Resilience: What it is and what it isn’t

Resilience. When I was asked to write a blog about resilience, I thought: ‘what do I say that the Qualified Tutor Community doesn’t know already? And anyway, everyone has Google and can search for themselves! Where could I add value?’

I made a start, and the first few paragraphs here are a result of that.

Then, I came to a standstill.

Before continuing I decided that perhaps where I could add value was in telling my own story of resilience. And so, the last few paragraphs do just that. Whether they provide any more worthwhile insight into resilience for you, I don’t know, but I do hope they perhaps enable you to realise what resilience you perhaps have within yourself.

What is resilience? When Ludo asked this question, he received a few replies, all of which were slightly different as we have our own take on resilience; all of which were correct.

Here’s the dictionary definition of ‘resilience’:


noun: resilience; noun: resiliency; plural noun: resiliencies
  • the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
the often remarkable resilience of so many British institutions
  • the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
nylon is excellent in wearability, abrasion resistance and resilience


It’s a word that has been talked about, blogged about, taught about and bandied around a lot in recent years, particularly within the area of mental health and wellbeing, and also in the field of education.

In a nutshell: Resilience is our ability to bounce back after we have struggled, faltered, or failed.

It is being able to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, take time to collect ourselves, and then get back to the business of pursuing our purpose or goal in life. It involves optimism.

Easy? No. How you build resilience is another story.

Unfortunately, often, to discover if you have resilience, you have to experience struggles, failure, or some of life’s challenges. For some people, resilience can be an inbuilt trait, for others it has to be learnt. Often, it’s a bit of both.  

Importantly here, I feel, is to mention what resilience is not.  

Resilience is not about putting up with the status quo, particularly if the status quo is not healthy for you. It is not about accepting disrespect.

It is not about accepting being taken for granted, or made to feel worthless. It is not about putting up with being ill-treated. It is not about putting up with adversity.  

Being resilient does not mean that people don’t experience stress or emotional pain or upheaval. Resilience does not necessarily equate to mental ‘toughness’, but demonstrating resilience involves working through emotional pain and being able to move forward.

It is, I suppose, that inner strength which involves acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and meaning.

Resilience is like climbing a mountain without a map.

It takes time, strength, and help from people around you, and you’ll likely experience challenges along the way. Eventually though, you reach the top and look back at how far you’ve come. Don’t get me wrong, you might have to climb several mountains throughout your life, and each one might get that bit higher, but the strength gained each time will help you with that journey.

Listed here are some other words that you have no doubt come across too, all of which are interlinked.

Resilience. Grit. Mindfulness. Growth Mindset.

I will provide a quick definition here, but will leave you to google further if you’re interested in doing so.

Resilience: our ability to bounce back.

Grit: the power of passion and perseverance which builds our resilience.

Mindfulness: enhances our ability to become more open and receptive to change.

Growth mindset: opens our world to learning, and creates resilient thinking and attitude.

I recently read an interesting article explaining seven skills of resilience. The principle ones being: cultivating a belief in your ability to cope, staying connected with sources of support, talking about what you’re going through, being helpful to others, activating positive emotion, cultivating an attitude of survivorship, and lastly, seeking meaning.

I won’t detail further but you can find a link to the article below. The article itself contains additional links to other relevant articles.

For me, building resilience has been a bit about survival in recent years!

I would never have previously considered myself a resilient person by any stretch of the imagination, and it has taken a lot of reflection in order to gain resilience, realise I have it, and cultivate it within my life. Having an optimistic and positive personality has without doubt helped with the ability to build resilience.   

However, these personality traits did not protect me from a severe mental breakdown five years ago. Resilience did, though, help me recover, make changes, and accept where I was in life.

Being resilient, or finding resilience, also perhaps held off the inevitable breakdown for a couple of years.

What led to it? Life challenges, I suppose.

Grief, at the sudden loss of my mum and what followed thereafter; surgery to remove unhealthy skin on my face, twice; an underlying feeling of not being good enough; an unhealthy thought pattern (later to be diagnosed as OCD), the menopause, dealing with some real challenges with my three daughters as they were in their teens, a husband that worked away a lot … I could continue! Every one of those being usual challenges in life.

On reflection, I was probably suffering from depression for many months prior, plus as I now know, dealing with OCD for many years had very gradually increased to the point of making day to day life exhausting. I just couldn’t work out why everything was becoming so hard. Even getting my girls out in the morning to go to school was exhausting; I had to come back home, rebalance, before going on to work. I coped. Just.

Until I couldn’t cope anymore.

How did I recover? Vitally, support from some incredible friends, family colleagues and brilliant professionals; rest; medication; determination; being loved; hard work; finding purpose; learning about and managing my difficulties; acceptance.

Having got to a place of acceptance I have been able to talk about things openly, and have found that in doing so I have been able to help others. It’s been wonderful to help people realise that they are not alone, and that they have the inner strength, or resilience, to bounce back. Of course, within their own timeframe.

Using grit, mindfulness, a growth mindset and resilience got me where I am, and hopefully, with every part of my being, will keep me there. I know that I have to work hard every day to manage my disorder, it’s part of me but now it doesn’t define me.

I realise that some days are much harder than others; as they are for many of us.

But what I also realise is that I have the resilience to get me through. I hope this article in some way helps you realise that too.

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