Resilience: Time to Flex

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

My bank account was egregiously low during the holiday season (gift-giving is my love language), and now that I’ve committed to cease my binge shopping on Nordstrom Rack for the next few months, the money from my paycheck flows into my savings account… and stays there. Yay. On any given workday, I can be pegged with a zillion tasks, and then notice that I haven’t peed until 2:30 in the afternoon only as my legs fall asleep because I have them crossed so tightly, so as to mimic the vine from Jack and the Beanstalk. (If you ever need tips for surviving a long car trip with others who don’t hydrate properly, let me know.) Other days, however, I’m aimlessly scrolling through the Wall Street Journal thinking to myself, “My, this is one depressing world we live in”.

So, yes. When it rains, it sure pours. But when it’s dry, it feels like the Atacama desert (that’s in Chile – dying to go). Nonetheless, the “pouring” I want to delve into is not symbolic of my savings or workload, but instead real challenges. Even so, sometimes, I wonder, “Could I possibly be wise enough to talk about these aforementioned ‘real challenges’?” I’m privileged in so many ways. I’ve faced setbacks along the way, yes, albeit I do know that others have walked drastically more laborious roads. Nonetheless, all obstacles we face in this world are onerous to us in one way or another, and whether or not we believe they match up to those that others face, we all must rely on a common force to push us through: 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 raw emotions of the subsequent grief 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, doing by very best to read the plethora of titles through my tear-filled eyes and fogged glasses. I’ll spare the details; but let’s just say I was 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”. Not to mention, she accomplished this 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. Lisa Lisson did everything you could possibly think of 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; an unfair review at work; 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.

Lisson already demonstrates that no one leads a perfect life. Regardless of how elegant that white swan appears on the surface of the glistening pond, they are peddling furiously underneath to stay afloat. Also, that water is probably gross and infested with bacteria. As a personal aside, I have struggled tremendously with anxiety and even depression in my early twenties, and was initially terrified to share this experience with anyone. When I finally did recount my battle with mental health, I was met with immeasurable support. From my parents who answered my phone call at four-o’clock in the morning, to acquaintances I unbashfully shared this experience with. Everyone met me where I was at, aside from one person I anticipated would. I told my best girlfriends one night through muffled sobs: “He couldn’t take it anymore.” Everyone suspects “it” to be those fundamental issues that almost always make relationships fail: jealousy; cheating; familial arguments; etc. But it wasn’t that. It was my anxiety.

Pay attention to who is there for you in your time of need, whatever it may be. The girlfriends who ditch their date, barge into your apartment with a giant calzone and wine, just to sit and cry with you. Your parents who wake up from a deep sleep at the crack of dawn so that you can FaceTime with your beloved puppy. Your hairdresser who gives you her cell number, insisting that you call whenever; and you know that she would be there. Yes, these family, friends, and strangers gave me strength. If anyone ever leaves you in a time of need, they were never planning to stay. Remember that.

In addition to these amazing individuals that I was able to lean on, including Lisa Lisson and Sheryl Sandberg, I found strength within myself. 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 0r 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. You pull from this invisible force that you find in these moments, and it is this very flexible, expandable, strong weapon, that enables you to effect change in this world.

It’s not a coincidence that some of the most successful people in this world have also experienced the unimaginable struggles. My personal idol, Malala Yousafzai, was shot in the head simply for being a young, 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. So, flex those resilience guns. Way easier said than done, and it totally sucks, but what remains in the end is that we all must move forward, and pay attention to the fire raging within us to be more. 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.

Lastly, I’ll say, life is long, but it can also be short. Don’t wallow too long or too hard. I once attended a conference at Harvard University for Women in Business, where Marne Levin, Instagram COO gave the following advice: Don’t wallow on the breakups. In the moment, it was kind of weird advice, but now I totally get it. You don’t deserve to spend the rest of your life convincing someone of why they should love you. Get back on the saddle. Lean on others, and ditch 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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