The Most Important Skill You can Cultivate

A few weeks ago someone broke into my car (using some new device that clones the remote control opener of any car) and stole some things: two car seats (one for my son and one for my daughter), my yoga bag with my sweaty and smelly clothes, a router I wanted to give to a friend, and a shampoo and hair conditioner I had bought as a gift to my wife. All replaceable things.

The curious thing is that I wasn’t so upset about what happened. Almost not upset at all. I set aside an emergency fund for such cases, so financially it wasn’t really a problem.

Still, there was a time when this would have been pretty upsetting to me. I would have thought things like: “this is so terrible”, “nobody’s safe anymore”, “I hate whoever did this” and other similar thoughts. This time, though, it wasn’t like that at all. It’s funny that most people I told about it seemed more upset than myself. They would say things like: “Oh, that must really suck for you”. But it didn’t, I hardly saw it as something bad at all, I simply saw it as something that happened. Not good, not bad, just something that happened.

I’m not bragging either, I’m just trying to illustrate the benefits of practiced resilience. Because it is practiced: I actively have been trying to improve my equanimity for the last couple of years. As I’m writing this, I currently read every morning a passage from “The Daily Stoic” and one of the main reasons I exercise three times a week and do yoga an additional three times a week is because doing so keeps my negative emotions at bay. So the way I reacted is actually the result of a daily effort.

And why do I bother with such an effort? Because I believe resilience is one of the most important skills one can develop, mainly for two reasons.

The first reason is that it makes life just so much more simple and enjoyable. It’s great to know that there are only few catastrophes that could really affect your overall happiness. When happiness truly comes from within, most things that happen to you, no matter how bad, can’t really affect it. This gives you an enormous confidence, and lets you experiment with all sort of beneficial new ideas, which in turn result in more happiness and confidence.

Some of the most miserable and depressed people I’ve ever met were the exact opposite of resilient: they exaggerated everything bad that happened to them, always, no matter how insignificant. The hardly saw anything good in the world. As a result, they lived pretty depressing lives; they never enjoyed anything because they were constantly worried of what tomorrow might bring. And, like a self fulling prophecy, the future always turned out to be bad, at least in their opinions.

The second reason is that I believe resilience is a necessary skill to accomplish most things in life. I know it sounds cliché, but I truly believe that the biggest setback in life is giving up.

You probably don’t believe me, and are thinking something like: “What about money, time or talent, those are surely bigger setbacks? I can’t just play soccer as good as Messi by simply having a lot of resilience.” And no, you probably can’t, but unlike talent or money, not giving up is something you can actually control.

And even though you probably will never be as good at soccer as Messi (or maybe you will, who am I to judge), the only way to be the best possible soccer player you can be — or to be your possible best in any other field — is to give it your energy without faltering. By definition, those who don’t give up are the only ones who get to fulfill their entire potential.

It’s so easy to give up that we do it almost every day in one way or another: every time we feel tired, angry or depressed it’s like we’re giving up a little. It’s a constant battle. And since most people don’t fight it in the right way, just being aware of it gives you a tremendous advantage. That’s why I believe that most people that succeed do so at least partially because of their ability to endure the bad things that happen to them.

As a parting thought, there’s a poem by Rudyard Kipling that my father read to me during my wedding ceremony called If — , which you should probably read if you got this far. It basically states that, if you react in certain ways when faced with setbacks, all of these reactions related in one way or another to being a resilient person, then

“…yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it”.