Resilience: Where Do You Find Your Inner Strength?
How you respond to challenges is what matters
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“The rational soul is stronger than any kind of fortune—from its own share it guides the affairs here or there, and is itself the cause of a happy or miserable life.” — Seneca, c. 65
The rational soul. If only we had more of those.
After a stinging defeat or a personal loss, it's easy to find ourselves feeling bereft and forlorn. Without the drive to soldier on.
In the throes of something like that, we might think it’s the end of the world (even though we know it literally isn’t the case). Our irrational soul has taken over.
“Our inward power, when it obeys nature, reacts to events by accommodating itself to what it faces—to what is possible. It needs no specific material. It pursues its own aims as circumstances allow; it turns obstacles into fuel. As a fire overwhelms what would have quenched a lamp. What’s thrown on top of the conflagration is absorbed, consumed by it—and makes it burn still higher.” — Marcus Aurelius
What Marcus Aurelius is trying to say is the state of mind you carry with you is what will carry you through difficult times and make you resilient.
As a reminder, we’ve written about resilience before:
Resilience is our ability to get up after being knocked down, or to power through something, despite the challenges we face. The resilient leader is one who is flexible yet perseveres, observing the forces around them and being self-aware in making decisions.
More than grit or determination, which has to do with simply powering through, resilience takes into account our state of mind.
The question is: what helps you achieve that state of mind? In some cases, our activities occupy our attention and give us a goal to work toward. In other cases, the people around us—the relationships we forge—are the driving force of our resilience.
There’s Strength in Numbers
Recent research shows that relationships are a cornerstone of our resilience. A healthy variety of relationships helps us to:
Shift work or manage surges
Make sense of people or politics in a given situation
Find the confidence to push back and self-advocate
See a path forward
Laugh at ourselves and the situation
In addition, the people with whom we choose to surround ourselves help us by:
Providing empathic support so we can release negative emotions
Reminding us of the purpose or meaning in our work
Broadening us as individuals so that we maintain perspective when setbacks happen
So Are Many Others
One of my favorite Frank Sinatra albums is Cycles. It’s not one of his more widely known albums, but the title song tells a story about resilience amid life’s struggles.
Recorded as his third marriage was ending, the song is a powerful reminder that when we’re tempted to allow self-pity to rule our thinking, we’re not alone, nor is it a permanent reality.
There isn’t much that I have learned
Through all my foolish years
Except that life keeps running in cycles:
First there's laughter… then those tears.
But I’ll keep my head up high
Although I’m kinda tired.
My gal just up and left last week;
Friday…I got fired.
Take another example.
Young Ted was frail and sickly, nervous, and suffering from asthma. He was unable to take part in much physical activity, so he focused on intellectual and spiritual development. And in his voracious reading, discovered some extraordinary heroes.
Eventually, he embarked on an ever-increasingly rigorous regimen of physical self-improvement under the guidance of his father, who hired the owner of a gymnasium to build a backyard gym for Ted. Over time, through dedication and diligence, he managed to go from fragile to hearty.
His father was everything to him, serving not only as a father, but as a mentor, companion, and friend, regarded by Ted as “the best man I ever knew.”
So when his father died in 1878 at the age of 46, Ted, who was only 19, was stricken with grief. He wrote:
“No one but my wife, if I ever marry, will ever be able to take [my father’s] place.”
He did eventually take a wife: it was love at first sight with Alice, whom he asked to marry him six months after meeting.
She turned him down, but he persisted, applying the same level of dedication he did with everything else in his life. Eight months later, she finally gave in and their engagement was announced on February 14, 1880. St. Valentines Day. They married in October.
Less than four years later, as Ted was away on business 150 miles away from home, he received a telegram that his beloved Alice had given birth to their first child. Unbridled joy enveloped him.
But a second telegram arrived shortly just hours later and it struck him to the core. His mother, only 49 years old, was dying of typhoid.
Upon arriving home, he found that his beloved Alice was suffering from kidney disease following the birth of their daughter.
Ted stayed at his mother’s bedside until 3:00 a.m., when she passed away. Twelve hours later, on February 14, 1884, his young wife Alice died in his arms.
"The light has gone out of my life,” he wrote in his diary that day.
What unimaginable pain that must have been for Ted. And yet, he found the strength to continue.
Two days after the double funeral, he threw himself back into his work. Ted continued to overachieve, rising to eventually become the youngest president in our country's history.
His privilege didn’t inoculate him from the severe pain of such tragic loss. He had to find the strength to go on. He found it in his work, and in his wide network of relationships.
Any setback you might experience is temporary. Just as temporary as Teddy Roosevelt’s dual loss and just as cyclical as Frank Sinatra’s song indicates.
As you surround yourself with the people and the activities that buoy you, you’ll find that you have the strength to get through this.
You’ve done it before. You’ll do it again.
Be sure to read the follow-up piece to this, including a look at resilience from the other side:
The next guest on the Timeless Leadership podcast is Kat Cole. Kat began her career as a hostess at Hooter’s, rose through their executive ranks, and then spent a decade as an executive at Focus Brands, including as the youngest president of Cinnabon and the COO of Focus Brands.
You can listen to the live-to-tape episode here:
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.