Five lessons in building resilience

There’s lots of talk about the importance of resilience, especially as we learn to live with the coronavirus and the changes it has made to our lives. But what does resilience really mean? And why does it matter? As part of our Move the Needle series for our Obelisk Support consultant community, we interviewed Dr Audrey Tang, chartered psychologist and author of “The Leader’s Guide to Resilience”, and Julian Harris, executive coach and freelance lawyer, to find out more.

Here are their five lessons in building resilience for freelance lawyers:

#1 Appreciate that resilience is not just about “bouncing back”


Whilst the common perception might be that resilience is about having the innate “grit” to survive crises and get back on track, Audrey encourages a new way of thinking. “Resilience is really about the practice of committing to your mental and emotional health so that you are able not only to move through times of crisis and then rebuild, you can push through to a place where you thrive.” It’s an idea that Julian echoes, encouraging us to think about “bouncing forward” instead.


The good news is that this is an outlook we can all practise and get better at committing to, rather than an innate ability that we either have or don’t.

“Resilience is really about the practice of committing to your mental and emotional health.”
Dr Audrey Tang

Chartered psychologist and author

#2 Learn how to recognise and right any “emotional tilts”


When something goes wrong or something unexpected happens, we usually experience some form of “emotional tilt” that feels uncomfortable or may even damage our mental and emotional well-being. The first step to resilience is to recognise when this happens and how it makes us feel. The second step is to master regaining our equilibrium. Audrey suggests the following framework adapted from Positive Psychology’s Martin Seligman to help with this process. It’s called ABCDE:


  • Recognise the Activating event
  • Detail the Behaviour you exhibited
  • Understand the Consequences of that behaviour
  • Think about all the things you could have done Differently
  • Energise yourself to make a change in your behaviour as a result.


It’s not possible to change events, it is possible to change how we behave in similar situations in the future. Reflecting or journaling all the different options open to us helps us to diffuse the emotion in the situation and find a better way forward for the future.


Trying out new behaviours requires energy. Give yourself a boost by keeping a “positivity reservoir” full of positive feedback from clients and past colleagues. Think about your environment and spend time in spaces that restore you. And, as Julian recommends, identify people in your life that energise you and connect with them.

“By acknowledging and naming the situation and your emotional response, you can start to tackle it.”
Julian Harris

Executive coach and freelance lawyer

#3 Embrace the extra challenges of the freelance life


Whilst working as a freelance lawyer has plenty of upsides, Julian flagged two common potential challenges. On occasion, working as a contractor can feel more precarious, so you need to invest in building positivity to help you navigate any quiet times. It’s also not uncommon to feel like the “outsider looking in”, especially at the start of working with a new client team. “Recognise and label these feelings”, recommends Julian. “By acknowledging and naming the situation and your emotional response, you can start to tackle it.” Using tactics such as investing time in your network outside your current project, celebrating successes and connecting with new client teammates can all be positive choices to help you manage these challenges.

#4 Recognise that seeking perfection is futile

“Perfection is subjective”, says Audrey, “so instead, aim for excellence.” Excellence is much easier to measure, whether it’s by professional standards or by establishing your own understanding of a specific client’s expectations. “There might be perfect moments in our lives”, says Julian, “but chasing perfection is unhealthy.” Focusing your energy on ways that you can get closer to excellence is a more productive and sustainable way to spend your time. As a freelance lawyer, you may have time when you are between projects. Think about what you want to do next and identify any gaps in your knowledge or network, then pick one or two actions to close them. If perfectionism is an issue for you, find more insights here.

#5 Keep your finger on the pulse

Working practices change, client expectations change. With the events of the last 15 months, the pace of change has increased yet further. To set yourself up to thrive, Audrey and Julian both advise staying close to your clients and what they need. Nurture your energy, so that you have time and space to be curious.

Don’t think just about the tasks your clients want you to achieve now, take the time to understand their mindset, motivations and their business goals. Observe how these are changing. Reflect on how you can change your behaviour, grow your skills or reposition yourself to adapt and find new opportunities.

Everyone can learn to be more resilient


Choosing to actively work on learning to be more resilient is something that everyone can do. And it needn’t take a crisis to put you on this path. Making time to build some of these practices into your everyday working life while times are good can help you build up reserves for when times are harder. 

For more lessons and tips from Audrey and Julian, including how to nurture resilience in those around you, watch our webinar.

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