March 10 – Resilience and the human condition

“I am always talking about the human condition, about what we can endure, dream, fail at and still survive.” (Maya Angelou)

In my life I have had many successes, and have been blessed with more than sometimes I think I am worthy. I have also suffered failures and been at the bottom of the barrel. One thing that is remarkable to me is how resilient I have been, and how no matter how low I have been, I have always been able to come back up.

When it comes to resiliency, I don’t think I am particularly extraordinary. I don’t think that I have magical power to bounce back. Sometimes I even think that I take longer to bounce back than others. What I have learned is that we all have the ability to come back from adversity, and we all have the power to amaze ourselves and others.

If you watch TV news programs, or magazine type shows, you will see plenty of stories of people in desperate conditions who bring themselves back. You will hear words like “against all odds” as these people rise up from some difficulty or another. You will even see this played out on reality competition shows like American Idol and others.  To be sure, some of their circumstances are quite grim, and fraught with difficulties. I see these stories and I am always moved. Absent any other life experience it would be easy to think that these people have something the rest of us don’t. After all, that is what the producer of the show is reaching for, isn’t it? They want me to think that these people did something so completely extraordinary that all should stand in wonder.

The truth is that many times the stories are sensationalized. The depths of their plight has been exaggerated, and their road back has been made to seem more heroic. Again, that’s what sells. People want to root for an underdog, and that is what the producers of the show are creating.

The reality is that I know and interact with people every day who are plumbing one depth or another in their lives. They suffer through tragic loss, scary medical conditions, professional failures and more.  Their difficulties are real, and painful. One thing I have seen played out over and over is how people rise up from these depths and not only survive, but actually grow and flourish.

There is a very tired saying that “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I say it is tired because it is so over used. At its core, this is a very true concept. I am a living witness to the idea that there are things in life that have happened to me that I would wish on no one. That I am here today is testimony to the fact that I survived them. Whether I am stronger from them, though, depends on me. It depends on what I learn from the trials, and how I apply those lessons in my life.

I think that we are all far more resilient than we give ourselves credit. To be sure there are some circumstances that people find themselves in which can have tragic ends, and I am not in any way minimizing those things. There are things that happen to people all the time that create havoc in their lives, sometimes even resulting in death. For those people, and their families, I pray daily.

This quote from Maya Angelou references this “human condition”, and seems to marvel at the ability of people to overcome failure. To me, though, overcoming failure, and coming back from defeat aren’t remarkable in themselves. What is remarkable to me is the attitude I bring with me when I come back. If I come back surly, angry, resentful or intolerant, then I am not really back. I may have survived the event, but I haven’t really returned from it. Not until my spirit of hope and faith have come back am I really back from that depth.

As I set forth on a new week, there are going to be challenges. There are going to be things in my personal and professional life that will be difficult. I am going to have failures, because that is what happens in life. My goal for this week is to take those failures in stride, learn what I can from them, and move forward with a renewed spirit.

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