When I first moved to Washington DC, my great aunt threw a tea party for me.
She was an extraordinary woman. She and I attended the same college and she shared memories of her days there. Then, she told me about taking a steamer boat to England (this was in the 1920s) to visit her boyfriend (and subsequent husband) during her junior year. She told me and I quote: “My parents came to visit me, they wanted to make sure I was still a virgin (dramatic pause) I was.”
She died that winter having lived what was, by any definition, a full life. I remember at that party when she talked about how she woke up each morning with aches and pains, but that she got up each morning and went about her day. At the time, in my 20s and in excellent health, I remember wondering why she didn’t just stay in bed if she didn’t feel well. I know now that she was resilient. She got up and faced each day with courage and conviction. I know that her conviction often drove some of her family to distraction, but it was there and it was powerful. She was a force to be reckoned with.
Thinking about my aunt led me to think about resilience and to reflect on the people I know who are resilient.
My sister, who is one of the most resilient (and fabulous) women I know, said recently, “Sure it’s stressful, but I have a good angel sitting on my shoulder right now, and I’m incredibly grateful.”
When I was in junior high school, I remember writing a paper about being a flower growing in a desert or in a crack in cement (it was a long time ago; I don’t remember!). I find myself wondering, “do we celebrate the flower’s resilience or wonder why it grows there to begin with?” Perhaps that is the heart of resilience, taking the situation with which we are presented and finding a way to make it work for us: thriving not in spite of the situation but because of it.
Resilience is defined as “the ability to bounce back from adversity; the ability to become strong, healthy or successful again after something bad happens.”
The Resilience Research Center in Canada expands this definition:
“In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways.” ~ Dr. Michael Ungar.
What this says to me is that being resilient includes asking for and receiving help. In our increasingly complicated and isolated world, perhaps this is the key to resilience.
I am not so naïve as to say that it is enough to be resilient and therefore you will thrive. Sometimes circumstances are such that resilience isn’t enough. However, for those of us lucky enough to have the opportunity to thrive, learning to be resilient can give us the opportunity to find happiness and joy in our own unique situations.
I have observed that resilient people:
- Get up every morning (like my aunt). Sometimes in the moment it may seem easier not to get back up; resilient people don’t see that as an option.
- Are grateful for what they have and are willing to work as hard as they can to make it successful (like my sister). Gratitude and appreciation don’t replace hard work, but they make it easier.
- Draw boundaries. We all need time to replenish even if we do that in different ways. To be able to find that time, we sometimes have to step away from the care and feeding of others and get enough sleep, down time, exercise or healthy food.
- Choose their battles. Like Kenny Rogers said, we need to know “when to walk away, know when to run.” Sometimes it is not worth taking on a new battle.
- Are authentic. I think it’s important to note that often lack of authenticity or even meanness of spirit presents itself as resilience, such as the person who always gets ahead in the workplace in spite of or because of bad behaviors. This is not authentic and not consistent with my definition of resilience.
- Get hurt. If we are not able to or willing to put ourselves out there, it is just harder to be resilient even though this may result in being hurt. Many of us have learned to be resilient through painful experiences. Being hurt is sometimes our greatest teacher. At the same time, I reject the notion that we can only learn to be resilient through pain and suffering.
- Are creative. Sometimes being resilient shows up as the ability to find a new answer to an old problem. The ability to look at something that seems insurmountable from a different perspective is what it takes to be resilient. Stepping away from the computer, stretching or taking a walk can fuel creativity.
- Believe in the abundance of the universe. To be resilient, we need to believe that the universe has good to offer.
- Solicit support and input from others. Maybe we are all just truly “walking each other home.” In any case, we need each other and the more we are able to be authentic with each other, be vulnerable with each other and be empathetic, the more resilient can be.
Many of the most resilient people I know do not know they are resilient. What I see as resilience they see as living their lives. My wish for them is that they can embrace how fabulous they are. For the rest of us who are feeling our way, let’s learn from others, support each other in this journey, and celebrate ourselves and our own unique resilience.
Author: Wendy Kuhn
Editor: Caroline Beaton
Image: Wikimedia Commons