Tools for Resilience

By Rob Shaul

Professionally, my own greatest tests of resilience have come from starting small businesses and nonprofits.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20% of U.S. small businesses fail within the first year. By the end of their fifth year, roughly 50% have faltered. After 10 years, only around a third of businesses have survived.

I asked my sister, a dogged, self-made business owner, about this. Her unsympathetic answer? “Most small businesses don’t fail. The owners just quit.” 

Here are some resilience tools to deploy when you’re deep in it and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.



By this, I’m not referring to religious faith. Rather, it’s the scrappy faith that your efforts, hard work, tough decisions, and prudence – those things you can control – will be enough and it will work out. 

It’s easy, and weak, to become overwhelmed by those things outside your control. 

Be aware of these, but set them to the side and focus on what you can control. 

In the dark struggle, I’ll step aside, and literally put my hands together in the prayer pose, and remind myself to “have some faith.” 

Refocused – I’m able to get back to work on those things I can control.


Just. Keep. Grinding.

You’ve seen this before from me and it’s integral to resilience. 

Have some faith, and Just. Keep. Grinding. 

Stop looking for shortcuts, “hacks,” outside help, or an easy way out. They don’t exist and you don’t want them anyway. 

Embrace the suck, keep grinding, and earn it. 

You’ll never fully silence the outside naysayers and your own self-doubt. Don’t waste energy trying to silence them with phony positive self-talk. Rather, relegate this negative mental chirping to background noise and keep working.

The “grind” is not fun – but it is confidence-building and productive. 

Keep grinding through the darkness and know you’re making progress.



Two ideas here. 

First, when you find an obstacle on your path, pivot around it. 

How to do this? (a) Improve execution, or (b) Think Inside the Box.

(a) Improve execution – often, when your solution isn’t working, it’s simply because your execution of the solution is sloppy and needs work. 

Think technique, not fitness. 

A strength and conditioning example…. You can’t power clean 185 pounds. It could be that you’re plenty strong, but your technique sucks. Improve technique – or execution – and the barbell will fly up. 

Have a product that isn’t selling? Perhaps the product is right, but the execution is sloppy. The actual product needs work/refinement/improved execution. 

You need to take a hard look at your product and its shortcomings. It’s better to fix a current product than invent a new one. Make sure your product is solid.

(b) Think Inside the Box – when something’s not working our first instinct is to look for outside fixes. The problem with outside fixes is they always take new resources – more money, someone else, etc. This means delay, or reliance on someone or something outside your control.

Thinking Inside the Box means stepping back and looking again inside your own toolbox – the stuff you already own and can control. Often this means creatively re-purposing a current tool intended for something else, to deploy on and fix your current problem. 

I learned this best working for my uncle as a kid on his small, hardscrabble Wyoming ranch. It was amazing the creative, Inside-the-box solutions my old uncle was able to find to seemingly unsolvable equipment breakdowns, irrigation dilemmas, and livestock issues. He really enjoyed the creativity and resourcefulness of inside-the-box thinking – and prided himself on fixing issues without spending more money or relying on outside help.

Second, “Pivot” means being agile with your goal, product, business, or objective. 

Sometimes your “product” actually is executed well. It’s a great product, but there’s no market for it. Life’s not fair and this happens. Maybe your objective simply isn’t going to happen this time.

So what now? 

You pivot ….

Can the product you developed to solve one problem be deployed to solve another with a market? If not, can the tools you developed to build the product be re-deployed to build another product? 

Can the business you’ve built be repurposed, or “pivoted” to another market?

Can the objective be shifted, and progress still be made?

This “agility” is key to resilience. 


Quitting is Much Worse Than Failing

Speak to tactical athletes who’ve finished a special forces selection but weren’t selected, and others who started selection, but quit. 

Those who finished selection, but weren’t selected, are disappointed. 

Those who started selection, then quit, are damaged. 

In terms of recovery and moving on, quitting is much worse than failing. There’s no comparison in terms of personal regret or time/effort to learn from it, recover, and move on.

A special forces selection is an easy example. But what about starting a new business, undertaking a personal expedition, or any other big endeavor? 

What is the difference between “quitting” and “failing” for these less clear examples? 

“Quitting” happens when you stop even though there’s fuel in the tank or resources in reserve. Things are still safe, but you decide to “cut your losses.” 

Failing happens when the last dollar is spent, when it would be dangerous to continue, or when loved ones tell you to stop. 

So there is a risk of starting something big you are not committed to. You must go all in. If it’s big and hard you’ll be tested and if your heart is not in it you’ll quit. And quitting will hurt you. 


First Guy Through The Door Always Gets Bloody

On occasion, the big effort is controversial or different, and you’ll take a licking. 

This may be rejection after rejection, few sales, direct opposition from others, and biting criticism and doubt from friends and family. 

Know that the first guy, or gal, through the door always gets bloody. Expect the beating, but take pride in being the first through the door.

This takes mettle. 


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