I have been thinking for quite some time about resiliency. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I work with young people as a volunteer teaching them leadership skills, outdoor skills, and general life skills. I have noticed that some are resilient and readily bounce back from adversity, either from a one-time event or chronic problems, while others are down for the count at the first sign of trouble. Last week I read an article in the New Yorker that helped me pull together my thinking and I want to share these thoughts with you while they are still fresh in my mind.
Learned or Natural?
Have you ever known people who seem to overcome any stress? Are they good at covering up their stress or are they more resilient than the rest of us? Do they have a natural ability to overcome problems, or is it something they have developed? What I learned is that while you cannot necessarily change a tragedy or stressor, you do have control over how you react to it. You can let it get you down, sometimes for an extended period, or you can choose to process and learn from it and move on in a constructive manner.
A few years ago a friend and colleague, a former Army Ranger, asked me how my day was going. I rattled off a litany of complaints such as people not coming through on commitments and projects falling behind. He replied, “You know, for me, any day that I don’t get shot at is a great day.” That comment helped me put my minor adversities into perspective and to this day I remember it when I think things are getting tough. Today is a great day.
Going the Distance
I have met people who avoid hard things in life, the things that might cause resistance or discomfort. These are not unforeseen events but the extra challenges that will help them to grow and improve their future. They avoid them because they are hard. As President Kennedy said in his famous 1962 moonshot speech, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard….” To me, that is an example of resilience, when you are willing to tackle the hard things, not for an immediate reward but to expand future opportunities.
As I get to know AIM students I learn about their stories, their backgrounds, and their histories. Many of them have overcome adversity and challenges to get where they are. The majority of AIM students work full time and often have young families that need their attention. They have all chosen to take on the extra work of graduate education and prioritize their time and lives to gain new knowledge and skills. I am impressed with such resiliency to take on a significant challenge and I am honored to guide them in a small part of that journey.
Look around and identify the people who appear the most resilient, those who seem to be in full control of their destiny. Ask them what it is that helps them to weather any storm and emerge even stronger. They can most likely help you to cultivate those same skills. Today is a great day.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.