Resilience in Entrepreneurship: The Game-Changing Superpower
After more than a decade of hospitality entrepreneurship, navigating yearly the seasonality of the business as well as having to face the devastating impact of Covid, I do consider building resilience to be one of the greatest investments into oneself as an entrepreneur. Resilience is our superpower on the journey to following our (entrepreneurial) dreams.
There are many different ways how people end up on an entrepreneurial journey. Some people are simply born into this context. Some people embark on that journey out of necessity or due to circumstances. And some people follow their dreams.
It does not really matter how you got started on that journey, what matters is how you live this experience and what you make out of it.
Entrepreneurship is filled with all kinds of challenges. While some types of businesses are more demanding than others, every area out there will experience its unique set of challenges, either predictable or fully unexpected. As oftentimes, we are not prepared for what is coming, cultivating resilience is the best guarantee we have for sustainable success.
Being resilient will enable us to cope better with the constantly changing circumstances, especially in our nowadays VUCA world. (While I do agree that “VUCA” term might be overused, then volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity do sound right when we think about the world today).
Resilience in entrepreneurship is about maintaining calm and focusing on your goals even if things do not seem to work out in the moment or when unexpected setbacks occur. It is about flexibility and adaptability, it is about tapping into your resourcefulness and determination. And sometimes it is about reminding yourself your greater WHY.
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary resilience is “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”.
APA Dictionary of Psychology says that “resilience is the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands”.
Tapping into resilience is the superpower you can relay on on your darkest days. It will be the source of wisdom and the force that will help you to learn, grow and bounce back from any setbacks. Just to be clear, resilience is not only about bouncing back, it is also about flexibility, adaptability and the capacity to create a new path forward.
My Personal Relationship with Cultivating Resilience
I ended up on my entrepreneurial journey almost accidentally. As I needed a job, my entrepreneurial boyfriend (today my husband) came up with the idea of creating me a job. And as I did have a few years of accounting and hostel managing experience under my belt, a Master thesis (in International Management) in the works, it did not sound like a bad idea.
A few month later an 18 bedroom B&B opened its doors in central Lisbon. I had never dreamt of being an entrepreneur and clearly had no idea what was coming, neither had I ever imagined myself in tourism sector (something that did not even sound like a real option back in 2000 in Estonia). Yet since 2009 entrepreneurship is the only life I know.
As an entrepreneur I have been through a fair share of challenges throughout the last 15 year. As I said before, challenges do show up in all shapes and sizes. For example, when the sales are slowing down and cashflow becomes scarce, or when unexpected circumstances rise out of the blue (this time when they installed a noisy traffic light behind the window of our B&B or back in 2010 when the Islandic vulcano erupted, or in 2020 when the full industry collapsed during pandemic), or when legal context changes (the Portuguese laws are constantly changing and rarely in favour of business owners) or when simply pipes break, neighbours start noisy dusty construction works, staff fails to show up to work or when you have to give bad news to somebody.
I am well aware that there are way more demanding and complex industries and businesses out there, yet each one is destined to deal with their own unique personal journey and its challenges.
For me resilience shows up as a three step process, which has been maturing through years of experience and wisdom of life and practice. The process is organic and messy, with different phases overlapping and changing the order, but it surely does help me every day.
1. Acceptance and space to surrender — whenever challenges rise, I do have to give myself some space to accept and surrender to what is. It is rarely fast and easy, but I allow myself a bit of time and grievance to let go of what was or of my own expectations. “Sleeping on it” is alway a great way to go about not letting the first reactions to destroy you. Just let it through your system and sleep on it. And sleep many nights on it if needed.
2. Creating new possibilities — once I get over the initial choque and disappointment my brain will start analysing alternative scenarios.
What can be done now?
What is still possible?
What is the next best scenario?
What other angles and perspectives can we apply to this situation?
It is a sort of a dance between flexibility and creativity and curiosity. And most of the time the solutions are simple and life moves on. When the circumstances are more complex and impactful, also the solutions take more time to show up, but they will. They always do.
I hate to admit it, sometimes the new is better than the old! Too often we choose to stay in our comfort zone and resist change, but when the change is forced on us, we might be positively surprised. We might even feel freed.
3. Adapting to the new — once the initial phase is over and we have found a solution or moved on, a little bit of space and effort is needed to accept the new. The more complex the situation, the more time it takes to incorporate the new and reimagine the future.
Throughout this process I remind myself that whatever business issue or a failure in hand is not reducing or defining my personal value. (Probably the most important reminder we all can give to ourselves!)
As an entrepreneur it is so easy to get our personal and professional life (and identity) mixed up. It is natural to take everything that happens in our business very personally thus reminding ourselves our unconditional innate value is important.
I also intentionally try to cultivate self-compassion and remind myself that even if my decisions somehow ended up causing these results, I did take them every time with good intentions in my heart and with the best knowledge I had at that time. As Maya Angelou says “you do better, when you know better”.
How To Develop Resilience
While resilience research has found several “protective and promotive” factors (e.g. schooling, parenting, mindset, community, self-regulation skills) that make people more resilient, it is noted that resilience is not a fixed trait and can be grown and developed over time. (1)
There is a lot of advice out there about how to develop your resilience. I have handpicked some advice I do believe in based on my own personal journey as an entrepreneur.
- Self-Care. While self-care is the most obvious suggestion, then it is often overlooked in context of busy and overwhelm. I know from my own experience that physical well-being (sleep, food, exercise) does make a difference when it comes to facing adversity and challenging times. It is difficult to be in a good headspace or take good decisions when your “batteries” are empty.
- Stay grounded (and patient). It is important to have a routine to feel grounded — to listen to your inner wisdom and to act in harmony with your core values. Reminding yourself of your WHY and your vision is an important force during tougher times. Avoid choosing instant gratification over long-term gains!
- Learn from your mistakes. Do not stay stuck too long obsessing about what went wrong. Instead, stand up, learn the lesson, and try to do better. Keit Krach reminds us that “resilience means not giving in, but rather learning from your experience and incorporating even negative experiences into your toolkit moving forward”(2)
- Cultivate creativity and resourcefulness. In challenging moments dwell in the possibilities. Let your imagination fly. Harness creativity. Ask yourself what else is possible? How could we approach this situation differently?
- Support network. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely place to be. Not everybody around you will understand your struggles and even if they do, they might not know how to help you, thus it is important to try to build your own your support network (e.g. wise friends, mentors, fellow entrepreneurs). “This network becomes an invaluable source of strength during the tumultuous times when self-doubt and exhaustion threaten to prevail (3).”
- Positive mindset. Cultivating positive growth mindset at all times is a powerful alliance of resilience. Being optimistic and focusing on the positive will not only keep you going, but it also helps to motivate the others around you.
- Practicing gratitude can help you build resilience. According to Chris Schembra gratitude builds personal resources and helps in forming and maintaining social relationships. Gratitude helps to rewire one´s brain, focusing from negative events away towards the positive ones, thus helping you to recognise that “good things can come from bad times”. (4)
Resilience is our superpower on the journey of following our (entrepreneurial) dreams. When we are knocked down, it is resilience that helps us to stand up again and again and keep moving.
I am a great believer in self-awareness. Once we understand better the concept of resilience, we are able to cultivate it and make it grow. At all times, let´s just not forget that the challenges we face in our business are not determining our innate value. We can learn from our experiences and start over any time. Overcoming failures and setbacks is adding extra value (in form of lessons, wisdom and experiences) to who we are and not the contrary.
PS! Positivepsychology.com offers some free resilience exercises — give it a try!
You might also enjoy reading: The Really Important First Step When Starting a Business