What do you think of when you think of resilient people? Some of you might conjure up images of great sports athletes bouncing back from a severe injury or loss. Perhaps others think of a community coming together after a natural disaster or heartbreaking tragedy. Or maybe what comes to mind is a great leader, bringing a company back from the edge of extinction. Though the examples of resilience differ, they usually include stories of grit, strength, tenacity and determination. People fighting against the odds. Those who have been knocked down, rising back up again and again. All of this is true and additionally, resilience requires flexibility. Joseph Strauss, designer of the Golden Gate Bridge, had to structure the bridge’s cables to be able to sway up to 27 feet in San Francisco’s strong winds. The bridge’s resilience comes from it being both strong AND flexible to withstand the elements. There is no doubt that these qualities of grit, strength, determination and flexibility make up resilient individuals and communities.
But resilience is also about the stories themselves.
The most resilient people are those who are masters of their life story.
Building inner resilience through story is a bit like strength training. All strength training rests on the premise that when you tear down muscles through weight bearing repetition, the body will build them back up stronger than they were before. If you think about it, resilience is built the same way, except instead of breaking down and building up muscle, we are breaking down our old stories and building up new ones. This is how we grow. The idea is best expressed in the insight from Charles Du Bos when he said, “Be willing at any moment to sacrifice all that you are, for all that you could become.” We need to shed our habits and release the outdated stories of who we think we are if we’re really going to master our life story and step into our highest living expression. And building our inner resilience in this way will increase our capability to handle the tough tasks we face in the future, whatever they may be.
But you won’t be building the resilience you need for future challenges in your life if you just wait it out. Instead, focus on what stories you want to let go of and what story of YOU is wanting to emerge. We must keep our eyes on the future and make decisions today on what we want to become, not just how to create a different version of what we already are.
Many times, our lives are defined by how we handle the bumps, setbacks and disappointments we experience. Think back to the two most difficult times in your life – one professional and one personal. Write a description of each situation including how you handled it, what you learned from it and who you are today as a result. Undoubtedly, these are not pleasant stories; they didn’t make you feel good and there were likely moments when you wanted to give up. These stories caused you to step out of your comfort zone, pushed you to your limit and usually, there is a lot of charged emotions around them. But in retrospect, we’ll bet these stories you lived made you stronger, more determined, more … resilient.
This month, you may be devoting time right now to come up with your list of New Year’s resolutions. Maybe it would be better to take a step back to examine and reflect on your old stories, where you are now and what new story you want to live in 2017. This process of sacrificing all that you are for all that you could become will give you the resilience you need to get you through any hard times to come. Go ahead and build grit and strength, develop determination and flexibility. Just don’t forget about the stories we tell.