How to develop a deeply resilient life

I first picked up the book, ‘A Resilient Life’ by Gordon MacDonald when I was just turning 40. That was a very long time ago! Even so I still remember the profound impact it had on me then (and still continues to have). At the time I was entering into mid-life with all the associated questioning and self-doubt as to what had I achieved or, perhaps more accurately, not achieved in my life. It seemed to me so many others had done so much more, were further along the road of their calling and generally more sorted out (a dangerous thing to think!). Maybe you could call it the typical Midlife – Crisis or Chrysalis that is the subject of a previous blog post.

SamuelWanjiruMacdonald had a beautifully simple analogy that drew me into his book. Imagine the marathon runner, he says. He runs that race –  all 26 miles and 365 yards (or 42.2 kilometres if you prefer). It is long; it is gruelling; it is tough. But if the runner paces themselves correctly then they aim to finish the race with a sprint. They don’t just hobble across the finish line – no they aim to end with a final flourish, celebrating the end in a way that brings a climax to all they have done to come so far.

Macdonald defined ‘the way of resilience’ in someone as “going through adversity, coming out stronger so they are now an inspiration to others, getting better as time goes by.” 

For someone getting older that is enormously attractive!

Resilience matters more and more because:

Work-life balance. Is it possible?

3 ways we get it wrong

The idea of work-life balance is popular. For many years I strived to achieve it. I now think, as it is commonly understood, it is grossly over-rated and even potentially harmful. I know that is a radical thing to say. Here’s why.


Balance is dynamic and not static.
Another way of saying that is life-work balance is a tension to be managed rather than a problem to be solved. When we think of balance we instinctively think of a scale. There are two priorities of equal value and we are trying to give them both equal attention. Like the tight-rope walker we are precariously placed and any sudden change can potentially be dangerous.
For the tight-rope walker, she has to keep moving or she will fall off! She has to be a little out of balance if she is to move forward. When she is balanced, it doesn’t feel like it and yet that is so much how it is with life! We have to keep making adjustments and move forward, but not too much or too little too quickly in case we fall off….

Podcast #021: Grit

What it is, why we need it and how to develop it

In  a world that is becoming increasingly volatile, unpredictable, challenging and complex, the development of grit has arguably never been more necessary. On the one hand, especially in the more prosperous parts of the world, we have never had more access to technology and labour saving devices. At the same time it is incredibly easy to become overwhelmed and exhausted by the never ending demands on our time and the things that need to be done at what seems to be greater and greater speed.


Do come and join my co-host Andrew Horton and I as we discuss on this podcast:

What grit actually is and why it is so important.

Examples of grit in the lives of people like JK Rowling, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Steve Jobs.

Dissecting grit into 5 key components.

7 simple ways to develop grit in your own life.

The Jewish carpenter and His development of grit.

You may also find of interest:

The difference grit can make to you.

Do you need more grit?

Should living in a VUCA world matter to you?

An interview with Baroness Caroline Cox, a lady of remarkable grit.

What thoughts, questions and reflections does grit raise for you?

Should a God of love get angry?

The media is full of stories of terrible atrocities and injustice everywhere. They are brutal reminders of the violent world that we live in. How can we make sense of a loving God when so many terrible tragedies happen? Can there be a God and if there is how can He be loving by allowing such things to happen?

Such questions a friend recently asked me following the news of a horrific terrorist atrocity. Her premise was that we need to focus on simply being more loving and understanding. A loving God she said, would not get angry. If we really loved people then we would see an end to terrible violence. The following post is part of my response to our discussion. I share it with you in the hope that it may help you or those you know who also grapple with such questions.

20081123120727-violencia-de-generoWhile I would agree with those that say we need to focus on love and understanding, at the same time we also have to engage with the realities of the world around us. Working as a psychiatrist I have had patients who have done terrible things. They have been treated with a lot of compassion and respect by the Health Service, yet they still go on with their crimes. When I talk to them it becomes clear that some of them don’t want to face the consequences of their actions and given the opportunity will revert to their previous behaviour. We spend huge amounts of money to protect the public from them.

Here is how the author Becky Pippert in her book ‘Hope Has Its Reasons: The Search to Satisfy Our Deepest Longings’ in chapter 4 of her book entitled What Kind of God gets Angry?

What does it actually take to be a more caring person?

Developing care and compassion for others is not necessarily something that comes naturally. It cannot be easily taught in a classroom or from lectures. However, being a caring person is an essential life skill for our own character development and to grow into maturity.

This 5 minute video from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, United States powerfully shows what it actually takes to develop a truly caring and compassionate mindset. As you watch it you will see an unexpected and surprising twist in the lives of the subjects portrayed:

The video was first brought to my attention by John Geater who is International Director of PRIME (an international network of professional healthcare educators, committed to integrating rigorous science and compassionate care for the whole person).

