THE SCOTTISH POET Robert Burns wrote, “The best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry,” in a poem to a mouse whose nest was disrupted by the plow. The implication is that things rarely go just the way we want.
Disruptions fall all along the spectrum from “the whatever” to “the paralyzing.” From my-coffee-is-too-hot to the death of a loved one; from the game was canceled to a divorce. Some we quickly move past, and some stop us dead in our tracks. Some disruptions are predictable and some we never saw coming. But they all make us uncomfortable because something is not going the way we planned it. And it seems no matter what we do, we are frustrated by our inability to control it. The world doesn’t always bend to our wishes. Things don’t always go the way we planned them to go for absolutely no good reason. Events happen for which we have no good explanation.
King Solomon also reflected on the same thought in his book Ecclesiastes. He wrote:
I returned and saw under the sun that—The race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor bread to the wise, Nor riches to men of understanding, Nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to them all.
It’s a good description of the world we live in. It’s not very logical. It’s not very hopeful. It doesn’t always make sense. Sooner or later, bad luck hits us all. It doesn’t matter who (or what) you are—man or mouse—disruption is a way of life. From the disruption of birth to the disruption of death, life is full of change. Wanting things to go our way, we fight against these disruptions. We get angry, we blame, and we get depressed, and we ask, “Why is this happening to me?” We fight against whatever is making us uncomfortable. We want it to end so we can get back to the way we were.
But we can’t go back. Disruptions either change us or they leave us stuck going nowhere. If our emphasis in life is to hang on to what we have, what we are, then one day we will find ourselves running on empty, living meaningless lives.
For some disruptions, it is fair to say, “Get over it,” and move on. For others, something much deeper needs to happen, more akin to healing. But whether the disruption is big or small, there is a quality that is critical to our success that connects them all. Our ability to deal effectively with any disruption is determined by how resilient we are.
A good definition of resilience is our capacity to maintain our core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances.
Resilience is our ability to roll with the punches and deal with these disruptions in a more positive and creative way. I remember my parents telling me, from early on, to roll with the punches—don’t let situations knock you off course. It’s the idea that your circumstances don’t determine your future. Resilience is our ability to bounce forward no matter what life throws at us. And I say bounce forward because, as we all know, most disruptions leave us nothing to bounce back to. Who and what we were has been forever changed.
Resilience means learning to deal with the uncertainty of life as a given. We should anticipate our plans going awry and prepare for it, but most of us are not remotely prepared to deal with real disruptions. Sidestepping a disruption in our life makes us more vulnerable to the next one.
The mistaken impression that life should always be happy does not prepare us for the tragedy and danger of this world. When something goes wrong, we want someone to fix it. We lack resilience.
A bubble-wrapped life is a fragile life. The most comfortable life is the most fragile and the most likely to collapse under stress. In our comfort, we don’t build the resilience we need to deal with life. So, when someone or something suddenly messes with our plans, we are hit harder by them because we lack the skills and mindset to deal with them. The Roman statesman Cato thought that almost any form of comfort as a road to waste—a road taking us nowhere.
A resilient person is not fragile. A resilient person leans into the problem. As a result, the resilient person actually lessens the time they spend learning and healing. They move through the stages of grief more quickly.
Resilience doesn’t come easy, and it is built over time— difficulty by difficulty—but it requires a shift in our thinking. We must see difficulties differently if we are to build resilience and the capacity to grow from them. The suggestion here is that when you are faced with a problem, there is something of value going on.
We need to shift our thinking about problems and disruptions for a good reason. It builds perseverance and resilience. Problems are tests. And like any test, it is designed to help you see where you stand. The way we think about a problem—our attitude about a problem—will determine how we handle the problem.
Resilience is rooted in our belief system. How we come out on the other side is determined by our attitude. For most of us, that is a huge shift in our thinking because what we want to do is to fight against any disruption and any uncomfortableness to make it go away.
This shift requires that we get out of our own heads and see our life from another perspective. It doesn’t mean that we are happy about the problem, but that we can be happy in the problem.
It means that we own the problem. We meet it head-on, and we use it to our benefit. It changes not only our perspective on problems but our perspective on life. We will face adversity and challenges of all kinds. Our future depends on our ability to bounce forward.
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