“When you get to the end of your rope,
tie a knot in it and hang on.”
– Franklin Roosevelt
I was one of those kids who never had much upper body strength. My friends would shimmy up those thick coarse ropes in the gym in two shakes and then smile smugly down on me as I struggled to get more than three feet off the ground.
How did they do that?
I did keep trying but never quite got the knack. Sigh.
While rope climbing has never been my thing, when we talk about resilience it’s usually using words like strength, tenacity and fortitude.
And I get that giving up at the first sign of difficulty is never going to get you to your destination or goal. But how often do we hang on for too long because we’re too afraid to let go, or we don’t know how?
There’s so much more to resilience than grit and mental toughness.
Just before the arrival of the global pandemic, I travelled with my husband to the magical Island of Lord Howe for the holiday of a lifetime. It is beyond magnificent in its pristine beauty. We swam, snorkelled and cycled our way around the island and even ventured up a couple of the mountains. While I opted out of attempting the steepest, I liked the thought of getting to Goat Cave which was well known for its magnificent views.
If a goat could get up there then surely, I could too.
After a few hours of steady climbing the final task was to haul ourselves up into the cave on a thin piece of rope.
Knowing my fear of heights, my husband encouraged me to take one step at a time and all of a sudden, I found myself perched inside the cave looking out onto the island and the ocean below.
The view was indeed amazing, and I thanked the goats for making such an astounding place their own.
But then as my husband chirruped away about the view and took some photographs, standing (in my opinion) far too close to the edge, my thoughts veered to “How the heck am I going to get down from here?”
All I could see was that thin piece of rope disappearing over the edge.
Shaking, I told him I needed to get out of the cave NOW before I got stuck. He went first and holding onto the rope disappeared out of sight within seconds.
“It’s OK!” “You can do this.” He shouted up to encourage me.
Having turned around away from the ocean I started to lower myself over that edge. Ever so slowly I inched myself down, holding onto that rope for grim death.
And then, I ran out of rope.
Dangling, with my muscles taut in fear, I held on.
“Let go!” Shouted my husband. “You’re there, just one step down and you’ll be fine!”
Except I couldn’t. Let go that is.
Fear of falling and not knowing what was below kept me gripping on tightly.
I stayed like that for what seemed an eternity, though in reality was probably no more than a couple of minutes. Eventually, my husband gently grabbed one of my boots and moved my foot down onto the ground.
Terra firma. How good that felt. As I looked up that cliff face that led into the cave, I was happy we had reached our destination and grateful for the experience in challenging my fear but the thought struck me.
“Have we got resilience all wrong?”
Because resilience is never a test of our endurance.
It’s about having a clear vision for what you want to achieve, a framework to get you there and a strategy for what to do if your plan doesn’t turn out the way you expected to.
It’s about recognising when to let go of that rope.
Which is why Roosevelt was wrong.
Sometimes we’re better served to know when to let go, to turn around, draw breath, rest and recover or ask for help.
Resilience is what we need to sustain us for the longer term. Hanging on for too long means we can miss those warning signs that fatigued muscles don’t work forever and we become at risk of injury – physical or mental.
That’s why I’m passionate about making mental wellbeing the norm in EVERY workplace, institution and school and that includes the understanding that,
- You are already more than resilient enough. You don’t need more resilience is about learning how to make your resilience work better for you.
- You don’t have to be Insta perfect to succeed.
- It will be those who “get” who you are, what you stand for and will have your back (or your foot) for whatever happens that will make the biggest difference to your health, your happiness and wellbeing.
If you’re feeling as if you’re getting too close to the edge, that you’re running out of rope, reach out, ask for help, take time to pause and ask, what do I need right now and what will I need for tomorrow?
Because burnout and mental mood disorders can be prevented.
Resilience is about Sustainability, Adaptability and Thriving.
Have you ever been to Goat Cave?
Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.
If psychological safety, resilience and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.