Now: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Bold Living, recipient of eight literary awards, and a newer book for children and families called Because the Sky is Everywhere. Nancy is widely published in national media and lives in Denver, CO (how she got there is a story of resilience) along with her husband Steve, their four children, and adorable Havanese puppy Levi.
Nancy Sharp

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