Is Resilience a Bad Word?

November 1, 2021

Some in the veterinary community think resilience is a bad word.  In their view it means “just suck it up and work harder.” Unfortunately, resilience may have become a buzzword. One more thing my tired and overwhelmed self must check off on my aspirational To Do List, like getting fit and eating less junk food. Dr. Darcy Shaw DVM, MVSc, MBA, DACVIM, Professor Emeritus, Small Animal Internal Medicine, shares how resilience isn’t just about “dealing with it” and how to become mindful of your support ecosystem.

Darcy Shaw
DVM, MVSc, MBA, DACVIM

What is resilience?

It’s a moving living thing for each of us.  As individuals, it helps to engage in meaningful work and have skills like emotional intelligence, a positive, can-do attitude, and an aptitude for creative problem-solving.  But that’s not everything.  Not even close. Michael Ungar, a resilience researcher at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia says “resilience is not a DIY activity.”  It’s not all up to us, or at least not totally dependent on our personal strengths and skills.

How does our environment affect resilience?

I like the metaphor of an ecosystem to understand this.  Each plant and animal in a healthy ecosystem occupy a unique place where they find enough of the right resources to thrive.  Think about what your ecosystem looks like.

  • What is your network of supportive relationships?
  • Who and where are they?
  • How many do you have?
  • What is your workplace culture and climate?
  • What support programs and resources are available for your team?
  • What kind of community do you live in?
  • Is it safe and well-governed?
  • Do you have ready access to educational and health services?
  • Are there outlets for rest and recreation?

Resilient ecosystems are diverse, open, dynamic and complex.  Our personal ecosystems must be too.

What are the benefits of being mindful about our ecosystems?

They provide the support and resources we need to navigate the inevitable ups and downs life throws at us. Does it take some work to develop and maintain our ecosystem?  Yes, it does. The upside is it also allows us to live fully, so we can find out where we belong and how we can thrive.

How can we enhance our surroundings and in turn, our resilience?

Continue to work on helpful personal skills. But, just as important, develop many and diverse supportive relationships.  Find the workplace where you fit in. One that has colleagues you enjoy working with and provides you with the income, benefits and other support you need.  Live where you really want to be.  That may be with family close by, or in the mountains, or on the coast with a view of the ocean.  What gives you life and energy? Find those people and that place. Resilience will naturally come along with all of that!

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