“I can’t handle this,” Susan cried, contemplating her daughter’s dwindling college fund. I know how she feels. When I think of the changes I’ve had to deal with in my life—having to lie flat in bed for a year due to back pain, going through a devastating breakup, dealing with the financial meltdown of my company, not to mention all the ups and downs of the life of an entrepreneur--there have been many times when I honestly doubted my ability to live through another second. And yet here I am, and so are you. As the philosopher William James pointed out,

“Great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources are than we had supposed.”

We’re all survivors of our own lives. You’ve dealt with changes you never anticipated or wanted and despite your best efforts there are no guarantees you won’t have to keep on doing it. (A friend of mine’s house has burned down twice, proving that life is definitely not fair.) Despite it all, you’re still here! You’ve made it so far and that’s pretty good evidence that you will continue to, even if some days you don’t know how. You and I both have resilience.

According to the American Psychological Association,

“Resilience is the human ability to adapt in the face of tragedy, trauma, adversity, hardship, and ongoing significant life stressors.”

It used to be believed that resilience was something certain folks had and others didn’t. Studies of recent events such as 9/11 and soldiers returning from Iraq has revealed that resilience is actually quite common.

It isn’t just experts who underestimate our survival capacity. We’re all stronger than we give ourselves credit for. I’d been married for 14 years when, out of the blue, my husband, who was also my business partner, announced our relationship was over. I honestly believed I could not survive emotionally or financially. But here I am, 17 years later, thriving in a different career and marriage, infinitely more confident in my ability to take care of myself.

That’s the amazing thing about change. Some of us do everything to avoid it. We doubt our capacity to live through it. Yet when it arrives on our doorstep, most of us are able to reach deep into ourselves and find the inner strength to strap on a sturdy pair of shoes and walk toward the light.

Next blog I’ll write about what qualities build resilience and how to cultivate them.


Author's Bio: 

A member of Professional Thinking Partners who is recognized as a leading expert in change, M.J. Ryan specializes in coaching high performance executives, entrepreneurs, individuals, and leadership teams around the world to maximize performance and fulfillment. Her clients include Microsoft, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Hewitt Associates, and Frito Lay. Her work is based on a combination of positive psychology, strengths-based coaching, the wisdom traditions, and cutting edge brain research. Her new book, titled “AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn't Ask For” was recently released published by Random House’s Broadway Books. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughter.