Updated: Jan 17
What happens if we connect our reservoirs?
I love metaphor.
Throughout the #Tridemic, one of the most frequent requests I received was for resiliency training and coaching. Last April, it struck me as wonderfully forward thinking. I have a Resiliency Reservoir metaphor I enjoy utilizing, and it felt important to facilitate thinking and planning about the 5 Major Resiliency Rivers each of us need to tend.
By June, I had added the concept of Spillways because, truthfully, in times of crisis and ongoing trauma none of us can do all the things we need to keep those upstream rivers robust. Sooner or later, we’re going to have to turn down (or off!) some of the water flowing out.
By September it was clear that sometimes, *some* of us (ahem) have difficulty noticing that water levels are getting dangerously low, so I introduced the idea of Spotters. These are Our People, the ones with eyes on the robustness of our rivers, the rate of flow out, and the water level overall.
By December I was just pissed off.
Ours has long been a culture of maximum extraction of resources. This is neither benign, nor is it without consequence for both for individuals and institutions. When those with the greatest resiliency capacitance are relentlessly encouraged to pour forth without attention to, or recognition of, the long-term consequences, reservoirs run dry.
This is how Resilience is Weaponized.
The weaponization of resilience is particularly effective against those who have demonstrated ample capacity in times of crisis. This weaponization is often insidious and couched in the language of support and encouragement: You have been AMAZING (so far)! No one can do what you do (for so little reward)! Thank you so much for all your efforts (to date)! Hang in there a LITTLE LONGER (we have no end point)! Give just THIS MUCH MORE (aka all of you)!
This is exactly what happened.
In fairness, highly resilient people also do this to themselves. They fail to recognize the early warning signals that indicate water levels are approaching the point of crisis (hence the need each of us have for good, loud, persistent Spotters). They overestimate the "rate of flow" into their reservoir, thinking it adequate for the times.
They also GROSSLY underestimate the rate of flow out. And they are easily convinced (by self and others) of the belief that their contribution is critical to the well-being, health, protection or education of others, and that “failure” to continue pouring forth at maximum rate will result in the catastrophic failure of earth’s gravity (or, at the very least, will not advance the causes of life, truth & justice).
All of this ultimately adds up to scorched earth.
Resilience is not a fixed entity. Water levels can vary wildly, are dependent on both internal and external circumstances, and are profoundly impacted by both personal and organizational decisions. No matter how big and deep one’s Reservoir may be, every single one of us can be pushed into a state of drought – particularly in times of prolonged crisis.
The overall capacity – the size of the container, itself – isn’t a fixed entity, either. Although adversity and stress can actually serve as backhoes, scraping out and increasing reservoir size, it is important to note that safe reservoir expansion requires that appropriate, scaffolded supports are in place. Absent this structure, extreme adversity over time can easily end up embedded and embodied as a traumatic experience.
Our culture of maximum extraction is not sustainable.
The price we’ll pay – are already paying – is significant. Across industries, individuals are conducting personal cost-benefit analysis and choosing to leave professions they once loved. Others are quietly ReImagining next steps and adjusting their exit plans. Even more are increasingly disengaged, detached, and angry. And some are harmed to the point of needing immediate intervention – even while appearing “fine” to everyone around them.
Check on your people, people.
You are not un-resilient (Irresilient? Nonresilient? Resilientless? The Google is failing me).
You DO NOT LACK resilience.
You are, in fact, TOO. Too resilient, too resolute, too problem-solvy, too solutions-oriented, and have been going too hard and too fast for too long.
Rest and Restoration are important. So is ReConnection.
We often talk about partnerships (personal and professional) as 50/50 propositions. In truth, they rarely are. The aim, however, is to ensure that lines of communication and understanding are in place so We generally add up to 100.
Getting there in a world that consistently sends the message that each of us should be at 100 on our own makes this feel fraught with danger. It also is our way forward, sustainably.
We begin by getting honest (aka vulnerable) with ourselves and select others. Sometimes it means asking those around us, “how can I best support you right now?” then leaning in to really listen to (and beneath) their answer. Sometimes it means recognizing and asking for what we need. Sometimes it means giving a bit more than usual.
And sometimes it means acknowledging we’re all just so depleted there is no way we’re gonna get to 100, then working together to create a mindful plan for harm reduction as we replenish our reservoirs.
The fundamental questions then become: Are we willing to ask? Are we willing to share?
If we learned anything from the last year, it is that we are all far more interconnected than we previously realized. We can join our Reservoir with others who recognize and respect the value of interconnected waterways. Increasingly, there are those among us willing to lend water when needed, and willing to ask for water when feeling depleted.
This is sustainable, if we're willing to acknowledge and tell the truth - first to ourselves, and then to others who have demonstrated they'll listen and engage. I have to be willing to look my spouse or bestie or colleague in the eye and say, “I’m level 20,” and allow them to say, “that’s ok! This week I’m level 80 – have some water.”
Suddenly my reservoir is out of the red zone.
We are all far more interconnected than we ever imagined.
This week's challenge is to rumble with what it might look and feel like to reduce toxic independence in favor of sustainable interconnection.
I’m taking the week off for a personal ReSet.
I hope you find time to play and laugh.
And, of course, hydrate.