On a recent vacation with my family, I had a rare opportunity to slow down and just be present. As my kids splashed and played in the ocean, without a worry in the world, I was reminded of how fleeting this period of carefree innocence is for the vast majority of us.
At some point in our lives, we all face situations that shift our perceptions of the world and how we exist in it. For kids, it might be dealing with bullying at school, coping with their parents’ separation or divorce, or facing something worse, as we know is the case for too many children. For adults, it’s the loss of a job, a health crisis, the death of a loved one. These are the realities of life, and they force us to see things differently.
It’s during these trying times that we often discover an inner strength and resilience that we may not have realized we possess. When it might seem easier to give in or give up, our ability to tap into this reserve and adapt — even minimally — allows many of us to keep moving forward. In some cases, we may not even recognize our actions as being resilient.
The ways resilience shows up are highly individual, a product of our unique biology and the accumulation of our experiences to this point. Just as our exercise programs and nutritional needs are unique for each of us, so too is our capacity to cope with the inevitable obstacles — big or small — that are part of our lives.
Yet in spite of this individuality, I believe the ways we get through difficult times generally involve one of three approaches:
1. Going all in. When a wrench is thrown into our well-laid life plans, we devote everything we’ve got to moving through and beyond the experience. It’s an all-out, high-energy effort — a sprint to get to the other side. If someone loses his or her job, for instance, he or she might dive headfirst into networking and researching and applying for new opportunities without taking a moment to reflect on what went wrong.
2. Getting by. The polar opposite of going all in, this approach is about going as slowly as you need to, with as little effort as it takes, to simply stay in the game. It’s about protecting your reserves until something inspires a new burst of energy or offers a glimmer of hope. It might, for example, be promising news about a treatment for a health condition that shifts someone from a state of coasting into one of action.
3. Finding balance. This is the middle ground, where there’s a balance in knowing when it’s right to increase the intensity and when it’s better to conserve energy. It’s continually putting one foot in front of the other and taking one step at a time, while being able to adjust the pace to handle what’s in front of you in the moment.
There is no right or wrong in any of these approaches, and there’s not “one way” for any of us. Each situation is different, so our responses will be, too. But ultimately, it’s about persisting through the challenging times and never giving up. Resiliency helps us hang in there until we can get to the other side, where — when we’re ready — we can fully embrace a new way of being.
If we’re lucky, it can also teach us that we’re stronger and more capable than we ever thought possible — that when life throws the seemingly unbearable at us, we can not only get through it, but eventually thrive and be all the better for it. It can help us grow into more caring, compassionate, loving versions of ourselves. It can help us find deeper meaning and purpose in whatever comes next.
Resiliency teaches us that while life isn’t always fair, there’s always something to learn from it and to look forward to.
I hope this is the view my kids take on life’s inevitable curve balls as they grow older. For now, though, I just want them to be kids.