‘That which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger’- Friedrich Nietzsche
Every once a week, I head to my son’s International school in Singapore to teach yoga to the parent community. Last week, I was welcomed by a carnival like atmosphere at the school and realised that it was the last day for the graduating class of 2019. It is an important day in the school’s calendar reflected by the air of festivity in the campus. As is tradition, on this day, the school leavers play pranks on the teachers and the wider community, followed by a poignant Leaver’s assembly. It is a day dedicated to celebrating successes and achievements in this high performing environment. It culminates with a Grand walk where the entire school, including teachers, friends and family, applaud the graduating class as they walk on, led by the Samba band passionately beating their drums. A deeply emotional moment, where the rhythmic beats of the Samba resonate with the pounding hearts of all present. It’s a bittersweet moment where lots of tissues and hugs are passed around.
The one thing that struck me at the event this year, was the notice board. On it, were multiple University rejection letters posted by various students. To put into context, this is a school renowned worldwide for it’s academic excellence and which is synonymous with acceptance into top universities, followed by illustrious careers. The fact that the students had posted their letters of rejection, said a lot more about the school and the students than any ranking system or league table could. It demonstrated a far greater quality that these students possess and which the school actively nurtures, which perhaps is the true ingredient for future success, namely resilience. This simple gesture by the students was indicative of their maturity to acknowledge that failure and rejection are inevitable parts of life, can strike the best of us and in no way do they define us or inhibit us from achieving our goals. It was heartening to see how these young students took the rejection in their stride, learnt from it, and bounced back to continue the pursuit of their dreams. These are commendable traits indeed and this is what truly sets successful people apart.
Resilience isn’t about cruising seamlessly through life. On the contrary, it’s about facing the hurdles and the roadblocks and manoeuvring our way around them. It is an intrinsic part of our growth and our life story. Without difficulties, there can be no resilience. It thus helps us to see difficulties in a new light; as learning opportunities for us to build resilience and to grow. This can serve as an important piece of parenting advice, especially to those parents (aptly termed as the snow plough parents) that pave the path so that their children can easily skate through life without any obstacles, thereby hindering their coping mechanisms and resilience.
I read somewhere that in Japan, broken objects are often repaired with gold. The flaw is regarded as a unique piece of the object’s history which further accentuates it’s beauty. Resilience is similar to that. It’s not just the difficulties and the challenges that we face but our reactions to the adversities that make us who we are. Do we learn from the experience ? Do we adapt, change, improve and formulate new strategies? Do we adopt proactive measures to face the challenges or do we withdraw and simply quit? Do we brainstorm for new ideas or do we wallow in self pity and spiral downwards into depression and anguish? Do we attempt at problem solving or do we retreat into passive submission? Do we explore new avenues or do we doubt ourselves? Do we remain optimistic or do we turn into cynics and skeptics? Do we become victims of fate or do we try to shape our new reality? Does it make us or does it break us?
Thank god for resilience, otherwise we would be sitting in the dark, literally. Thomas Edison, the inventor of the lightbulb famously quoted “ I have not failed. I have found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Resilience is therefore linked to other life enhancing mental traits such as grit, determination, perseverance, doggedness and courage to name a few.
The good news is that resilience is a learnt behaviour and anyone can develop this skill with concentrated effort. When faced with burdensome situations and distressing life events, resilience is our ability to stay courageous, optimistic, seek new opportunities and take the negative experience as a learning experience. Although it develops in arduous circumstances, yet, resilience is nurtured in a strong, supportive, conducive environment. It feeds on a diet of positivity.
Life isn’t always easy or fair. However, nurturing positive thoughts can help to boost our self esteem and confidence in trying times. Embedding simple and positive self care routines such as getting enough rest, looking after our health, eating well, exercising, practising mindfulness and meditation provide a good foundation for positive feelings to blossom. Accepting the change that the demanding situation may bring and adjusting our sails in the new direction of the wind helps to weather the storms in our lives. Facing our fears with courage, believing in our innate abilities and not giving up, helps us to switch from feelings of helplessness to hopefulness. Reminding ourselves of our capacity to recover from past tough situations also fosters self belief and enables us to combat strenuous circumstances.
Surrounding ourselves with a good support network of family and friends provides solace and reassures us to see the sunshine behind the clouds. True resilience not only teaches us to survive, but to navigate through the difficulties, find new opportunities and to ultimately thrive in the new situation. Remember, as one door closes, another one opens.
So, the next time you get a rejection letter from a University or job application, do not get selected in a sports team, are unsuccessful at an audition or fail a test, don’t be paralysed with fear or succumb with despair. Pick yourself up, brush yourself off and remind yourself that you are the orchestrator of your own fate. You have the power to change the narrative of your story and chart the course of your own life. Reassure yourself that whilst tough times never last, but tough people do.