This is the second in the series of blogs about our research and findings on resilience carried out with South Africans at work. It describes the second Principle of Building Resilience: Use your Unique Strengths.


Self knowledge emerged as an important component of resilience. Realistic self insight into one’s own character strengths and vulnerabilities is the basis for understanding one’s capabilities and limits when dealing with adversity. Character strengths are different to job strengths: the former are life-long whereas job strengths are specific and change with circumstances. Unfounded beliefs about character strengths as well as vulnerabilities can potentially hinder or even derail action to recover from adversity.


People describe using their strengths as “ light”, “easy”, “fun” and “obvious”. Using our natural character strengths to problem solve, devise creative solutions and reach out to others during adversity comes easy to us, as well as being experienced as fun and even joyful.


During our training workshops however, people often struggle to identify their strengths, whilst they are able to quickly able to reel off a list of weaknesses or “development areas”. Ironically they frequently report having tried to improve their weaknesses for many years, often with slow or even no progress! Character strengths on the other hand, are frequently downplayed as it is sometimes felt that acknowledging and deliberately focussing on them would be boasting. This lack of balance is unfortunate, because logically there should be greater success when using natural strengths than weaknesses in coping with adversity.


Knowledge of personal vulnerabilities or weaknesses is also important, as accurate self insight enables the development of a realistic recovery strategy and expectations from adversity. This was pithily expressed by one manager who after describing an acrimonious divorce and having to sell and split the proceeds of a struggling small business, stated: “I know who I am; what I can do and what I cant do. I have been through a lot of crap, and I have become an expert on myself.”


Developing and correcting one’s weaknesses to a minimum level of competence will at best prevent failure. Developing and using character strengths on the other hand has the potential to create personal excellence. Using character strengths is uplifting and sets the foundation to live a fulfilling and joyful life.


Having overcome previous adversities, particularly significant ones, can be a source of strength, optimism and welcome positive feelings. An ultra distance road runner said that training for and finishing 9 Comrades Marathons (79 kilometre road race), had taught him to persevere and not give up when things got tough – and the race became a metaphor for his life which he cited as: “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going”. He knew his strengths and effectively capitalised in them in times of adversity.


What are your strengths and how can you capitalise on them to build your resilience?