How I Changed My Definition Of "Resilience" & Escaped Burnout Culture

Portrait of a Thoughtful Young Woman

For several years, I worked as a consultant in a high-stress, fast-paced corporate environment that put extreme demands on my time and energy.

Getting all my work done sometimes meant staying up until the early hours of the morning finishing up client deliverables, forgoing sleep so I could wake up early and get into the office before my clients did, and not socially engaging with friends because I had to complete my to-do list. It was challenging, but I thought it was in my best interest to accept any and all challenges head-on.

At first glance, it seemed like my routine was working. I received positive feedback and was commended on my work ethic. However, after several years of pushing through this level of demand, under the surface, I was struggling. I subconsciously fell into a cycle of stress and burnout that affected my mental, emotional, and physical health. My autoimmune disease flared up, and, without knowing it at the time, I also had kidney cancer. In my pursuit of resilience, I ignored several moments when my body and mind were telling me to rest.

A new way to think about resilience.

The dictionary's definition of resilience is focused on the bouncing back, the recovery from setbacks. But when I hear the word resilience now, I think of something else: "How can I actively support myself through life so that I can thrive?" After years of misinterpreting the word, resilience has come to mean supporting my emotional, mental, and physical needs so that I can show up for myself more fully through highs and lows.

Here is my three-step approach to fostering this personality trait that I think so many of us get wrong:

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1. I acknowledge my emotions.

When I was overwhelmed with work and experiencing burnout, sitting with my emotions allowed me to come to terms with how much I was really suffering. Doing so led me down a path toward more self-compassion.

Society often does not encourage us to openly talk about our emotions. However, by allowing yourself to acknowledge how you feel—as scary as it may be—you may find yourself more motivated to take those first steps forward.

2. I am constantly renewing my energy sources.

You may have heard the term "love tank" applied to romantic relationships, but this same concept can apply to your relationship with yourself. When you have a full love tank, you feel emotionally connected to yourself, your needs are met, and you feel full. When there is disconnection or a general lack of commitment, your tank is closer to empty.

Ultimately, you are the authority on what fills up your tank—what makes you light up and feel energized. To tune in to what you need more of, journal on questions such as: "Where am I headed on my current path?" and "Where would I like to be headed?"

Explore the "why" of where you are headed in each. This type of reflective journaling has become my personal favorite form of daily therapy.

3. I have found sustainable self-care rituals.

Self-care is self-compassion in action. It's about showing yourself kindness, supporting your overall growth, and creating a stable foundation to stand on. It's not necessarily the bubble bath you see on Instagram. While these more surface practices do feel good in the moment, I consider them to be temporary forms of self-soothing.

Instead, I split self-care into four categories: physical, mental, emotional, and relational. Is what I am doing going to support me in a meaningful way? Does it feel sustainable to my life so that it can provide myself care in the long term? These are some of the questions I ask myself.

I'd like to share that I meditate for half an hour every morning, but I don't. It's not a goal that I have because I know that it doesn't feel sustainable to me, and it won't nourish me in the long run. Instead, every day I try to take a few moments of mindfulness and conscious breath for myself, especially when I feel anxious. Or, I'll connect with my community, go for a walk around my neighborhood, or read from a personal development book.

By releasing some of the expectation and pressure around my well-being, I've been able to more fully show up for myself.

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The bottom line.

My journey has shown me that resilience is an active word; it is something you can practice in your everyday life to help make you stronger. Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "Change is the only constant in life." Once there is an understanding that we all experience change, and you aren't alone in this struggle, the question then becomes how can you show up stronger and thrive through life's challenges.

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