No one escapes the cruel vagaries of life. When confronted by overwhelming challenge, pursue three steps to achieve resilience:
- Adapt and
There’s no simple algorithm to endure a personal crisis. Instead it’s a brute test of character. Do you have the courage and tenacity to sustain yourself in the face of unexpected adversity? Here, know that you are not alone. Look to those you admire who have weathered life’s worst storms. Draw strength from their example. Emulate them.
When I was eight years old and the youngest of seven children, my father died after an arduous battle with Hodgkin’s disease. My mother, steely in her resolve, made a conscious decision never to burden me with her grief. Despite her unspeakable pain, she was outwardly cheerful and never complained. That extraordinarily selfless act was probably her greatest gift to me. And when faced with any challenge, I draw on her strength to summon my own.
Maybe you’re dealing with the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, a bad diagnosis, a natural disaster, the loss of a job, an abusive boss. Indeed, there’s a long list of the events that rock folks to their very foundations. Your next challenge is to adapt. But how?
Be creative. Take honest stock of both the constraints you face and the opportunities you have. Seek fresh, unexpected ways to move forward. Reframe your expectations and desires. Redefine what will bring you fulfillment and meaning. Revise your goals and embrace a new path.
My nephew, a Marine and a marathon runner, sustained life-changing injuries during military training. His trajectory altered dramatically; his world turned upside down and inside out. He wouldn’t be able to fulfill his long-time goal of being a Marine, and there was question whether he would ever run again. His family and friends were distraught.
But in a gritty display of adaptability, Dan persevered and pivoted. In a surprisingly short time, he passed the Bar exam, began practicing law, married, became a dad, and — with the help of a prosthetic device — completed a half marathon. Those who were once distraught have been inspired.
Sometimes the challenge you face seems incompatible with thriving. Yet, as Primo Levi recounts in Survival at Auschwitz, even in the most desperate circumstances imaginable, human beings can seek meaning and fulfillment. Even in the face of terror, it is possible to thrive.
A few years ago a good friend — recently retired and extraordinarily fit for his age — was diagnosed with a rare, incurable neurological disease. Life expectancy was weeks or a few months.
We had been meeting up monthly and continued to do so. At our first post-diagnosis lunch, Pete was upbeat. He told me he had reconciled with his diagnosis. That he had had a good life, better than he could ever have dreamed possible. And that his goal now was to help his wife and children through his remaining days and death.
At his memorial service, his grieving wife and daughter recounted to me with amazement how Pete acted as their support system and cheerleader right to the end. He helped alleviate their fears by his joyful embrace of life and death. He offered his good humor and celebration as alternatives to their sadness and pain.
Yes, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenge, you can endure, adapt and thrive.