Below are John’s observations on the video. While he writes as a doctor, he makes some important universal insights about getting along side others in their suffering and pain. It is also a good reminder to me about my own attitude when I sit with a patient and/or their family or carer.

“So maybe we could make a more conscious effort to look into the eyes of our patients and see something of their journey. We must of course be careful not to jump to conclusions too quickly, and in some cultures we have to be careful of too direct a gaze, but it is remarkable just how much our inner being can relate to another human being. Some people avoid such relationships under the guise of “professional distance” . When I trained 50 years ago I was told we must become hardened to our patients pain otherwise we would burn out. However, the privilege afforded to us in the caring professions of deep relationship with other human beings, even if only for a few minutes, is something that I treasured during my years of practice.” 

The video ends with the following summary of what it takes to grow into true maturity and sober judgement

To have felt insensitivity….. is to be more kind.

To have faced fear ….. is to recognise it in the eyes before you.

And to have fought to live …… is to know how fragile life can be.

If you found the video and this post helpful you may also appreciate the following posts and videos:

What If You Could Read Other People’s Minds?

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering Part 1 and Part 2

Why Does A Loving God Allow Pain and Suffering?

What questions, thoughts and reflections does the video raise for you?

What can the Olympics teach you about your life?

It’s great fun to watch the Olympics. Seeing the athletes and sports men and women perform to such a high standard is often incredibly inspiring and exciting. Their dedication and commitment to excellence and achieving that elusive gold medal is quite remarkable. The vast majority do not reach that level of acclaim and greatness. Their lives can seem so far removed from ours. Yet there are principles on life we can glean from such champions.

olympic-ringsAnson Dorrance, who started the University of North Carolina Women’s Soccer Program in 1979 and has been described as possibly the greatest college soccer coach ever and one of the most successful coaches in any sport has said:

The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat at the point of exhaustion, when no one else is watching.”

We watch the athletes in the stadium with millions of people around the world. They can make their expertise and skill appear almost effortless. What we forget is the huge amount of sacrifice, commitment and dedication that has taken place behind the scenes. It is all that work and dedication when no one else was watching that made the difference.

The Olympics is a reminder of how in leadership to rise and succeed it is necessary to give up in order to go up. John Maxwell explains this in his 18th law of Leadership – the Law of Sacrifice.

When we make a sacrifice we have to believe that the outcome in the long run will be far better than the short term pain or discomfort. Olympic athletes certainly believe that when they get up incredibly early to practice and train and make countless daily sacrifices to perform at their very best with no guarantee of eventual success. They often do that silently and when no one is watching or even caring.

But you and I are not (as far as I know) training to be Olympic athletes. However, if you are hungry to become the best you can be, then you are going to need to be willing to make sacrifices in order to reach your potential.

Here are 4 truths about leading oneself to success, according to John Maxwell. They apply to Olympic athletes and they likely apply to you in the challenges you may be facing in your life:

Midlife – Crisis or Chrysalis?

A guest post by Chris Goswami

“Is this all I am ever going to do?”

iStock_2709202_MEDIUMHave you ever had this thought? If so, you might be approaching midlife, or maybe you already got there. Where is that exactly? Well it keeps moving because people live longer and healthier, but for most of us it starts anywhere from your forties through to sixty-something.

Of course the idea that there might be something new to do isn’t limited to middle-age but it is often a feature of middle-age. Some people call this time of re-thinking and longing a crisis. But good things come from a crisis.

Gerald Marzorati is one example of a man who did something new. Late to the Ball is his story of how, aged 60, and complete with arthritis, tendonitis, and flat feet, he decided to become a national tennis player. Before this, he had played amateur tennis for a few years only. I haven’t read his book, and I’m rubbish at tennis, but I think I know the midlife feeling.

Crisis or Chrysalis?

I am in my early fifties but when I was approaching the five-oh I had that “is this all I am ever going to do?” moment – in fact lots of them, over many months. I was struck by all the ideas I had put off as a young man till later, all the things I was “too busy” to do, and even things I felt God calling me to do but … not just now please. They all appeared at once, as did the realisation that doing them all “later” suddenly didn’t seem very practical.

Not all mid-lifers go through this unsettled phase but many do. Mid-lifers are not “old” (…of course not!) but we can see old strolling down the road smiling amiably and waving at us … And we don’t want to greet him just yet. For many, especially in their 50s and 60s, careers are settled maybe tailing-off, mortgages being paid off, children on the verge of independence –they will always cause us worry but there seems less we can do for them – and bodies are often healthy if not youthful. So …

Podcast #020: Being a voice to the voiceless

Baroness Caroline Cox founded Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) in 2004. In the video and podcast below we find out about the inspiration behind the charity and its work in making a difference. HART seeks to reach those who are off the radar screen of the mainstream media and cannot be supported by major aid agencies.

Do join us on the podcast as we discuss with Baroness Caroline Cox how HART was founded to fill a need to support and encourage those in desperate need and without a voice.

On the podcast we find out about:

  • How and why Caroline was initially inspired in the 1980s to travel by truck to Poland when it was under martial law and control by the Soviet Union.
  • The power of ideas and the dangers of taking blank computer paper into a totalitarian state.
  • Caroline’s calling to “share the darkness”
  • A 12 year old Polish boy’s words, “I believe in the sun even when I cannot see it. I believe in love even when I cannot feel it.”
  • The literal translation of enthusiasm as ‘God in us’.
  • Making a difference with the freedom and plenty that many of us have.
  • The sacrament of the present moment.
  • Why Caroline has visited Nagorno Karabakh 83 times so far – a place that in 1991 was subject to ruthless ethnic cleansing by Azerbaijan
  • Caroline feeling overwhelmed after walking through destroyed churches in India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Sudan, and saying “I’ve done this too often.”
  • The incompleteness of the Western view of Christmas that ignores the suffering after Jesus’ birth
  • Having a world view and theology that can deal with modern Herods and contemporary evil.

Baroness Cox writes:

“During my work with the persecuted church I have met many people who are suffering for their faith and I always return from my travels humbled and inspired by their courage, faith, dignity and miracles of grace. Many stories of those living on the front lines of faith illustrate spiritual blessings such as joy, peace and love in ways which are far from depressing.”

If you haven’t listened to the life story of Baroness Cox do also go to Podcast #019 and find out about this extraordinary grandmother. In both these podcasts she talks openly of her own battle with depressive thinking and what she insightfully calls ‘faithless fearful dread.’

You can find out more about the work of HART at their website which is linked here.

We also refer to Baroness Cox’s work in challenging religiously sanctioned gender discrimination in the UK via the Equal and Free website that can be accessed here.

In summary she reminds us, “I cannot do everything, but I must not do nothing.”

What thoughts and reflections does this raise for you?

What if you could read other people’s minds?

The power of empathy

I know for myself how easy it is to assume things about other people with little or no evidence. They don’t say anything or they say something we don’t like and we make assumptions about who they are and what their faults and failings are. Psychologists call this the fundamental attribution error, which basically means we judge ourselves by our motives, but others by their actions. So, for example, I see a father getting angry with his child and make a judgement that he must be a bad parent. However, when I do the same thing, I am just showing appropriate discipline to child who deserves what they are getting!

But what if you and I could actually read someone else’s mind and really know the challenges and problems they are battling with?

The 4 minute video above is from the Cleveland Clinic, a leading US clinic in Cleveland Ohio. There is no dialogue apart from the unspoken words of the different characters. It is simple, but powerful to watch.

The video was first brought to my attention by John Geater who is International Director of PRIME (an international network of professional healthcare educators, committed to integrating rigorous science and compassionate care for the whole person).

Below are John’s observations on the video. While he writes as a doctor, he makes some important universal insights about empathy and getting along side others in their suffering and pain. It is also a good reminder to me about my own attitude when I sit with a patient and/or their family or carer…..

What should you actually be doing next?

Apart from reading this!

While I’m afraid I can’t give you a specific answer to that question, you don’t need me to tell you that life can get incredibly busy. There has been an exponential increase in technology and so there are an almost infinite number of priorities pressing for our attention every moment of the day. thinking web pic It can be practically anything from emails to instant messaging and social media to the person who comes to you saying “Do you have a spare minute?” And you know its going to be a lot more than a minute!

Effective leaders understand that activity does not necessarily lead to accomplishment. It is not enough to be busy – the question is what are you being busy about? There are basically only three kinds of work that need to be done:

  • The work that was planned in advance.
  • The work that shows up with no warning in the moment.
  • The work involved in defining the work that needs to be done in the first place.


While the first two are fairly obvious, it is the third one that we tend to overlook. John Maxwell talks about this in terms of his 17th law of leadership, which is the law of priorities: Leaders understand activity is not necessarily accomplishment. Just because I planned to do something at 10am on Tuesday or something landed on my desk at that time, does not guarantee that is the best use of my time. But it can mean I appear very busy. When I say yes to something, at the same time there are a whole load of other things that I am then saying no to.

The danger is that when we are busy we tend to think that because we are busy then we are somehow achieving. However, as someone once said, if we haven’t thought about where we are going, then being busy just means we get to the wrong place faster! Prioritising means we are continually scanning to think ahead about what is important, what is coming up soon and how everything relates to our overall vision of what we want to become and where we want to go.

What I should actually be doing next is in fact a hugely complex and multi-faceted question. And I haven’t even added in other variables such as how much energy do I have in the moment and what kind of context am I in? For example can I handle the emotions involved with that phone call or  do I even have time for that call (having access to a phone is  less of an issue for most of us)?

Here are 3 questions to help you decide what you are going to do next: