Building resilience one step at a time

I’m going to start out sounding a bit full of myself here, but don’t worry, I will then lay my flaws bare for you to point and laugh at – throwing stones, optional – so  all will even out, and there is even an Hallelujah Chorus thrown in just for fun.

I’m good at a lot of stuff. I have enormous aptitude for learning new things and being very, very good at them. Examples of this include running fast, playing netball, playing the piano, speaking French, speaking Spanish, speaking Japanese, speaking German, sewing, cooking Indian food, playing elastics, and drinking a pint of beer faster than very large men.

But here’s the thing. I’ve never been particularly resilient. So I tried all of those things but gave them all up when everyone else worked hard and caught up to me (in the case of the beer drinking, it was probably for the best). I pretended – even to myself – to lose interest but the reality was I held myself up to an impossibly high standard and I couldn’t stand the feeling of not living up to it. Well, that’s one layer of reality. The next, even uglier layer, is that I didn’t like hard work or delayed gratification. I would simply take my bat and my ball and go home. What a sook!

This year has seen me taking stock of my life quite a bit  and I’m quite determined to shake this flakiness off and move forward to a phase of my life where I decide what’s important to me and commit to keep working away at it until I achieve what I want to achieve.

And I think my training for the half marathon in July has been pretty much a metaphor for this battle. As I have written before, I first tried to run a half marathon in 2011 but instead I struggled with PND and gave it up. Now, PND is a serious and legit condition and I am in no way saying it wasn’t real, but I think it was another ‘convenient’ way for me to get out of really challenging myself and following through on something that is HARD and takes WORK, and requires a bit of grit and determination.


Last Saturday I had a 16km run on my training schedule and as I ran I had a lot of time to think. Sometimes I felt like stopping (especially when I realised the path I took was taking me all the way to the top of a mountain that looks out across the whole of Brisbane – hmmmm, smart!), but I kept telling myself that if I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how slow, I was taking steps towards my goal of 16km and eventually I would get there. And right there at about the 13km mark, I had my a-ha moment:

That’s it – that’s my life! I need to focus on the things that are important to me and just keep moving towards them – no matter how small those steps are and no matter how slowly I take them. Eventually I will get there.

Queue choir of angels singing the Hallulujah Chorus (see, told ya).

This will apply to my career, to my plans for my family, and to things that I want personally in my life. So that Aesop dude was right all along: slow and steady really does win the race. What a smart guy! I’m late to the resilience party but, holy shit, I’m happy I’m here. The company is excellent and I feel incredibly optimistic about my future (and a tiny bit smug, if you want to know the entire truth). I can’t wait to knock over this 21.1km in July, and grab hold of challenge after challenge beyond that because now I know I can. Fucking right!

*Brisbane friends: if you’d like to join us to see Alisa Camplin talk about building resilience at a Business Chicks breakfast on the morning of Wednesday 25 June, please email asap. We are putting together a Champagne Cartel table – it would be great to meet some of you and learn a bit more about building resilience at the same time. More info here.

How resilient do you feel? Is it something you’ve had to learn or have you always been that way?



Written By

Carolyn is the editorial director of Champagne Cartel and a freelance writer. In her spare time she is a long-distance runner, peanut butter enthusiast, and single mum to three incredible humans.


  • Great post, Champagne Carolyn, and a timely reminder for ourselves but also the offspring. I read a lot of Alfie Kohn’s work, particularly his stuff on rewards and praise, and some of the compelling studies he presents tie in nicely to this issue. I’ll try to summarise briefly: when we praise someone for who they are, we set them up for failure. So if we tell children “look at your painting – you’re so clever, you’re such a good painter”, we make it about their innate ability. They go through life being told you’re a great painter, you’re a great painter, until they’re given a challenging painting task. They have a choice – try and risk failure and thus invalidate their self-image that they are “good” or not try at all and preserve it. If we praise their actions, we encourage them: “look at your painting – you worked really hard to get that shade of green just the way you wanted it; you really figured out how to make the stars look sparkly; I love how you decided to paint a dog in the corner” – we’re congratulating their decision-making and effort. So when tasked with something harder, they know they have the ability to work hard and make headway, and it’s not about whether they are naturally good or not. Indeed, there are all kinds of studies that show how praise for innate ability leads to worse outcomes on exactly the same tests! So by extension, we shouldn’t say to a kid “goodness, you are so messy” but rather “goodness, you made such a mess” – it takes the negative self talk away from the child him or herself and focuses the attention on her/his actions, which of course can be modified.

    And I think the same definitely applies to adults. We shouldn’t praise innate ability in ourselves or others – we should focus on the things we do so that we feel more in control. So I’ll start here – I won’t say “you’re such a great runner, CC”, but I will say “Watching your dedication to running and seeing your improvements each week is really very inspiring”. XX

  • You go girl. One of my son’s is exaclty the same in that he tries new things, is good at them but gives it away when his brothers take it up… just in case they become better at it then him. Me – I just have no patience and want to be able to do everything WHEN I try it. Learning? Meh Practice? Meh I just want to be able to do shit NOW! 🙂 xx

  • Yup. It’s so boring isn’t it? This one foot in front of another thing?

    But I have found it’s the only way I get to achieve anything as a mother. Pre-motherhood I was used to just going hard after my goals (get out of my way, goals to achieve!!!!) but unfortunately that way of charging ahead in a single-minded fashion just doesn’t work with two kids. And a husband!

  • Fucking yeah girl! What an awesome realisation to come to…and what an awesome moment to reach it. I’ve only recently had this same thought. In the past, I used to wonder why opportunity wasn’t seeking me out – only to realise it was me that had to do the seeking. And I had to get off my butt to do it. So now, I’m taking small and steady steps forward. Some steps are bigger than others, but I figure so long as I’m continuing to move forward, I’m edging ever closer to my goals and dreams.

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