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Leadership Newsletter #139

Managing Resilience and Overcoming Adversity – A Lived Experience

pushing boulder up hill - adversity

Adversity. What do I know about adversity? If I contemplate the Cambridge Dictionary definition; a difficult or unpleasant situation then yes of course, I experience those from time to time. But if I’m open to a different definition of adversity, one that points more towards hardship, misfortune or wretchedness, then it’s not something I’ve have much first-hand experience of.

In 1999 at the age of 34 (and before I knew him), my friend Richard died. He had already had a challenging childhood with an alcoholic and abusive father. But he grew up and fought back, developed a successful career and made a good life for himself and his young family.

Now, you might be puzzling over the fact that I commented Richard died before I knew him? Well, that’s due to the fact that he flatlined on the operating table during what should have been a routine operation. Thanks to the highly skilled clinicians and the incredible wonders of medicine, Richard’s life was saved after his heart was re-started.

However, this proved to be the beginning of a new and very different life. One that left him having to adapt to a permanent disability and PTSD. He was no longer physically able to maintain his previous career, he could not do the things he loved doing with his sons, and he struggled to meet the most basic of personal needs that most of us take for granted on a daily, hourly basis. Adversity of the hardship, misfortunate and wretched kind, you might say?

Fast-forward to 2020 and the year we will never forget. A year in which a pandemic strikes the world, has us living through periods of lockdown, shops and schools are closed, people working from home if not furloughed, limited contact with friends and family, a ban on overseas travel. At first, the novelty proves quite exciting for some. Advantages were to be had with a slower pace of life; more time to think, quality time spent with immediate family. As the months pass, zoom-fatigue kicks in. A lack of interpersonal contact, an oddly increasing workload for those working from home and rising boredom and financial worries for those on reduced income, inevitably begin to have an impact on people’s wellbeing and resilience. Adversity is stretching out its arms to all corners of society.

Richard sees 2020 as an opportunity to get the book he’s been working on for the last 10 years published. Dying for Success is an inspiring autobiography as he tells the story of the extreme highs and lows of his personal and professional journey, and how he continues to bounce back time and again despite ongoing physical and mental health challenges.

I cried at times reading the book. I discover things I didn’t know during 12 years of friendship. The depth of the challenges, the pain, the successes and the disappointments are laid bare for all to see. I recoil at the depression and darkness described by the optimistic, generous and outgoing guy I know. People need to hear this story. People can learn, help themselves and be uplifted by it. As a consequence, I have partnered with Richard to design and deliver a 2 hour online workshop with the following objectives:

  • To learn about Richard’s story and his personal strategies for managing resilience and overcoming adversity
  • To inspire and provoke discussion around how we support ourselves and our clients in relation to resilience and wellbeing

The session was road-tested with my Healthskills colleagues where the focus was on what we can learn and apply in our coaching and leadership development work, though it can be tailored towards other audiences such as team leadership and various scenarios where resilience and wellbeing is important. Feedback on the session from the Healthskills team included:

  • Brilliant and inspiring
  • Enthralling and thought-provoking
  • Quite simply the best 2 hours I’ve been part of in a very long time
  • A lot of people would benefit from this session

There’s lots of great material available on this subject and indeed some of you reading this might be mental health practitioners with a wealth of professional experience and qualifications. But if you’d like to explore resilience and wellbeing through the lens of one man’s amazing life and death, please get in touch.

Shirley Ficken is an Executive Coach and OD Consultant who works with NHS and Healthcare Leaders as a Healthskills Associate. She also works with leaders and teams in the private sector and Local Authorities to help them achieve organisational success and personal wellbeing
25 Nov 2020


Shirley Ficken photo

Richard Dixon is an Entrepreneur with interests that include property and surveying, vintage cars and motorbikes and now Author. Further details of his book can be found at and is available on Amazon


Richard Dixon photo

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