It is argued that self-help advice and personal explanations for success actually set people up for failure. Resilience – the ability to bounce back after a setback – is not a solo endeavour. This author believes that it is the availability of resources and services, together with informal support networks, that people can access to help them succeed.

The kind of resources he refers to are those that help people through crises in life. Savings. Neighbours who are willing to extend a hand in times of need. Communities with police. Social workers. Employment insurance. He argues that personal transformation without sufficient support of these resources will not make people better off.

With a research team, he investigated why some people do better than expected in sub-optimal conditions, focusing on the social and physical environments they live in. Through a story of a Japanese girl who experienced trauma during a tsunami, he illustrated how she was able to stay resilient. Children and adults like her were able to return to their lives with some degree of normalcy because of governmental interventions and social support services that brought a sense of continuity and hope into their lives. These resources should also be culturally and contextually relevant.

His research concludes that the social, political and natural environments we live in are far more important than our individual thoughts, feelings, or behaviours. In all aspects of life, having a nurturing environment matter if we want to maintain well-being and find success.

Read the full article on The Globe and Mail: Put down the self-help books. Resilience is not a DIY endeavour


Keeping this perspective in mind that environment matters helps us to maintain a balanced view of how success is built. While personal conviction and actions to beat the odds are widely celebrated in success stories valued by the media, the resources and contextual backgrounds of these stories are often not talked about.

However, it does not also necessarily mean that all of us are beholden to our environments and circumstances. Rather than passively wait for help to come our way, it is also an option to make certain changes to our environments, such as finding a more suitable or encouraging workplace, moving out from a place to another with better support, or even as simple as changing our social networks to more nurturing ones. Ultimately, no amount of resources made available to a person can make one succeed if the person is not motivated to seize the opportunities provided and change where possible.

Questions for further personal evaluation:

  1. Do you agree with the author on the importance of environmental factors in one’s success?
  2. What is your personal belief about resilience and success?

Useful vocabulary:

  1. ‘cascade’: a large number or amount of something occurring at the same time
  2. ‘exuberant’: full of energy, excitement, and cheerfulness
  3. ‘obliterate’: destroy utterly; wipe out