We have the ability to measure tangible things, such as one’s height or weight, the mileage one has run in a week, or how much more weight can be lifted at the gym, but we have no tool that we can hold in our hands that can measure our growth. Well, tool or no tool, I can say with certainty that I have definitely grown at least an inch or maybe even two, conceptually speaking of course, in the life department. It is a great feeling indeed!
Now what brought on this weigh-in so to speak? A Ted Talk, two actually. One by Stacey Kramer and the other by Jane McGonigal. Stacey talks about how a rare tumour became the greatest gift she ever received. Given that she couldn’t change what happened to her, she recognized she could change how she reacted to it and saw it as an opportunity to create a new and meaningful life. One that involved recalibrating what is important, developing a new understanding and trust in her body, expanding her vocabulary in directions that were never even imagined, developing closer relationships with family and friends, as well as, meeting new people. Her medical crisis ultimately challenged, inspired and humbled her all at the same time which allowed her to further develop her life with new meaning. Her message to anyone experiencing adversity in any form, that when you face something unexpected, unwanted or uncertain view it as a gift. One can argue that having a child with severe disabilities falls within this domain and although it has been tough at times, I can share Stacey’s experiences and sentiments that the best way to view this adversity is in the positive. Again admittedly I sometimes need to be reminded of this, hence the Ted Talk.
Stacey’s attitude and approach in dealing with her ‘gift’ is a perfect example of how we are evolving in the emotional intelligence department to not just survive adversity but thrive on it. In the psychology world, they have even come up with a new term called Post Traumatic Growth to illustrate “how adversity can often be a springboard to a new and meaningful life in which people re-evaluate their priorities, deepen their relationships and find new understandings of who they are.” (2013, Huffington Post, Joseph, Stephen).
Like Stacey, Jane also turned her medical situation into an opportunity for personal growth. Her experience in overcoming the adversity that faced her led her to identify 4 areas of strength that everyone should foster to allow them to more effectively deal with a challenge should it present itself. The 4 strengths include (1) physical – exercise, mental – learning, problem solving, game playing, reading, etc., emotional – positive interactions, goal setting, etc., and social – practice of gratitude, healthy touch, trust of oneself, etc.
Many people wrongly assume that resiliency is a trait of an individual, something you are born with or not, or can learn by doing a series of exercises. Instead of it being a specific skill or a trait, resiliency is rather a process, albeit, a dynamic set of on-going processes that must be actively nurtured and pursued to give an individual the means to not only manage adversity but overcome it. I will define overcoming it to mean that someone can live a positive and meaningful life despite an adverse situation/event.
As a parent, one of many, whose world has been rocked and continues to be rocked by the challenges that come with raising a child with severe special needs, I can honestly say with open arms and heart that I have been given an incredible gift to cherish and grow. Truthfully if I don’t embrace this way of thinking into every fibre of my own existence then the alternate way of living is dark, depressing, and rather shallow in opportunities.
My advice to anyone who sometimes finds themselves retreating back onto the darker path of a given trauma, illness, accident, grief, etc. to muster up the strength to remind themselves of the good that has come out of whatever has been experienced – what new and valuable relationships have been strengthened or developed as a result, what new skills have been developed, what new opportunities have you experienced that you wouldn’t have been exposed to or even considered before, and what else can you do to make the best of your situation. Unfortunately life isn’t fair and once something bad has happened you can’t turn back the clock and I don’t think many people have had much luck with retribution, so really there is only one way to succeed going forward, and that is to cherish what lies ahead, knowing that you have the personal power to not only survive a negative experience but thrive. To do so it is key to build on those 4 areas of strength – essentially these are the 4 pillars of life that will allow you to leap to a new level of growth.