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Resilience and Redefining Success

As part of Digital Manufacturing Week, I recently watched a presentation by Francesca Halsall, a 3-time Olympian and a World, European and Commonwealth gold medal-winning swimmer. Halsall spoke about building resilience through adversity and recalled the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, where she went in as favourite to win multiple gold medals across six events. However, during the Games, she became ill and was unable to compete at anywhere near her peak level.


Despite the obvious disappointment of finding herself in this unexpected situation, Halsall looked at what she could control. She quickly realised that blaming the situation or others was not going to help her perform at those particular Commonwealth Games. She was also acutely aware that her long-term goal was to become an Olympic champion, so what action could she take in Delhi to best support that long-term goal?


Halsall decided to use the sickness to learn how to perform at the best level she could while being ill, with the intention that it would help her if she found herself in similar circumstances during the Olympics. Although she didn’t achieve the multiple gold medals she was on target for at that Commonwealth Games, her resilience and mindset did enable her to win gold in the individual 50m butterfly, as well as other medals in individual and relay events. She also learned to fight through the adversity of illness during a major championships.


While those looking at the form going into the Commonwealth Games may not have viewed this as being a successful return, Halsall redefined what success would be for her in the situation she found herself in. As a result, she came away having had what she now perceived to be a successful Games.


Redefining success in 2020


In her presentation, she likened the situation to the current Covid-19 pandemic. Nobody expected to be in this position and targets for 2020 may have gone out of the window. But it’s no use sitting around blaming the situation or blaming other people. What action, that aligns to our long-term goal, can we do to get the best possible result in this situation? What is our new definition of success for the situation we find ourselves in?



We can look at this from the perspective of individuals, teams and organisations, and in both the personal and professional areas of our lives. Professionally, at organisational level, success might simply be still having a business. For teams, it could be hitting a percentage of your target, retaining customers or even achieving your target but through entirely unexpected methods, products and services. Individually, it might be achieving KPIs while working from home or the vast amount of learning that we have amassed in these unprecedented circumstances. Away from work, success might have been getting through lockdown, home-schooling, learning a new skill, home-based physical challenges or getting outside for a walk each day. What have you learned about bouncing back from setbacks and how you've coped with unexpected events?


While some will have had far more time than usual to stop and reflect, others will have been swept up in the busyness and may wonder where the months have gone. You may not be where you expected to be, but as we head towards 2021, what are your long-term goals and what can you do now that keeps you moving towards them?


Redefine what success is in this situation and recognise and celebrate what you have achieved. Then set out a plan for what you can do in the final few weeks of 2020 that will set you up for a bigger and better 2021, and accelerate you towards long-term success.


Postscript: Even as I write this, I find myself in a situation that wasn’t entirely expected or in our control. We knew we were heading into a second lockdown, albeit slightly less stringent than the first. Having got our heads around that and planned for these four weeks, even those plans have seen a significant change.


Within a week of ‘Lockdown 2’ beginning, we were asked to collect our daughter from school due to a positive test in her year group. This has put us in an enhanced lockdown with two children at home for two weeks, and without even being allowed to go out of the house as a family. As such, even the new plan and redefined success have been redrawn and redefined again!


Be agile, be resilient, be true to your purpose and keep going!

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