The American Psychological Association defines resilience as a process of overcoming adversity, where individuals recover from significant stress by applying mindsets and behaviors that can be learned and developed over time. Some psychologists think resilience is no big deal. American child expert Ann Masten calls resilience “ordinary magic,” a process that naturally arises as humans interact with and adapt to their environment.
After being an entrepreneur for 22 years, I decided to study what makes women entrepreneurs resilient for my master’s thesis. This work began in April 2020. During the pandemic I also worked with entrepreneurs – both women and men – as a COVID-19 Business Relief Advisor for a rural development agency. From these various vantage points, I see resilience as anything but ordinary. How some women business owners have managed to run a business while keeping their kids learning online, for instance, is nothing short of miraculous!
What I found out in my research, however, is that resilience is in the eye of the beholder; anyone looking to help entrepreneurs develop or maintain resilience ought not to impose their own views of what is appropriate resilience, lest they perpetuate systemic barriers to women business owners.
In my research entrepreneurs described resilience with action-oriented words about overcoming obstacles, requiring the entrepreneur to “move forward,” “power through” or “plow ahead.” For many this was accompanied by an element of “continuing no matter what.” Claudia* said: “Resilience means I won’t bring my arms down and I will not give up. Nobody is going to step on me. I’m going to outsmart, outwit and outplay. I’m going to give it all that I can. I’m going to strategize to a tee. Until there’s not – nothing left in me.”
Resilience is being flexible & comfortable with failure
The concept of flexibility and resilience by adapting and maintaining a positive outlook also came up. Elise* compared resilience to a tree in the forest: “It gets struck by lightning, and it keeps growing, or another tree grows around it.”
Neither was resilience about always succeeding; resilience occurred by learning from mistakes. Anik* described a process of trial and error: “There’s absolutely no way to know what is the right thing for you until you actually try something. So I… try and fail at a lot of things, but I never really look at them as failure. I just look at them as, that didn’t really work out. Something came of it. I learned something of it, or I had fun in part of it, it really sucked in other parts, and I’ll try something else.”
Being resilient is the essence of entrepreneurship
As a healthcare business owner for 20+ years, Annie* declared resilience is an essential ingredient to entrepreneurship. “When you are self-employed… you don’t have that safety net. I think you have to be resilient, otherwise you can’t be an entrepreneur,” she asserted.
What is your definition of resilience? How does it compare to what these women business owners have said?
*Quotes in this post are from real people, but names are fictional to protect their identity.
Please share your experiences and thoughts below. Let’s learn from one another and celebrate each other’s successes.
Thanks for reading!