Building resilience — that ability to ‘bounce back’ after adversity, trauma, tragedy, change, or failure —has become a critical component to living a long, healthy, and productive life. In the past few weeks, the ravages from Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and most recently, Hurricane Maria, in the US and the Caribbean have been televised and we, the un-impacted, sit back in awe, disbelief and gratitude. We are grateful that (for now), we are safe and our possessions intact, even as our hearts overflow with compassion for the millions who have to rebuild their lives, their cities, their economies, or their countries. I find myself thinking that it could easily have been me and wondering if I have what it takes to start all over, if I had to. How does one cultivate that type of resilience?
Numerous studies have shown that children need to be taught how to be resilient at a very young age so that they can develop into thriving, well-adapted individuals. None of us chooses to go through trial and hardship. But life happens, and we either get knocked down and stay there or get back up. When the going gets tough the tough get going, right? According to Pastor Rick Warren in his recent study series, Daring Faith, “Nobody goes through life with an unbroken chain of successes. Everybody has failures and mistakes. We all embarrass ourselves. We all have pain. We all have problems. We all have pressures. The people who make it in life have resilience.” I immediately think of Diana Nyad.
I have only recently heard about Diana. She is the long distance swimmer who set the record for swimming from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage back in 2013 when she was 64. She swam nearly 53 continuous hours in the ocean, surviving the treacherous waters of the Florida Straits, a notorious stretch of water teeming with sharks, jellyfish, storms and an unpredictable Gulf Stream. The magnitude of her achievement is undeniable. But what really got my attention when I heard this story, was that this was her FIFTH attempt at setting this record. She first tried when she was 28 years old back in 1979! On her 4th attempt, she almost died from Jellyfish venom. At 64 years old she finally accomplished her life-long dream, when many of us are thinking about retirement. What made Ms Nyad so tenacious, so persevering, so resilient to failure, to adversity, to misfortune?
I was so intrigued, I listened to a couple of her Ted Talks (she is now an author and motivational speaker) and they are truly inspiring. Four things stood out to me related to cultivating resilience. 1) She learned from her mistakes. After each failed attempt, she improvised, learning what to adjust, which expert to consult and what new protective protocol to implement. 2) She kept herself motivated and positive. To keep herself focused and upbeat during the dark lonely hours of her swim, she sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” over and over and over again. She jokingly admits to “having a playlist of songs” at the ready to sing in her head. 3) She had a single-minded goal to set this record and she believed her dream was achievable. Her motto as she trained for the feat was “find a way”. She saw her dream coming to fruition in her mind’s eye. As she swam, she thought only of reaching the Florida horizon, that was her fulcrum, her grounding point. She did not agonize over how many hours she had left or what could go wrong. She sung and she swam. 4) She did not go it alone. She frankly shares about her ‘ride or die’ friend Bonnie who was right there in the boat alongside her, encouraging and supporting her, along with a team of experts who were there for her protection and safety. She acknowledges that even though she was the one swimming, it would have been impossible without her team.
Diana Nyad’s feat makes it crystal clear to me that resilience is about not giving up, no matter what. We will all fail at something. Life will throw us curveballs. Tragedy or illness may come upon us or our loved ones. We may lose our cherished job. We may be forced to contend with a natural disaster. We may have to endure with terror a Category 5 hurricane huddled up in an attic or shelter praying for our lives, and survive, yes, but without the material possessions we once held dear: damaged car, destroyed house, no building standing for miles, our town or island flooded, washed up, practically swept away! So we are forced to begin again, to face the clearing, the rebuilding, the starting over, one step, one piece of debris, one day at a time. So daunting isn’t it?
How do you stay resilient, after a “storm”? You find a way. You consider:
- What can I learn from this disaster? What is the life lesson here for me to grow from?
- How can I keep myself and those around me positive and motivated to keep going, even when I am exhausted, feeling hopeless and I cannot see my way through the aftermath of this storm? How can I remind myself that “this too shall pass”, that I have endured the worst of it and I am alive?
- How do I stay focused on my dreams and goals even in the midst of this adversity? What is my fulcrum? My true North? What do I believe to be true about myself, about God, about humanity?
- How do I let the fact that I am not alone, strengthen me? How do I draw support from the millions of people going through this very same catastrophe? How do I stay encouraged as I witness the outpouring of compassion and support from my fellow survivors and the International community, whether it be via funds, food, Facebook feed words of encouragement and inspiration, prayers, supplies, disaster relief efforts or fundraising campaigns?
These questions apply for a hurricane and for any storm we face.
I have faced more than my fair share of storms in the past few years, from seeing my career aspirations come crashing down to chronic illness. I have often wondered just how I was supposed to find a way in the midst of seemingly incredible odds against me. And yet, I’m here, still in the game, with new dreams and a reinforced inner strength. I had to find a way. And that way was excavated out of the rubble of my trials through trust—trust in myself, in God and in humanity. I had to trust and let go of the reins so God could take over. I had to submit, in humility to the grace of my God. And therein lay the gift of resilience.
“When we tackle obstacles, we find hidden reserves of courage and resilience we did not know we had. And it is only when we are faced with failure do we realise that these resources were always there within us. We only need to find them and move on with our lives.” A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash
I am reminded of a conversation I had decades ago, when I was going through a particularly difficult season, and a mentor said to me that I was like a willow tree—that I surely bowed but never broke. She was right. That powerful image has stayed with me. There is a quote that I have had stuck on my office poster board for years, and in writing this post, I understand why it is so meaningful to me. It is because it speaks to me of the heart and soul of resilience and epitomizes for me what resilience looks like: “The sturdiest tree is not found in the shelter of the forest but high upon some rocky crag, where its daily battle with the elements shapes it into a thing of beauty.”
I was sharing with my friend Maurice, my idea to write a post on LinkedIn on resilience after just having written a post on humility as a hallmark of leadership and he shared an original thought that coupled the two themes that was just so brilliant to me. According to Maurice, “Resilience is the other side of coin to humility. Humility keeps you grounded. Resilience helps you fly”. With resilience my friends, you can fly, you can swim over 100 miles, you can soar to greater heights than you can ever imagine!
I just have to end this post with one of my absolute favorite Maya Angelou poems, Still I Rise. I consider this to be the resilience anthem! This poem deserves its own post, but for now, I’ll just quote the first verse:
“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.” Maya Angelou
My heartfelt thoughts are with all those impacted by Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, especially the victims on the islands in the Caribbean whose infrastructures have been completely devastated. Please consider donating to these organizations to help hurricane victims:
- Red Cross for Hurricane Irma victims
- United Way
- Coalition for the homeless of Houston
- Direct Relief: Disaster Relief for Hurricane Victims
- Samaritans purse International Relief
- Save the Children
- Catholic Relief Services specifically targeting islands impacted
- Food for the poor (More than 95 percent of your donation goes directly to programs that help the poor, in the Caribbean.)
- Star of Hope for Harvey victims
- Disaster Relief for South Florida
Natalie Jobity is an inspirational author, branding coach, marketing consultant and freelance writer. She is the author of the Amazon Best-selling style guide :Frumpy to Fabulous: Flaunting It. Your Ultimate Guide to Effortless Style. Visit her blog Be Simply Inspired. Email her at Elanimage07@gmail.com.