Road and bridge damage post cyclone Gabrielle

Choosing Resilience - How To Bounce Back When Disaster Strikes

life lessons mental health self improvement Mar 28, 2023

We are nearly 6 weeks post cyclone Gabrielle, as I write this. In a normal six weeks, lots can happen. In this case, it feels like a lifetime has happened. 

Most of you reading this won’t realise the impact of the largest storm in living memory – the region has transformed.

Transformed in the physical and geographical sense – the ground elevation is higher, trees are gone, rivers flow in different beds, streams have cut new (much steeper) banks. 

Also transformed in a community sense – yes, the initial camaraderie and rallying to support those who lost everything, was admirable and inspiring.  

But now, 6 weeks on, we are divided into those who still live with the consequences daily, and those who have gone back to “normal” life and expect libraries, pools and parks to be back to normal too. And some of the “haves” are getting impatient when services aren’t back. Often, the explanation that the people doing these services have been running welfare services all these weeks, instead of their “day job” just isn’t good enough. 

It’s true an event like this brings out the best and the worst in people. 

My personal reflection on working in emergency response at the local Council all this time, is that I’m tired.  

I’m also a professional business coach and I have seen, in many clients, the toll that the daily grind can take on even the most motivated individuals. It's easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged when you feel like you're constantly pushing yourself to your limits. 

But the tired I see around me in my colleagues and myself is different – it is the emotional toll that leaves you feeling drained and overwhelmed. The type of tired that a couple of days off doesn’t change. 

The usual advice of “take care of yourself”, “prioritise rest”, “seek support”, are nice, but they aren’t enough. I’ve done those things. (I often self-coach to make sure I practice what I preach!)  

And yet, I found myself on the brink of giving up on my dreams and projects. I found myself thinking – if it's not covid, or getting stuck in another country, or getting medical diagnoses, it’s a natural disaster. There’s always something in the way, and I just don’t have the energy. 


That’s when I saw this quote: 

“If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.” - Banksy 

And it occurred to me – I wasn’t resting the right way.  

I needed to learn how to rest and pace myself while I’m in the marathon that is recovery from such a devastating event. 

Not wear myself out, quit everything, and start something new. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a habit of starting things strong (more like a sprint than a marathon), but often run out of steam. 

But how do you rest while you are on the journey? Rather than in preparation for the next sprint? 

These are the three things I focus on for resting through the recovery

(and these are in addition to the “normal” advice of taking care of myself, taking small bits of time out, etc): 

  1. Firstly, I needed to set realistic goals. Recovery takes time, and it is important to not put too pressure on myself. In “sprint-mode”, you set stretch targets – you push the limits to see what you can achieve in a short time. In “marathon-mode”, the targets aren’t designed to stretch you – they are still big, ambitious targets in the long run, but the smaller steps that build to those long-term goals are not so time-constrained. For my business, it might mean rather than doing one video a week, it might need to be one video a fortnight. That way, after 3 months I have 6 videos, rather than 2 videos initially and then none because I quit from the pressure of it. 

  2. Next, I needed to remember to celebrate the small victories along the way. When I have a small success, I tend to look to the next thing I must do rather than take a moment and celebrate. You see, celebrating would give me a hit of the “happy hormone”, or dopamine. This hit would wire into my brain that what I was doing was a good thing to keep doing – effectively giving me motivation to do it again. So, by skipping the little celebrations, I’ve been depriving myself of the easiest way to find the fuel to keep going, that is, intrinsic motivation in the work itself! 

  3. Lastly, I needed to remember one of my favourite concepts – kaizen – progress, not perfection, is to be cultivated and celebrated. I’m not a perfectionist in most things (I will find the surface of my desk one day, I promise) but I am guilty of not acknowledging the progress before the final product. I have worked in project management or project-based line of work for most of my career, and you get your sense of achievement at end of the project, not throughout the process. But in this long-term recovery, we all need to feel like we are making progress on the way, we can’t wait until the end.  

Now when I look down the barrel of the next few years of recovery for the community from cyclone Gabrielle, I can lift my head, not sag my shoulders. With my kaizen and marathon-mode goal setting in hand, I will keep venturing on and celebrating the small victories on the way. 


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