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Weaponized Resilience

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

Dear Everyone:

Recently, I've fielded a lot of requests for presentations and tools on resiliency.

Specifically in healthcare and education, there is appropriate, growing concern from administrators about the emotional health and well-being of their staff, and a desire for experts to provide them with resiliency tips and tools that may help.

All this begs an important question: are we facing an epidemic of resilience-deficiency? Or are we simply asking too much?

2020 has been traumatizing for almost everyone on multiple fronts, particularly for medical, DEI and education professionals who were harmed, hurting and burned out even BEFORE we entered this year-that-defies-description.

Unsurprisingly, professionals in these industries immediately stepped up and stepped in, pouring every bit of their experience and passion into mitigating harm, providing structure and support to others, and defending life. They have maintained an unrelenting pace in that work for ten months.

This is not benign.

This is not a lack of resilience.

What we are seeing is the beginning of the end-game when highly resilient, competent professionals are asked to give too much, for too long, without properly scaffolded support.

This is the Weaponization of Resilience.


Let's briefly use the Hoover dam as a metaphor for individual resilience.

I remember standing at the base of the dam, decades ago, looking up in astonishment at this massive structure. Thinking about it today, several images come to mind:

First: when you're standing downstream looking UP at the dam, you no sense whatsoever of the water level above;

Second (again from the downstream vantage): when all the spillways are open, all you see is this massive, seemingly boundless outpouring of water. This is resilience pouring forth in response to crisis.

Third: the view from the shores of Lake Mead may show her full and robust. The spillways were opened and the water is rushing out below, but up top the waters are quiet. Standing here, it is almost impossible to appreciate the drain;

Finally: the birds-eye view, providing a look at the Colorado River and its tributaries flowing steadily towards the reservoir. The rivers are the habits of body, mind and spirit that must be tended to maintain resilience.

Hold all those images in your mind while I say this:

Frontline professionals Do. Not. Lack. Resilience.

They simply have poured out too much resilience for too long.


If you're a provider in healthcare or education, please know:

YOU are in charge of your spillways.

I'm going to say it again, because I am continually surprised by the number of high functioning adults who have never heard or absorbed this critical lesson: You have absolute and ultimate control over the number and rate of flow from the spillways you *choose* to open.

It is choice.

It may not look like choice. It may not feel like choice. And when you finally realize it IS choice, you may not like what results from that choice. But the first and most important step is to realize that IT. IS. CHOICE.

The audacious suggestion that professionals lack resilience is the weaponization of 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.


A few final thoughts:

First: beware the Downstream Cheering Squad.

You know them. The boss or co-workers or even well-intentioned family and friends 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 one extra project! 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)? YOU LACK RESILIENCE."

You lack resilience.


This idea that the outflow can be maintained indefinitely if only we would increase the inflow through a moment of “rest and reflection,” is deeply, profoundly harmful.

Second: we are living and working in a culture that is maximally disruptive to the human nervous system. It blatantly disregards our most basic human needs to connect, to feel safe and to be heard. These are times of maximum extraction of human capital.

Restoration begins in remembering who actually controls the spillways.

Responding with honesty and boundaried integrity to the unrelenting needs of the Downstream Cheering Squad takes practice. But we cannot possibly expect others to recognize and honor our boundaries and needs if we do not know and honor them ourselves.

Resilience is a resource. No resource is limitless. Do not allow others to weaponize your previously demonstrated resilience against you.

Reservoir maintenance requires attention to output as much as inflow.


Here's an invitation to reflect:

Pull out a notebook and take a few minutes to name and detail the spillways currently open in your personal and professional life.

The “little” ones count too (ie. cooking, laundry, that “extra” 5 p.m. meeting) There is a cumulative effect that needs naming to fully appreciate.

After naming each spillway, try to quantify how open it is: 25%? 75%? 110%

Now genuinely ask: where do I have choice? What can I choose to turn off? Turn down?

Sometimes that means giving up duties. Sometimes it means relinquishing control. Sometimes it requires reconfiguring a budget to hire additional help.

Occasionally it means finally learning to say: No. That doesn’t work for me.


Balancing resiliency inflow and output is the work of a lifetime. You probably won't get it right in the middle of a pandemic, but this is as good a time as any to begin.

Meanwhile, connect with someone you trust. The very best thing for a human in pain 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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