Building Resilience

Resilience – the capacity to recover from difficulties; toughness.

Resilience is one of the few things I take pride in and it’s probably the only quality that allowed me to “survive” in the workplace for as long as I have. I believe it’s a muscle that can be trained.

I remember a few years ago when I was not long out of medical school. It was a four-month FY1 (1st year doctor) placement in general surgery. The hours were horrible, the system was very hierarchical and some of the consultants were horrible to junior staff.

It became so bad that the FY1s collectively reported one consultant. I don’t know the full story but he was apparently investigated, issued a warning and calmed down thereafter but this was already 3 months into the placement for us. He then started placing pressure onto his very nice registrar who was forced to make life miserable for us again. I remember working 18-hour days (6am until midnight) because I didn’t want to upset them.

Many colleagues I personally know quit medicine altogether because of that specific placement.

People often refer to doctors as intelligent or rich and I suppose everything is relative. Having a £70k income at age 35 when you’re finally a consultant is nice but it’s not as much as people think it is, especially after tax and all the courses doctors have to go on.

Similarly, the further I travel up this hierarchy the more apparent my lack of smarts is, and I don’t think I’m being modest. There are people I work with who have far better memories and are much more well read than I am. I’d be lying if I said going through that every day isn’t demoralising but I have good amounts of resilience.

1) Every day is a school day

It’s human nature to sometimes be pessimistic but if you’re always negatively ruminating about things then it’s time to reflect on your perception of the world. During that surgical placement, I told myself every day that if I can get through these four months I can do anything. If I get through these four months I’ll go far.

I’m not sure I’ve actually gone very far since then but one thing for certain is that no other placement since then has been that tough in terms of pressure from above. Remember to see everything that’s difficult as a character building exercise and only then will you start to accumulate resilience.

2) Add more strings to your bow

Sometimes I wonder what happened to the ex-colleagues who quit.

One thing for sure is that those who have more than one string to their bow will be much more resilient. Compare the life of a doctor who knows only medicine to one who also has a successful business, caring family and enough money to retire and go on regular holidays.

The doctor who has dedicated his life to nothing but medicine will be completely distraught if he loses his job and only purpose in life. If I was the second doctor I would still be very sad, but at least I would try to focus on the positives and keep myself preoccupied.

Develop your resilience by adding more interests to your repertoire. This is actually the basis for many things including financial independence and you can almost see it as a way to distract yourself. There’s no guarantee in life and therefore by not placing all your eggs in one basket you can secure more resilience.

3) Try your best not to spread the poison

One of the main problems with the workplace is that you’ll come across a lot of people you like but also some people you don’t. On the flip side, a lot of people will like you but some won’t. Often for no reason whatsoever but that’s life.

Contrast working life with your personal life where you can choose which family members and friends to hang out with. You’re essentially in complete control and it’s almost a reverse scenario to the workplace.

If you pay any attention at work you’ll notice that certain people are extroverted and are much “better” at interacting with other people. It’s not that they like everyone and everyone likes them. The rule two paragraphs above applies to everyone.

The reason why some people are much more pleasant or sociable is because they are much more emotionally resilient. They do not spread the poison.

After reviewing a patient I let one of the charge nurses know that we were sending them to the infectious diseases ward. Unfortunately she raised her voice and began to question the decision. Having your decision questioned as a FY1 isn’t very nice but at least no one expects much of you. Having your decision questioned as a registrar is a different story. Your consultants are assessing your clinical performance which includes how you handle situations where your “authority” is challenged. Your junior colleagues look up to you for guidance and advice and without respect from both your bosses and your juniors, you cannot really “survive”.

I shouldn’t have but unfortunately I raised my voice and explained my decision to which she glared at me and walked away. For the next couple of hours I was in a bad mood and probably unwillingly spread her poison to a few more people.

For all I know, the charge nurse may have had a bad day or a stressful encounter with a relative before talking to me. I’ll never know because I didn’t ask.

Although you shouldn’t have to accept malicious treatment from others, or even be nice to them in return I think it’s very important to stay emotionally resilient to the effects of other people’s poison.

Nowadays I never raise my voice and try my best not to spread other people’s poison. It’s better to just disengage from the conversation and act disinterested.

I’d recommend reading The Four Agreements if you’re interested in how to refrain from spreading other people’s poison and staying emotionally grounded.

P.S. I learned everything I know about life from this book, this book and that oneamongst many others. For a more extensive list, don’t hesitate to drop me a line at If you prefer learning through listening use this link to earn a free audiobook of your choice by signing up to their 30-day free trial. Simply cancel with the click of a button if you decide later on that the service isn’t for you, no questions asked.

3 thoughts on “Building Resilience

  • May 10, 2017 at 6:28 am

    Hi Rory,

    Resilience is vital in work I find! It gets very difficult to detach ones emotions at times (and I can only imagine how hard that must be in the medical profession!), but there are always times when you just have to “Suck it up” and deal with it. I’ve had times when I have been given input / steer / direction I didn’t agree with, I would discuss and get overruled. The pleasure comes further down the line when you can see it in their eyes that they knew you were right!

    As you say the most important thing is to get variety and expand the skillset, your approach or anything else that is required to help you hit FI!

    Keep up the fortitude!

    • May 11, 2017 at 11:43 pm

      Hey FiL,

      “Suck it up and get on with it” – that’s exactly what it is. It is easier said than done but it’s work in progress!


      • May 14, 2017 at 7:50 am

        Believe me I have been there and it really irks but sometimes these things happen! 🙂

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