“You’re better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can.” These are simple, wise words from my friend and colleague Ken Chlouber, a lifelong endurance athlete, adventurer, and the founder of the extreme Leadville Trail 100-mile race through the Colorado Rockies.
For more than three decades, Chlouber and his fellow endurance athletes have performed amazing feats of personal strength despite adversity, tackling grueling challenges that would bring most people to their knees. He knows at a deep, personal level that anything is possible when you believe in yourself — and keep trying.
To me, Chlouber’s message speaks to the immeasurable resilience of the human body and spirit — in controlled and uncontrollable circumstances.
In the case of endurance athletes who choose to take on physically demanding pursuits like Leadville, it’s about pushing yourself to the edge of your limits, and relying on an inner strength that allows you to dig deep when it seems impossible.
Under these types of conditions, we accomplish great things because we wholeheartedly believe we can. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
In other moments, we overcome because it’s our only option. There are no alternatives.
Throughout history, humans have prevailed through all sorts of seemingly insurmountable situations — natural disasters, famines, world wars, social injustices, immense loss. In the wake of catastrophe and stress, we have not only survived, but also made quantum leaps that in the past may have seemed unimaginable.
Adversity has proven itself as an exceptional opportunity for growth.
Our ability to adapt demonstrates an enormous amount of resilience that lives within each of us — whether we realize it or not. And while it’s true that some people seem to have more inherent resilience than others, we are each capable of cultivating more and harnessing it during difficult times.
Consider the people you’ve witnessed overcome hardship; there are countless examples all around us. The entrepreneur who lost his fortune on a risky venture and then earns it back; the triathlete who suffered life-threatening injuries in a car accident and works tirelessly each day to regain her physical abilities; the parent who is raising awareness about the disease that took her child too soon.
These individuals could have thrown in the towel, and for a while, they probably did. But then something from within moved them to start again, and they found themselves on the other side. Doing, living, thriving.
This need for resilience and perseverance is only going to increase as the rate of change in our world continues to accelerate. For most of our industrialized past, we’ve had the luxury of being able to reasonably anticipate what’s next. But in the last decade, we’ve seen unprecedented advancements in every aspect of the world as we know it — geopolitical, economical, environmental, technological. These warp-speed changes are making it hard to predict where we’ll be five years from now.
With so many unknowns, we will be stretched physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially. We will need to adjust and respond more quickly because the pace of change isn’t going to slow down. And we’ll have a choice between the attitudes of “I can” and “I can’t.”
Getting stuck in the mindset of “I can’t” on the precipice of change leads us down a slippery slope of disempowerment. It limits our beliefs about what we’re capable of. It holds us back from personal and cultural big leaps.
So my personal approach, and my advice to you, is to ask “How can I?” Because there is always something you can do in the present moment to move forward. It creates a willingness to adapt to what’s ahead, even if what’s out there isn’t crystal clear. It’s an opportunity to trust that you are better than you think you are, as Chlouber says time and time again.
As history has shown, we are not only resilient, we’re capable of overcoming what once seemed entirely impossible.
So as we move into spring, I hope you’ll take time to consider your own capacity for resilience and envision what’s truly within your reach.