Resilience is that quality, that ability that enables some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than before. Rather than allowing crises or failure to drain their resolve, they tapped a reservoir of determination that allows them to rise up strong and resolute.
There are several factors that make someone resilient: an attitude of optimism and hope, the ability to manage strong emotions, and the ability to see failure as valuable negative information.
Let’s talk about that F word for a moment. Failure stirs up potent social emotions: humiliation, guilt, shame. Yet, Failure is, at worst, a mixed blessing: It hurts, yet, failure can pay off in the form of learning, growth, and wisdom.
Learning is error-driven. Nothing ever invented was created right the first time. I recall hearing the story of Robert Goddard, a physics instructor at Clark University constructed and tested the first liquid fuel rocket in Auburn, Massachusetts, in March of 1926. The rocket flew to an altitude of 41 ft and landed 184 ft away, crashing into the snow. The flight lasted 2.5 seconds. Although the experiment was primitive, the flight was epochal, setting the stage for era of space exploration that’s part and parcel of our history. The local paper picked up the story and dismissed its importance with a headline that said "Moon Rocket Misses Target by 238,799 1/2 Miles!"
The lesson here is that for Goddard, experimental failures were ‘valuable negative information’.
Some psychologists argue that adversity, setbacks, and even trauma may actually be necessary for people to be happy, successful, and fulfilled. There’s even a term for it: "Post-traumatic growth." To support this they point to successful people such as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Oprah Winfrey – folks who credit their accomplishments to earlier failures and childhood traumas that pushed them to the edge of the abyss. Nietzsche: “When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.”
Setbacks actually force us to take risks, to learn, and to grow. Failure is an opportunity to change course. We must learn to seize it, rather than be seized by it.
Each of us has a considerable capacity for strength. And while sometimes it is easier to embrace being a victim of circumstances, that role removes the obligation to change. Resilient people do not let adversity define them. Instead, they rise above adversity—poverty, abuse, neglect violence, molestation or war—and forge a stronger, more durable character.
Resilience is the means by which we are not immobilized by hardship, but rather bounce back from it stronger, determined, empowered, and able to lead gratifying, flourishing lives.