Speaking loosely, psychology defines resilience as the ability to bounce back from adversity, threats, challenging relationships or significant sources of stress. Life happens…pain happens, heartbreak happens, failure happens, illness happens... I’ve always been curious about what makes some people be able to overcome severe hardships, learn from their mistakes, refocus, and move forward towards their dreams while other seem to get stuck and sit in a place either misery and/or blaming others for their challenges and playing the role of a victim.
I think nature can teach us about resilience. This one little tree, standing atop of a rock, demonstrates resilience to me in a profound way. You can see that it’s strongly connected to the rock. You can tell the wind blew hard and for a long time. The tree didn’t even try to stay upright. It moved and swayed with the wind… bent with it but didn’t break.
This other tree had its roots running all through the rock. It’s as if one obstacle would pop up and the roots would change course. The tree constantly moved around one obstacle after another but continued to move forward, towards its destination.
The coral in the Bahamas gives us another good example of resilience. Reportedly, some companies came in to harvest large quantities of Bahamian Crawfish and to make it easier for them, they bleached the coral so the crawfish would come out and be easily caught. While this killed many reefs, there is evidence that with new regulations prohibiting the practice, be reefs are healing and starting to sprout new heads.
Animals can teach us a lot about resilience too! This cat seemed to know just who to go to when it wanted loving, how to behave when it wanted to be left alone. No matter what was going on around him, he was able to maintain his chill while still advocating for himself!
Talk about resilience! How about these pigs learning to swim! My South Dakota family had a hard time believing they were really able to swim but I tell you, they were pros. We heard stories of them trying to climb into dinghies, so we took off as soon as this one got close. After spending time on pig farms, I had no desire to hang out with them or swim with them.
This bird is certainly resilient. He learned new skills towards what matters most to him. He seemed to know not only when it was mealtime but exactly where to go to find his meals. He would swoop in, look around a bit and find morels on each of the boats in the marina! I've had birds accidentally enter garages or homes before and they had a frantic way about them...appearing to be filled with anxiety but this little guy easily navigated through the cockpit and into the cabin and back out.
People can be good models of resilience also. Jamal is a young father who has a story that’s his to tell. In spite of everything, he’s creating a thriving business for himself by connecting with cruisers and providing valuable services such as delivery of gas, diesel and water, removal of trash, dropping off laundry to boats in the various anchorages around Georgetown. He asks for feedback and is constantly working to improve his service. He’s staying so busy that he’s considering hiring help but wants to make sure he finds just the right people because his business image is important to him.
Our boat buddies, Maryellen and Billy are good role models of resilience too! They didn’t have the winter they had anticipated last year so decided to create their own happiness this year! Billy celebrated his 76th birthday and they both are so fun loving and up for adventure that they epitomize the idea that age really is just a number. When something breaks, the goal is to figure out a way to fix it. When there's a need, they're the first to offer to help address it in any way they can.
My sweetheart, Robert, is one of the most resilient humans I know. No matter what happens, he’s great at framing it in a positive light. He advocates for himself but doesn’t hold a grudge or stay angry. He knows our joint goals are to see beautiful sights, sail as much as we can, stay safe and have fun (and find the perfect pina colada) and behaves in a way conducive to those goals. If there's a problem, he figures out a solution. No matter what the day holds, he goes to bed with a kiss and wakes up with a smile on his face.
Maybe resilience isn’t really a character trait but a set of skills that can be learned if one chooses. Staying connected to people, swaying but not breaking in hardships, moving around obstacles, giving ourselves time and space to heal when needed, learning skills that forward us towards our goals, self-awareness and self-advocacy, being responsible for our emotions, willing to do the hard work, framing things in a positive light and behaving in ways consistent with our goals…These are things we can all do. We.. none of us.. are static beings. We can change and grow consistent with what matters most to us…if we choose it.