People Power: Our changing world demands resilience - May 2020

By Sam Allman

You were probably like me: you had plans. At the moment of this writing, I was to be in Portugal, walking one of the caminos of Santiago. The Camino de Santiago-the Way of St. James-is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James-known as Santiago-in the city of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. We were planning to walk it again, though another route this time, because we were seeking an adventure.

What were your plans? An adventure like mine? Spring break? A vacation? Just work or your daily routine? Whatever your plans, odds are your world and immediate expectations for the future were turned upside down. It reminds me of the quote by writer and cartoonist Allen Saunders, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Most of us already know that life does not go as smoothly as expected or as planned. But the COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge whack-on-the-side-of-the-head reminder. Fact: change and unmet expectations are some of the biggest causes of stress and frustration.

To me, the pandemic meets the criteria of a “black swan event”-a rare, unexpected high-impact event. I believe black swans are on the rise and will become more common. Travel, migration, trade and technology are making the world smaller and more interconnected. What happens anywhere in the world can affect us here in America and vice versa. Had you ever heard of a city in China called Wuhan before?

Whether you like it or not, this black swan has probably changed us forever. I used to smile at those wearing surgical masks in public, but now it certainly will be a more common sight. I wonder if it will become a trend to color coordinate masks with what we are wearing? I remember my surprise the first time an elbow was extended to me. What will become of a good firm handshake or a hug?

There is a Bette Davis quote I like to share with my senior friends because they get it, and we are in it together, “Getting old is not for sissies.” Dealing with life’s unexpected challenges and struggles is a fact of life and not for the faint of heart. Life is difficult, for some more than others, but whether rich or poor, it is still hard. It is not fair, nor is the suffering equal. We each have to play the cards we are dealt. Dealing with unexpected life-changing events is one of the major causes of suffering and stress.

However, I believe we are not just meant to endure a hard life and then die. We are meant to find joy and happiness, but first, we must gain strength and learn to survive. German philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche wrote, “Out of life’s school of war, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” We need struggles to acquire the physical and emotional strength to live, like a baby chick needs to struggle to be free of its eggshell. That struggle and effort is required for that chick to gain the strength needed to survive. As we learn and increase in strength, our struggles get easier to bear. Like in weight training, our ability to carry heavier and heavier burdens increases. Life gets easier as we learn, gain strength and recognize what works and what doesn’t.

The training to become a Navy Seal is hard. It has to be hard because of the life-or-death situations they may face. They are required to be both mentally and physically tough; it’s necessary in order to climb mountains, run marathons or go to war. But life today requires less physical strength than it did for our ancestors. Using a keypad or pushing buttons is less strenuous than ploughing a field or protecting ourselves from wild animals.

Our changing world demands resilience, which is a hallmark of strong, mentally tough individuals. Resilience is also required if we want to enjoy living, not just existing but flourishing. Resilience only comes by having to struggle and work through difficult times and problems.

We measure carpet resilience by its ability to bounce back after it is stepped on, spilled on, lived on and abused. We measure resilience of people by their ability to bounce back after suffering setbacks, failures and disappointments. It is the capacity to absorb high levels of change while displaying minimal dysfunctional behavior.

The COVID-19 pandemic can hone our capacity to be more resilient if we choose to embrace the learning it provides. Doing nothing and waiting for things to go back to normal is especially risky in a world that will never be the same. According to Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the strongest or most intelligent of the species that survive, but the ones most responsive to change.

So my question is: what has been your response to this black swan? Have you shown any dysfunctional behavior? Are you showing resilience? Are you wasting time, hoping for a return to normalcy?

Building resilience is an important part of learning to thrive and flourish in life. Here are some ways that will help cultivate and inspire you to strengthen your personal resilience.

Choose your response. You can take control of or embrace unwanted change by choosing your response, rather than reacting to it in a dysfunctional way. You can accept or reject it. The sooner you choose to accept irreversible events, the faster you will be able to move on or bounce back.

