Sarah Green Carmichael, in a Bloomberg News item titled “You don’t need more resilience, you need friends, and money” debunks the business gurus who tell us all resilience comes from inside us. Sarah’s thesis is that our environments determine our resilience, or at least can shield us from the traumas that necessitate resilience.

Don’t put yourself in high-stress situations, she advises, especially if it means moving to a city where you have no support structure. Take a less stressful job, in a town where you have help from family and friends, and where the cost of living is cheaper. Then all problems seem smaller.

Much of her thesis is right: The “resilience comes only from within” meme is a vicious PR construct, relieving your employer from the obligation to treat you decently, and boosting sales of yoga classes and mindfulness tapes.

(Remember the PR firm that invented “personal carbon footprint,” to absolve the petroleum industry – their client – of responsibility for climate change? Yeah, like that.)

But her advice is questionable. Is being with family less stressful for you than solitude? If so, good, but it’s not true for everyone. Maybe your relations don’t live in a low-cost town. Ample recent press stories reveal that Americans find it harder to make friends these days, and why.

And money? Sarah implies rich people don’t need to be resilient because they can buy their way out of troubles. Yet rich people fear others are trying to take their money. (In Donald Trump’s case, they’re succeeding.) One wealthy group – yes, really – asked a consultant, How can we assure that after the climate apocalypse the staff guarding our compounds won’t turn on us?

On a smaller scale, though: I just “cut the cord” in order to go entirely with internet television. I could fight the cable company’s fraudulent final bill, or I could regard the couple hundred dollars, which luckily I can afford, as a small price to be rid of them with no further stress. If I pay, I’m left with the awareness that poorer families may have to take food from their children’s mouths when this villainous company duns them, and that every time one company gets away with this s***, other companies take heart that they can do the same.

I agree with Sarah that when we’re stressed, small problems can seem big. Yet some problems really are big. In the face of big shocks, we won’t, to use Sarah’s phrases, “bounce back” or “get back on an even keel.” True resilience means learning from the trauma, thereby bouncing forward toward your life goals, perhaps by a circuitous route. Big problems like the death of a loved one, or losing a home to a hurricane, mean there is no going back to where you were before. No even keel. The situation will never be the same as before. You will not be the same person you were before.

So don’t neglect those yoga and meditation lessons, but at the same time, advocate for corporate justice for employees and consumers. Find your right balance between insulating yourself from stress, and actively making change in the world. Then be ready to be changed.

Check out my work (with @Angela Chao) on resilience at, and @Julian Gresser’s course on Integral Resilience, at

A video of Sarah Carmichael’s January 9 Bloomberg piece is on internet TV; the print article is behind a paywall.