Resilience is… Knowing Your Limits.

Instagram @piperklemm


Today I started work early, grabbed lunch, went for a run, worked more, headed to campus, donated blood, returned home for more work, and ended the day by starting a new fitness class.

If you’re thinking, that’s a recipe for disaster—you may be right. It was probably a dumb call. One of many decisions I made today; one that time will judge.

When we had Diane Carney on the #Plaidcast, she said that despite her tremendous success, she wasn’t sure she would have been picked out as the promising youngster in the barn. As someone that people often underestimate, I related.

So, to what do we attribute success? What do other people miss when judging other people or evaluating potential? I turned to a friend, as I often do with these quandaries.

My friend said people miss resilience in other people. It’s something you can’t spot in a meeting or a weekend or even a summer. Resilience is what makes entrepreneurs, success stories, and famous horse people. It is in the people who show up again and again and again. No matter how hard last weekend was, no matter how poorly it went, they keep showing up. They never stop- never stopping. 

It sounds good, except I sit there and think about all the things I’ve quit. Jobs, careers, dreams, goals. The things I’ve walked away from could fill many lifetimes. My friend explains there are different kinds of resilience: physical, emotional, and mental.

Instagram @piperklemm

Physically, I struggle through every fitness class. I’m often doing the move the wrong direction to begin with. When we are to do 20 reps, I maybe slog through 15. It all seems to move so fast. I walk slowly. I run slowly. I spent both of my last two races as the literal last place finisher. Dead last. I was so slow I took a selfie with the ambulance following right behind me to close the course in my wake. I love bed, and have zero desire to leave it. Riding lessons usually make me think that one (or several) parts of my body are just going to fall off.

I lack physical resilience. 

When it comes to emotions… I can’t even type this sentence without seeing a montage of me crying. I have spent as much time crying over the last decade as I have going to the gym. If times get tough, I have been known to take a nap or eat my feelings in the form of a drive through menu.

I lack emotional resilience. 

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the only thing I struggle with resisting is temptation. I can never stay up as late as I hope, never get enough work done, never hit my to do list with fluid accuracy. My computer desktop and tabs horrify even those hard of heart. Like much of my life, my computer is clings desperately to any organization it can find. I want everything done yesterday. I can’t wait for things to cook, and often stop the microwave short to eat half-heated leftovers. I occasionally fight with people on Facebook, even though I should know better. 

I lack mental resilience. 

It doesn’t add up because I actually accomplish an incredible amount every day. I tackle new challenges, learn new things, make mistakes, but also achieve in many areas. So, do I have resilience or don’t I ?

Instagram @piperklemm

My friend tells me resilience is discovering your limits. Sure, I fail all the time, literally so much that it is routine, but resilience is banking all those failures to know where my limits are. To tab all the successes, to test the fencing, and to spend as much of the day as possible next to the edge of my limits.

When I reframe the question, do I know the limit of my physical resilience? The answer is absolutely yes.

In the last year, I achieved my goal by completing a 5k and two 4-mile races- both in sub 10 degree conditions. I also cancelled a 5k after donating blood in the morning, because I know where my limit is. In fitness class, I push hard and try to go faster, but I know how my body works and how quickly I can correctly make the moves happen. I prioritize form. I do my best and try to push past my limits, but realize where the boundaries are.

I know the limits of my emotional resilience. I know when to take a walk in the woods for a hot second; know when I’m going to cry; know when I’m at a breaking point. I know because I’ve broken myself over and over. I’ve learned what I can take, and what I can’t. I can’t take spilling food on the floor that I was excited to eat. Even now, that almost always makes me tear up.

I know my mental limits. I know when to pack it up and go to bed and when to fight through things. I know when I can hop in the car and drive 8 hours and when I can’t. Sleeping in a North Florida rest stop on a failed attempt to drive straight through from the World Equestrian Center after a full day taught me those limits. Whenever I have to tell someone I’ll be “coming in hot,” my 30-year-old self knows it’s best to change plans.

I’m learning the limits in every aspect of my being, and I get daily updates with new information. Can I wake up and horse show successfully two days in a row? Not yet, but I’m going to keep testing that fence until I can achieve it. Can I work harder? Can I make this relationship work? Can I make my team run smoothly? Handle this problem? Optimize this system? Start another project? Take advantage of another opportunity? 

So, can I donate blood after a busy day and then do my fitness class? Today, I did not get weights out of the closet with everyone else. I was out of step and slow. When we did floor mat exercises, I bobbled and struggled more than usual, attempted all of them, and did some of them. For one moment I thought I was going to crack and laid there while everyone else kept in motion around me. It passed and I finished my workout. 

Did I find my limit? Yes. I didn’t honestly think I could make it through, but I did. I learned I could accomplish something that previously either I couldn’t do or didn’t test.

Today, I have limits. Today, I have resilience. Today, I am an entrepreneur. Today, I am a success. 

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About the Author: Piper began her tenure as the Publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine in 2014. She received her B.S. with Honors in Chemistry from Trinity College [Hartford, CT] in 2009 and her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 2012. She is an active member of the hunter/jumper community, owning a fleet of lease ponies and showing in adult hunter divisions.
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