Weaponized Resilience


Dear Everyone:

Here’s a truth - I’ve struggled to find my voice for this format.

It isn’t that I don’t have things to say. Love knows that I generally have bucketloads of things to say. But I somehow managed to get myself twisted up in the idea that I had to set just the right, “professional” tone for the work we’re doing, and that tiny thought gave space to my shadow and brought my creative, authentic self to a screaming halt.

But today, in the darkness and quiet of the very early (yes, 4 a.m. is my jam. It would be yours, too, if you lived with my tiny humans) morning hours I remembered something important: I am a professional.

Funny that, even 25 years from the day I first stepped foot into medical school, I have to remind myself of this simple fact.

I frequently share this truth with medical students and residents: Imposter Syndrome is real, almost everyone experiences it at some point, and it will sneak up and smack you at the strangest moments, long after you think you should have moved beyond its reach.

Our shadow side wants us to believe we are alone in our insecurities, pain and shame. I hope my early morning admission helps free you from this harmful belief.

You are not alone.

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My primary objective in these Sunday morning blogs is to open up curious and transformative conversations, to call folx closer, to invite exploration, to hold liminal space for the pain that often accompanies transition, and to embody the foundational principles of Listen-Protect-Connect in every encounter.

Small stuff. :)

This means, of course, there will be shared learning and an invitation to explore ideas and experience, and to dive deep into whatever strong emotions arise. There will be science – especially neuroscience – and gentle reminders to tend all the things that contribute to wellness in the midst of chaos.

Speaking of that tending, everyone go water yourself. Yep. Right now. I’ll wait…

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Hydrated is always a good place to start.

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2020 has been a difficult and traumatizing year for most people on multiple fronts, particularly for medical, DEI and education professionals who were already harmed, hurting and burned out prior to the tridemic of COVID, Racism and Distance Learning. Unsurprisingly, these professionals immediately stepped up and stepped in, pouring every bit of their experience and passion into mitigating harm and defending life, and have maintained an unrelenting pace in that work for months.

This is not benign.

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Recently, I’ve been rumbling with the idea of the Hoover dam as a metaphor for our individual resilience. I remember standing at the base of the dam, decades ago, looking up in astonishment at this massive structure. When I think about it today, several things come to mind: First, the downstream vantage gives you no sense whatsoever of the water level above; second is the image of the dam with all its spillways open and the torrent of water pouring out – a powerful and seemingly endless rush of water released to meet the need; third is the view from above, with Lake Mead full and robust, her waters still and at the ready to meet any demand and, finally; the satellite view, with the Colorado River and its tributaries flowing steadily towards the reservoir.

Most of you are already “there,” right? The dam is us, the reservoir represents our resilience, the open spillways are our reaction to stress and need, and the upstream river with its tributaries are those daily resilience-building strategies we deploy.

(I’ll be honest, I had about 2,000 words written here in which I beat this metaphor to death. I just cut all of it. You’re welcome.)

Now it gets fun, because we’re going to hold several things simultaneously, and I’m going to lay down a challenge for those of you who are game.

The first thing to realize is this:

We are in charge of our spillways.

Let me say that again: each one of us has absolute and ultimate control over the number and rate of flow from the spillways we choose to open.

This may not be where you expected me to start and, honestly, prior to May of this year it isn’t where I would have started. I would have begun with the inflow, talking about the critical importance of tending to our Resiliency Rivers™ and encouraged discussion around how, when and how much time and attention we give to the tributaries of those rivers.

What I’ve come to know, however, is that this impulse to look only upstream – our tendency to view our resilience as impacted only by how well we tend those rivers – is exactly how and where this beautiful and important concept of nurturing and expanding Resilience is being Weaponized.


Weaponizing Resiliency. What a concept.


And yet it is happening, everywhere I look.

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It begins with our Downstream Cheering Squad. You know who they are. The boss or co-workers or even well-intentioned accquaintances who stand at the base, loving what you DO, amazed by your capacity and shouting out words of “encouragement.”

“OMG GO YOU! And hey – can you open JUST ONE MORE SPILLWAY?! Just this shift! Just this one extra project! A little wider, please because YOU are SO IMPORTANT and NO ONE can do what you can do! People will DIE without you! Children will SUFFER without you! IT ALL FALLS APART WITHOUT YOU!”

{{collective deep breath, then}}

“What do you mean you can’t? Why are you acting like this (Detached. Disorganized. Disoriented. Disengaged. Demoralized. Disgusted. Angry. Apathetic. Emotionally Exhausted)? What do you mean you’re Burned Out? You lack Resilience. Why don’t you take a moment for rest and reflection… why don’t you… why can’t you……..”

This idea that the outflow can be maintained indefinitely if only we would increase the inflow (through a moment of “rest and reflection,” no less) is deeply, profoundly harmful.

The audacious suggestion that professionals lack resilience is nothing more than the weaponization of what has been decades of TOO MUCH resilience: A willingness to be too adaptable, too willing to work harder and longer, and too willing to sacrifice self at the altar of medicine, of education, of humanity.

We are living and working in a culture that is maximally disruptive to the human nervous system while it blatantly disregards our most basic human needs to connect, to feel safe and to be heard. We tolerate both casual brutality and maximum extraction of human and natural resources.

But our resources are not without limits, and everywhere I look, reservoirs have gotten traumatically low.

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Restoration begins when we remember who actually controls the spillways.

All burnout and trauma involve some level of real or perceived loss of control. As we learn to navigate these traumatizing times, where so much is completely outside our power, it is critical we learn to name and reclaim our choices: Which spillways can be turned down? Turned off? SEALED off, permanently?

This is a critical step in the restoration of balance and the replenishment of resiliency.

We must learn to respond with honesty and boundaried integrity to the unrelenting requests from the Downstream Cheering Squad. Our fully open spillways may look like resilience to them, and may even feel like resilience to us, but this philosophy of endlessly draining resources and energy must stop.

Importantly, we cannot possibly expect others to honor our boundaries and needs if we do not know and honor them ourselves.

This is where I would like to issue an invitation…

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Pull out a notebook and take a few minutes to name, in as much detail as you can, the spillways that are currently open in your personal and professional life. The “little” ones (cooking, laundry, that “extra” 5 p.m. meeting) count too – there’s a cumulative effect we have to name and learn to appreciate.

Name each spillway and try to quantify how open it is: 25%? 75%? 110%

Now genuinely ask yourself: what can I choose to turn off? Turn down?

Sometimes that means giving up duties. Sometimes it is relinquishing control. Sometimes it requires reconfiguring a budget to hire additional help, and occasionally (I hope!) it is learning to say:

No. That doesn’t work for me.

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Of course, this isn’t the whole of it. In part two of this series we will take a closer look at the 5 Resiliency Rivers™ each of us must recognize and honor, and in part three, we’ll rumble with the role of that All-Important Spotter in our lives…

Meanwhile, connect with someone you trust – the best thing for the human body budget is another human with whom we can openly share our fears, our struggles, our learning, our love and our laughter…

Don’t forget the laughter.

Please hydrate.


Take care of one another this week.

More soon,

Dr. K

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Contact us at 217.691.4441 or kemia@lodestarpc.com