Many times change means loss, like loss of a job or a loved one. That kind of loss takes time. Feeling pain and going through the grieving process will facilitate that journey. The Serenity Prayer says the first step in bouncing back is to accept what you cannot control.

There are many changes we may experience that we do not have to accept or shouldn’t feel obligated to accept. The world is desperately in need of people with the courage to challenge the “status quo,” or imposed change. Resilient people are game changers. They do not automatically accept imposed change; they sometimes reject it. Standing up against unacceptable change is empowering and reduces the misery of victimhood.

Resilient people are courageous and proactive when they feel a change is unfair, unjust or bad. They reject imposed change by protesting, offering solutions and voicing displeasure. Whether you accept or reject change, choosing your response empowers you.

Nurture your hope. Resilient people are hopeful. When bad things happen to resilient people, their hope sustains them through their suffering. Hopelessness breeds depression and early death. It is a disease of the mind. A rule of thumb by author H. Jackson Brown Jr., “Never deprive someone of hope; it may be all they have.” Worst of all, hopelessness breeds helplessness. What do helpless people do? Nothing. In times of suffering we must nurture hope. You nurture hope by taking control of your inner self-talk. As spiritualist Sally Kempton said, “It is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.” And as Horace said, “Rule your mind or it will rule you.” When bad things happen to resilient people, they reassure their minds and tell themselves that the consequences of change are not permanent; most bad things eventually work out. We can handle temporary suffering by being hopeful of its future absence.

Hope helps you look to the future with anticipation. Resilient people are always looking for breakout opportunities. Certainly, there will be opportunities in this black swan that some will discover and take advantage of. If we spend too much time complaining and moaning about COVID-19, we may miss them. Resilient people flourish because they look for the good in everything and everyone.

Seek inspiration. Imposed change may make us feel helpless. Sometimes we need to be inspired to take action. A start is finding power quotes that resonate with us. As Nelson Mandela said, “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Power quotes can empower us, motivate us and become affirmations we can internally chant to ourselves every day. Words can make or break us and can change our motivation.

When struggling with change, I repeat to myself three affirmations:
1. I am the problem! If I am the problem, then I can use my creativity to find a solution.
2. I am responsible! If I am responsible, then I have to decide what action I will take and what result I want.
3. If it’s to be it’s up to me. The odds are no one will come to my rescue. Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

I love to read and watch the stories of real people-people who have suffered, failed and bounced back from difficulties that I can’t even imagine. They inspire me. I wonder what I would do in the same situation. Their stories make me look at my problems differently. It’s amazing how one’s suffering is lessened when one’s perspective of it changes. Most times, learning of others’ suffering makes me grateful for my own, and makes me believe that if they can bounce back from their challenges, I will be able handle my own. Whose stories have inspired you?

Be flexible. Resilient people are open-minded. They have learned that change makes some planned actions obsolete or ineffective. In football, we call that being “audible-ready.” In basketball, we call it the “pivot.” When you see that your plan won’t work, you call an audible and create a new plan. You pivot and change directions when your plan isn’t working. You pivot as you learn and when you discover potential problems or potential opportunities. Flexibility in thinking and acting is a hallmark of resilient people.

Turn failure and trauma into learning. Resilient people turn trauma, disappointment, failure and loss into learning experiences for personal growth. We learn more from our failures than our successes. Life has a habit of teaching the same lessons over and over again until we master them. I believe that is the first essential purpose of life: learning and growing. Living life is hard, but we can learn to do it well. We can flourish. We just have to learn what works, what doesn’t work, what’s effective and what’s not.

We were each born into this world with a blank slate-no knowledge, no skills-but with lots of potential. Thriving and flourishing requires power and will. That power comes by learning, growing and striving to become the best we can be. Life will teach us what works if we listen and pay attention. When we do, we will have the power, the people power, to flourish and be successful; to live life our own way.

It’s important to use your learning and wisdom to make life easier for others. Fact: joy and happiness are fruits of personal growth (learning) and making difference (contributing). Resilience allows both.

Copyright 2020 Floor Focus