I recently published a story on Preservation Leadership Forum about building the mental resilience of the historic preservation field. As I shared in that piece, I believe that all preservationists can benefit from more mental resilience, and like other soft-skills, resilience can be learned.
What is mental resilience? Psychology Today defines resilience as "the psychological quality that allows some people to be knocked down by the adversities of life and come back at least as strong as before. Rather than letting difficulties, traumatic events, or failure overcome them and drain their resolve, highly resilient people find a way to change course, emotionally heal, and continue moving toward their goals."
For those veterans in the field, how have you gained mental resilience in your time working as a historic preservationist? What advice would you offer to an early career professional?
For early career and veteran historic preservation professionals, are there experiences you'd wished for more mental resilience to react/respond?I welcome feedback on the piece itself, along with any other ideas about how we can build mental resilience in the historic preservation field!
Hear, hear Erik. I really appreciate your words. I reflect often on my first big preservation fight as an absolute green newbie and outsider - the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building just south of Buffalo, on the Lake Erie Shore. That was a gutwrenching experience and I allowed my emotions to be yanked around endlessly by the drama (oh, but it's FUN!) and the pain. I learned a great deal of lessons from that. Including, like you said - sometimes you'll work really hard, and the result will not be the one you want. But there are always lessons in the loss.
Thanks, Raina for your work to bring these issues to the fore.
In talking about mental resilience and, (hopefully) investing in a larger conversation on mental health in historic preservation practice, I think it may be important to ask two critical questions.First, we should ask: How healthy are our traditional ways of thinking and practicing in historic preservation? In asking this question, it is important to consider how traditional ways of thinking and practicing in historic preservation may or may not be conducive to the mental resilience and health of preservation participants and practitioners, even though these ways of thinking and practicing are (often uncritically) internalized and accepted as "normal" in preservation.Second, we should ask: Is the ability to be mentally resilient an equitably accessible skill in historic preservation practice? In asking this question, we should consider that trauma, difficulties, mental fatigue, emotional stress and distress in historic preservation are not evenly distributed among participants and practitioners within practice, and that the "ability to overcome [these things]" are not meted out upon a level playing field. For instance, the landscapes of people of color are constantly under attack and the tools offered by historic preservation are limited by structural inequalities embedded in its laws, rules, regulations, and practices. Often, this leads to more "losses" than "wins" for communities of color. These losses reflect more than just a disruption and/or loss of a visceral connection to a place, but also the deprivation of resources, habitation, communal connections, and legacy upon the landscape. These constant and multiple losses not only take a toll on the mental and emotional health of historic preservation participants and practitioners of color, but also on their ability to practice and participate in historic preservation unimpeded, their physical well-being, and their overall quality of life.
In engendering a deeper discussion around mental resilience, and (hopefully) building a broader discussion and safe community around mental health in historic preservation, I think it is essential to investigate how unhealthy ways of thinking and practicing that have been embedded and internalized (and, subsequently, presented as "normal") operate in preservation. I also think it is essential to investigate how these unhealthy ways of thinking and practicing (may even) contribute to the inequitable distribution of trauma, difficulties, mental fatigue, emotional stress and distress of historic preservation participants and practitioners of color; and how the ability to overcome these things are not equitably accessible to all.
Again, I hope that these questions can contribute to helping us build a stronger, safer, and equitable community around mental health in historic preservation,
Associate ProfessorHistoric Preservation Program, School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, University of Maryland, College Park
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