Resilience: Time to Flex

It all comes in waves. You can say that about pretty much anything in life.

And when it rains, it sure pours. But when it’s dry, it feels like the Atacama desert (that’s in Chile – dying to go). I’ve candidly struggled to write this piece, as I recognize that I’m privileged in countless ways, and can’t help but feel that my suffering doesn’t always size up to the more laborious roads that others walk. However, I continue to remind myself that every obstacle we face in this world is incredibly real to us and empathy is not a limited resource. Nor is resilience.

Sheryl Sanberg’s book Option B facilitated my first glance into the concept of Resilience, and I am particularly keen on the way in which Sandberg characterizes resilience as not only something that we all possess, but also as something that we can continue to grow and strengthen, like any other muscle in our body. This book was inspired by the sudden loss of her husband, Dave, and the recounted raw emotions fly off the page like bombshells, pegging readers in the very places that their own, personal anguish stings. In writing the novel, Sandberg partners with Adam Grant, who is currently a professor of Organizational Psychology at the Wharton School. Adam speaks of resilience as a “skill set” that we continue to develop throughout our lives, merely by changing the way in which we process negative events. One of my favorite quotes from this novel reads, “It is the hard days—the times that challenge you to your very core—that will determine who you are. You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but how you survive.”

Fast-forward five years. I peruse through the Boston Logan Airport’s bookstore, in desperate need of a good self-help book. And there it was, staring me in the face: Resilience. Let me start by saying that Lisa Lisson, the author of Resilience, embodies the very word itself. More commonly recognized as not only the first female but also the first Canadian president of FedEx Canada, Lisa has additionally been named a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medalist and holds a spot on “Canada’s Most Powerful Women Hall of Fame WXN Top 100 List.” And she accomplished her many feats during and following the sudden loss of her husband.

Lisson awoke to her husband (and high school sweetheart) Patrick’s thud on their bedroom floor in the middle of the evening. He wasn’t breathing. Lisson proceeded to perform frantic CPR while pleading that Patrick wake up from his state of unconsciousness, to no avail. While he did not pass away, he never woke up. Lisson did everything to bring Patrick back from his comatose state. She took him to the best rehab centers; visited daily; believed in miracles. Several years later, Patrick devastatingly passed away, but the resilience Lisa Lisson developed throughout this journey speaks volumes.

While looking after Patrick and her four children all under the age of ten, Lisa Lisson managed to maintain her executive position at FedEx, continue to volunteer as a director at the Business Council of Canada, and more. As Lisson unravels this loss, she reveals the pain she never knew she would feel, but also the strength she never imagined she’d find. Lisson recounts, “I’d never have thought I’d do three eulogies by the time I was 40, but that’s life and it’s the journey we’re on. If I can only help one person who reads this, if I can help make someone’s life better, to show how I coped and went through it all, then it does my heart good.”

Through these experiences, Lisson demonstrates that no matter how colossal or minute one may imagine their current situation to be, they must know first, that they are not alone. Whether it’s a friend who suddenly disappears from your life; a heartbreak; an illness; a familial loss; or something else. These experiences make us human, and nothing human should ever feel alien. Lisson speaks to the support systems she leans on throughout this loss: her girlfriends, family, colleagues, and peer groups. Her experiences demonstrate a truth that we can all relate to: as blunt as it may seem, these times of struggle are the ones that show us who truly cares.

Growing up, I remember listening to overtly depressing but also incredibly inspiring stories of parents who had lost children, but from it, they found a purpose, whether it was raising money for a specific illness or speaking across the world to raise awareness.  That is resilience. Wallowing is a very normal part of this journey. Those who experience loss may lie in bed for days on end, feeding copious amounts of Ben and Jerry’s into their mouths or watching Gilmore Girls on replay. Or, maybe that’s just me. What comes after that is the most pivotal and crucial step: you get out of bed; you get dressed; you “keep keeping on.” This is the most transformative piece of the experience. It is the inner strength you never imagined existed within you; a very flexible, expandable, strong weapon.

It’s not a coincidence that some of the most successful people in this world have also experienced unimaginable struggles. My personal idol, Malala Yousafzai, was shot in the head simply for being a Pakistani girl seeking an education. Her chances of survival were incredibly slim following the Taliban’s attack. Today, Malala is famous for human rights advocacy and is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.

In one of my favorite poems, A Servant to Servants, Robert Frost has an incredibly famous quote: “…the best way out is always through,” which I believe to mean that we must lean into the pain when it’s necessary, and push through it nonetheless, because difficult roads often lead us to beautiful destinations. Get back on the saddle. Lean on others, and leave those who don’t let you. Find your strength in times of hardship. These experiences, as much as they challenge us to our very cores, are ultimately what propel us forward, and show us what we truly care about; and most importantly, who we truly want to be.

It all comes in waves. When it rains, it sure pours. It’s the sun that emerges following the storm, and the rainbow that pronounces itself across the cloud-free sky, that counts in the end.

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