“The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places,” said Ernest Hemingway. Notice that he didn’t say we’re all strong at the broken places. Whether we find ourselves in this group depends on one thing: resilience.
There’s a lot of talk about resilience lately. Be resilient. Be gritty. Fail fast. Fail forward. Bounce back.
In the face of a pandemic, economic hardships, weather crises, and cut-short Cancun vacations, it’s understandable that resilience is a common topic.
Most of these conversations view resilience as bouncing back or quickly recovering. They view resilience similar to elasticity, as in helping us return to our previous state.
Rubber bands are resilient. You stretch one (within reason) and it’ll snap back once you remove the tension. So yes, resiliency in rubber bands means elasticity.
But here’s a secret: human beings are not rubber bands. People don’t bounce back. We don’t go back in time and become the people we once were. As much as I love physics, human beings don’t fall under that same definition.
A parent who loses a child never bounces back. Nor would he or she want to. Adversity changes us. We can’t simply go back to who we once were. We can only move through it. As Eric Greitens wrote,
“What happens to us becomes part of us. Resilient people do not bounce back from hard experiences; they find healthy ways to integrate them into their lives.”
Whether we do this in the big moments often comes down to how we handle the minor ones of every day.
We Are What We Repeatedly Do
“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.” — Bob Dylan
No one is born resilient. It’s something we build. Just as someone learns to be a leader, a teacher, or a parent through the choices they make and the actions they take, we build resilience through our decisions and our actions. Until it eventually becomes a part of who we are.
The distinction comes down to whether we take responsibility for these choices.
If your state is devastated by massive power outages in the face of extreme weather and short-sighted utility legislation, you can decide whether to take responsibility or ignore it. Deciding to send out an ignorant message promoting scarcity-driven mindsets clearly shows an unwillingness to take responsibility.
Similarly, if your constituents are dying and you decide to take a clandestine Cancun vacation, responsibility is the last thing on your mind. And it shows.
It’s easy to avoid responsibility. It’s a heavy burden. It forces us to face the reality of our situation and follow a difficult path in tough times.
But this responsibility also puts us in control. It gives us power over our situation. It lets us decide how we want to respond and whether we’re going to do it in a constructive, healthy way.
Taking this responsibility is the key step in developing resilience. By taking control, we put ourselves in a position to make difficult decisions. By owning our actions, we can choose to move forward in constructive ways.
Then we just need to make the right choice.
How Are You Telling Your Life’s Story?
“Your life is your story. Write well. Edit often.” — Susan Statham.
Today we all added one sentence to one page of the book that will eventually tell the story of our lives. One sentence that adds to yesterday, builds on last week, and helps set the stage for those yet to be written.
It’s just one sentence. But what is a story if not a collection of sentences. As Annie Dillard described it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Stories are how we make sense of the world. It’s how we explain our actions and understand the actions of others. Yet these stories are often less about reality and more about how we remember and interpret it.
Winston Churchill said that history would be kind to him because he intended to write it. None of us are above this same revisionist history mindset. We don’t hesitate to cast our actions in a better light, often without even realizing that we’re doing it.
The problem is that we have it backward. We shouldn’t be spending our time rewriting our actions after they happen. We should focus on writing them before they happen.
Think about it. If you could write your actions before they happen, I’m guessing you’d be happier with them. Few of us would start our day with the decision to procrastinate, lose control of your emotions, or contribute to the growing toxicity all around us.
By writing them in advance, we sign ourselves up to greater expectations. We move from living by default to living by design. We can take strength from this narrative and better hold ourselves accountable to a higher standard.
Taking this step also means taking control. We’ll never be able to control the actions of others. But those are merely the starting conditions for our story. What we choose to do amidst that initial setup is up to us.
As the events of your day begin to unfold, take a pause. Ask yourself: How do I want my story to continue from this point?
Then work to make it happen.
Build Resilience Every Day.
“Regrets are illuminations come too late.” — Joseph Campbell
We tend to think that resiliency only comes in moments of adversity. But in reality, we build this trait every day. Every day we deal with unexpected challenges. Each of these brings the opportunity to build resilience.
Do we choose to take responsibility or abdicate it?
Do we choose to take productive action? Or do we allow our default reactions to run the show?
With every decision, we either build resilience or further ourselves from it. We can spend our time rewriting our past actions or we can spend it writing our future ones.
Decide on the latter. You know, before you find yourself running away to Cancun instead of dealing with a crisis.