Do You Have Too Much Resilience?

Pushing forward when your body and brain are telling you to slow down could do more harm than good.

Picture the scene: You’re in the midst of almost single-handedly delivering a big project for your organization, but your back hurts so much you can’t walk.

Option A: You push on through regardless. Option B: You go home and admit defeat.  

Whether we want to admit it or not, many of us would choose option A.  

This very scenario happened to WeQual’s Founder, Katie Litchfield“My back had been hurting for months, and I chose to ignore it,” she recalls. “On this one day, I had to borrow my friend’s crutches. Then I got to the train station and collapsed. Paramedics had to be called.” Katie heralds this experience as a prime example of having too much resilience.  

Resilience is often seen as a strength. In fact, according to statistics, the majority of women in senior-level jobs say they feel resilient. But when we push ourselves too hard without taking a break, our well-being can (and likely will) suffer.

“Resilience is like a rubber band,” says WeQual’s CEO Mark Bateman. “We stretch and contract as life’s pressures ebb and flow. If we’re not careful, being overstretched for too long can result in not being able to ‘bounce back’. Furthermore, if stretched too far, we can snap.”

Reaching this ‘snap’ point often results in a serious decline in physical and mental well-being, forcing us to take a time-out. This begs the question, are we recuperating as much as we need to?

And if not, why not?  

We addressed this topic in a WeQual peer-coaching session, and some interesting themes arose.

Senior leaders admitted to perpetuating a cycle of over-extension, with others taking their resilience for granted, failing to establish boundaries or conceal their struggles, and not recognizing when to seek help.  

Many also noted that they often bore excessive responsibilities at home, taking on the additional load of childcare, household chores and eldercare, and accepted it as the status quo.

Ultimately, this additional pressure can mount up and can often result in recurrent illnesses and poor sleep. 

Resilience and Communication

Communication is the number one factor when it comes to falling foul of too much resilience. Here are just some of the ways we can perpetuate the cycle. 

Inauthentic expression: Putting on a ‘happy face’ despite feeling overwhelmed gives a false impression to others that everything is fine. 

Poor boundaries: A failure to vocalize boundaries can lead to others inadvertently overloading your plate. 

Creating false expectations: Consistently pushing beyond your capacity creates an expectation around this level of performance from you indefinitely, which isn’t realistic for anyone. 

Finding Balance

So, as a busy woman leader, how can you maintain a sense of balance?  

Lead by example: Authentically prioritize your own well-being. Head home early once in a while, honor medical and well-being appointments, and don’t force yourself into the office if you’re sick. Encourage your team to do the same and nurture a culture of balance and healthy productivity. 

Don’t do it alone: Executive coaches don’t just benefit individuals but the business as a whole. A Fortune 500 firm engaged Metrix Global LLC to determine the business benefits of an executive coaching program for senior staff. The bottom line: a 788 % return on investment. Look for someone you respect and connect with, and this relationship could keep you sane during some of the most challenging moments in your career. 

Set boundaries:  The word ‘No’ is a full sentence. Remember, you’re in the driving seat when it comes to your calendar, and it’s okay to sometimes just close the door and put up a metaphorical ‘do not disturb’ sign.  

Block out non-negotiable, unbookable time in your diary to allow for strategic thinking or catching up on admin. Empower your gatekeepers to keep distractions from your door and communicate clearly with others about what you’re prepared to do and when so they have realistic expectations.  

If you don’t set clear boundaries, how will your team feel comfortable doing the same? 

Be direct: Saying you’ve got too much on your plate isn’t a sign of weakness. Redistribute workload, empower others to take on extra responsibilities, or renegotiate deadlines with stakeholders.

The word ‘No’ is a full sentence. Remember, you’re in the driving seat when it comes to your calendar, and it’s okay to sometimes just close the door and put up a metaphorical ‘do not disturb’ sign.

Pursue your passions: Remember, it isn’t all about work. Our brains need space to process and re-order the input from our day.  

study by psychologists at San Francisco State University confirmed that hobbies help professionals come up with creative solutions for work-related problems. The study found those more engaged in creative activities often scored 15 to 30% higher on performance rankings than those who were less engaged.  

Find a club, learn an instrument or play a sport. Your brain and body will thank you for it, and you’ll be better at your job. 

Respond calmly to aggression: Stress doesn’t always bring out the best in us. When faced with aggressors, it can be tempting to respond in the same vein, but remaining calm, confident and assertive can feel more empowering in the long run. In every conversation, take a beat and put thought into the outcome you want to achieve with your response. 

Meditation and mindfulness: According to Harvard Business Review, multiple research studies have shown that meditation has the potential to decrease anxiety, thereby boosting resilience and performance under stress.  

Try downloading an app like Headspace to your phone and check-in with yourself regularly. Are you acting with intention? Are you in the moment? If not, take a moment to reset and tune in. 

While resilience is undoubtedly a valuable trait, striking a balance between pushing forward and stepping back is essential. Think of resilience as a tool in your arsenal that needs recharging from time to time in order to benefit both you and those around you.  

WeQual Executive members meet regularly to engage in honest conversations with other women leaders in a similar position. Not a member? Join today at wequal.com.

Thanks to our Guest Contributor:

Mark Bateman

CEO, WeQual

CEO, entrepreneur, Executive Coach, and best-selling author of the book 'Disruptive Leadership: Using Fire to Drive Purposeful Change'.