Journalist Hara Estroff Marano once wrote in a Psychology Today article "The Art of Resilience":
"Resilience may be an art, the ultimate art of living…
At the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself--yet also a belief in something larger than oneself. Resilient people do not let adversity define them. They find resilience by moving towards a goal beyond themselves, transcending pain and grief by perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs."
She argues that it is possible to strengthen your inner self and your belief in yourself, to define yourself as capable and competent. It's possible to fortify your psyche. It's possible to develop a sense of mastery.
For most, sooner or later life throws us a major curve ball or two. And if you happen to be an entrepreneur like me, you will most likely have to survive personal and professional adversity repeatedly.
Marano’s remarks about being resilient and surviving adversity resonate well with me. I think that no matter what we do, pursuing anything worthwhile takes a tremendous amount of resiliency.
Resilient people develop a mental capacity that allows them to adapt with ease during adversity. Like bamboo, they bend but rarely break. Resilient people possess a set of paradoxical traits.
It is difficult to understand how you can control your destiny when the very nature of adversity takes away your control.
Laurence Gonzales, author of Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience in an article writes:
“Julian Rotter, a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, developed the concept of what he calls 'locus of control.' Some people, he says, view themselves as essentially in control of the good and bad things they experience--i.e., they have an internal locus of control. Others believe that things are done to them by outside forces or happen by chance: an external locus. These worldviews are not absolutes. Most people combine the two.
"But research shows that those with a strong internal locus are better off. In general, they’re less likely to find everyday activities distressing. They don’t often complain, whine, or blame. And they take compliments and criticism in stride.”
This internal locus allows us to create options and scenarios based on instinct, the situation, and foresight. It allows us to create alternative plans in anticipation or in the midst of adversity. It is your personal exit strategy. Fostering your internal locus takes an enormous amount of devoted practice of self-leadership and a certain mindfulness.
As humans, our instincts are to fight bitterly against the adversity we are faced with. The most resilient among us will often find a way to fight it by embracing it.
On my desk, I have a copy of The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. Very few have talked about embracing adversity like him. He was a professor at Carnegie Mellon and a husband and father of three. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given only a few months to live. He gave his Last Lecture on September 18, 2007. His story, and in particular this final lecture, are a powerful reminder of the strength of the human spirit.
“It's not about how to achieve your dreams, it's about how to lead your life ... If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself, the dreams will come to you.” --Randy Pausch
Randy decided to accept his situation and live out the days he had remaining by making a difference. He died on July 25, 2008, and now he lives on not only through his family but also through the millions he inspired. I am certainly one of them.
If you haven’t seen the Last Lecture or read the book, then you must.
I think, once we accept our situation and let go of the outcome, it allows us to adapt and even thrive in the face of adversity. As he explained:
“Another way to be prepared is to think negatively. Yes, I'm a great optimist. But, when trying to make a decision, I often think of the worst case scenario. I call it 'the eaten by wolves factor.' If I do something, what's the most terrible thing that could happen? Would I be eaten by wolves? One thing that makes it possible to be an optimist, is if you have a contingency plan for when all hell breaks loose. There are a lot of things I don't worry about, because I have a plan in place if they do.”
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” --Helen Keller
Sometimes, if we pay close attention, we will see that adversity can come into our life to guide us to our true destiny. It certainly did for Helen Keller.
Helen Keller fell ill, lost her sight, her hearing and fell mute while she was a child. Today, her name is known around the world as a symbol of courage, strength and determination in the face of overwhelming odds. Through the tutelage of her teacher Ms. Annie Sullivan and other great supporters, she used her adversity to find her vision, her voice, and a calling for herself that led to great benefits to others. She wrote:
“For, after all, every one who wishes to gain true knowledge must climb the Hill of Difficulty alone, and since there is no royal road to the summit, I must zigzag it in my own way. I slip back many times, I fall, I stand still, I run against the edge of hidden obstacles, I lose my temper and find it again and keep it better, I trudge on, I gain a little, I feel encouraged, I get more eager and climb higher and begin to see the widening horizon. Every struggle is a victory. One more effort and I reach the luminous cloud, the blue depths of the sky, the uplands of my desire.”
And when all else fails to keep myself resilient, sharing other people’s stories like these helps me find motivation in the face of my own adversity. Happy trails my friends.
[Image: Flickr user Lyle Vincent]