Thrive as an Entrepreneur in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous World

plants growing between rocks

We often hear that we have to be resilient as entrepreneurs. Yet our resilience as business owners is subject to a pummelling on a regular basis. (If you’re having a reaction to the term resilience, read this to learn more about what I mean by it.)

As I was investigating the topic of resilience, I came across the concept of VUCA. It's an acronym that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

It was an accurate representation of the conditions I faced as a business owner that took their toll on me and made it hard to be resilient. 

The acronym VUCA originated from leadership theories and was coined in 1987 to refer to the conditions experienced by leaders.

The most recent and extreme example of VUCA in the lives of entrepreneurs has been COVID. It was sudden, the data and directives were constantly changing, the path and its impact were unpredictable, there were many forces at play, and it was hard to get a read on things. You may remember how hard it was to be resilient at the time.

But we women entrepreneurs face VUCA every day, along with constant adversity, challenges, decision-making, problem-solving, always facing new and ever-changing conditions, and wearing all the hats (CEO, bookkeeper, PR, marketing, admin, customer service, etc.). Being resilient is often a challenge.

VUCA–and all the other stressors in business–take their toll. The result is cognitive fatigue and depletion of physical and emotional resources. 

It’s hard to thrive under those conditions. It's hard to be resilient.

But it is possible to build your resilience muscle so the toll isn’t so high. 

Resilience skills will not make you feel happy no matter what. But they will help you shift your relationship to adversity. You will be able to address it better. You will have skills and resources that enable you to say to yourself: “Even though things are tough, I have what it takes to make it through,” and believe it. (That's called realistic optimism.)

There are a great many factors that contribute to the human capacity to be resilient, including beliefs we hold of the world, ourselves and others; the information to which we have access; biases, skills, and education; mental processes and behaviours. 

Positive psychology researchers in Australia have taken a holistic look at resilience. Their definition of resilience is informed by neuroscience. According to the Predictive 6 Resilience Scale (PR6) research, resilience means advancing despite adversity.

These researchers identified the skills that are involved in advancing despite adversity, and grouped them into six distinct domains that explain the specific skill factors that a person can cultivate to become more resilient.

Once you understand the components of resilience, you can begin to cultivate your skills in each area.

Free download: reflection questions and resources to support your resilience skill development.

VISION: goals, clarity and congruence

Goals: The most important of the domains, because all other domains are guided by what it is you want to achieve. Vision is about your sense of purpose, goals, and personal vision for yourself.

Clarity: Vision is about having clarity so that when things get tough, you know what’s important and what isn’t, in order to stay focused, set priorities, and achieve your goals.

Congruence: Congruence means all your actions are working together across your larger vision of yourself and sense of purpose, through medium- and short-term goals. 

COMPOSURE: Emotional Regulation, Self-awareness, Mindset

Emotional regulation: In the PR6 model, this means being able to care for your emotional responses so you can maintain your composure.

Self-awareness: The ability to connect with your inner life (your thoughts, feelings, sensations and emotions) so you can recognize, understand and act on these internal prompts is key to resilience.

Mindset: How we think about things can have an impact on emotional regulation. Understanding and working with our thinking can have a significant impact on our capacity to advance despite adversity.
(It's important to note that not every problem is rooted in your mindset, and the idea that this is the case can often be used to blame the victim.) 

REASONING: Creativity/problem-solving, anticipate and plan, resourcefulness

Creativity/problem-solving: Composure skills set the foundation for the capacity to see opportunities in challenges, and apply your creativity to solve problems.

Anticipate and plan: Taking action ahead of time to prevent things from going wrong in the first place.

Resourcefulness: Acquiring the right information, tools and techniques and cultivating a network of people available to help. 

TENACITY: Persistence, failing forward, realistic optimism

Persistence: In order to be resilient (in other words, to advance despite adversity) we need to be willing to stay with a problem. 

Fail forward: The beauty of the challenges along the road is that they can build resilience. (Here's an activity to help you mine your "failures" for gold.)

Realistic optimism: The willingness to stay with a problem comes from an attitude of realistic optimism. The attitude of realistic optimism says, "I know that it’s a tough road and there will be plenty of challenges, and I am hopeful about my ability to succeed.”

COLLABORATION: Connection and support, boundaries, perception

Connection and support: Individual and mutual connection is one way we can give ourselves experiences of safety. This ties back to composure. A distressed mind is a dysregulated one and that separates us from the skills we need so much as entrepreneurs. Giving and receiving support are also important aspects of resilience.

Boundaries: Boundaries are key to healthy, supportive relationships. When asking for and giving support, it’s important to get the context right, allowing us to discern what is helpful to give and take.

Perception: It's interesting to note that it’s not actual available support that has an impact on your mindset and thus your resilience, it's your perception of it.
Learning to see things clearly can help you have a sense that you are working in a supportive environment. It’s important to work with the brain's negativity bias by regularly recalling your network and connections and reminding yourself that support is available, and to consistently tell yourself support is there for you.

HEALTH: Food, sleep and movement

The PR6 research holds health—specifically three elements that support brain health—as the second part of the foundation of resilience--along with vision. The research posits that a healthy body provides a strong foundation for resilience so you can focus on your sense of purpose and goals. 

Adequate food, sleep and movement are the three specific factors identified in the PR6 research that have a direct impact on brain and mental health. Both brain health and mental health have a profound effect on your ability to take action toward your goals. (The PR6 research has an inherent bias toward dominant concepts of health, but it is still important to note that supporting our bodies with nutrition, sleep and movement is a component of being able to advance despite adversity.)

Resilience Inventory

Which of these components are your strengths?

Where are your gaps?

You can take the answers to these questions as you consider what supports you might want to put in place for the new year.

I am a Certified Resilience Coach through Driven, the organization that conducted and published the peer-reviewed PR6 research studies. If you want support for growing your resilience skills, you might consider working with me.

As a business owner, you are stronger and more resilient with support. 

To get me on your team for 2024, book your free call here

About the author 

Shulamit Berlevtov  -  Shulamit (she/her) is the Entrepreneurs' Therapist. She is working passionately to mitigate the entrepreneurial mental health crisis through keynote speaking and educational workshops and by supporting women entrepreneurs 1:1 to care for their mental and emotional wellbeing and their money psychology in an era of relentless stressors that can make you want to lose your crap on the daily.

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