Resilience: The Secret Sauce

Resilience: The Secret Sauce







Resilience. Beautiful word isn’t it? What the heck does it mean?  It is like saying, “love is all you need” but having no idea what love actually acts like or feels like. I’ve often felt resilience is like this secret sauce that is the key to loving life, and yet no one wants to talk about it or knows the recipe. Now I believe that somethings in life are better left being a mystery. But if resilience is the key to navigating through life’s struggles on this earth with some grace and joy intact, maybe we could use some real world examples. So I did the natural human thing by looking for Merriam Webster’s definition:


Full Definition of resilience

  1. 1 :  the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
  2. 2 :  an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change


Do you immediately notice what is underlined and red like I did? And yes I literally cut and pasted that from Webster. Deformation, misfortune. Hm. Interesting. So you are saying you really can’t discover the secret ingredient without deformation and misfortune? I also feel the words “compressive stress” and “change” pop out at me. Yup, this definition seems pretty thorough. What’s even more interesting is that there is actually a simple definition in Webster too which reads:


Simple Definition of resilience

  • : the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens
  • : the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.


It doesn’t quite seem full or complete does it? Apparently we need repeated hits over a significant amount of time to reach the full definition of resilience. Maybe there is a sweet spot; where just enough erosion has occurred so that the fresh soil is finally vulnerable and exposed.


What still seems inadequate for me though is that definitions and intellectual concepts don’t always give us examples in real life of what that really means in a human, messy life. That bothered me so, I asked several of fellow travelers who’s insight I admire for what resilience means to them and how it shows up in their life. I found common themes of flexibility, that ability to bounce back in life, and lots of examples of nature including trees and water. There seems to be something about coming back to home base described in the cumulative responses. They all seemed better to me than websters dictionary, yet one reply from my good friend Sam who teaches in the Minnesota area shared this response that touched me deeply. I couldn’t find a better example that meets the criteria for the “full definition of resilience.” Below is her response:


In the context of teaching – and maybe just life itself – I think right away of one of my students – a little girl.  You would never know what she went home to if you didn’t see if for yourself – or in my case hear about it from a social worker: This school year alone she has been evicted from an apartment – because mom couldn’t pay rent – and is now living with a family friend who is a hoarder where she is scared to touch or do anything.  She rarely has enough food at home – the family she is living with is not well-off either and, again, have serious issues with sharing things.  Her mom can’t get a job because of some choices she made in the past and she maybe sees her dad once month, and most of the time she does spend with him he is drinking and barely able to take care of himself.  But you’d never know it.  She is kind, positive, thoughtful, engaged in learning, happy, goofy and just an overall great kid.


One day, she was having a bad day and asked to go see the school social worker.  All she did was go into the social workers’s office and write a few things down on some paper (things that had been bothering her), put those scraps of paper in a box and walk back to class.  She let go of what was going to drag her down, and simply walked away.


She later asked me if I could get her a journal, so she could journal in the morning if something was bothering her instead of going down to the social worker’s office.  Now, a couple mornings every week, I see her writing in her journal.  I never ask about it because she once told me that she likes school and didn’t want anything to ruin that.  Moral:  she let go of what she couldn’t control, what wasn’t going to be good for her, and embraced the only part of her life that she truly had some power over what happened.  She even was one of the students who suggested we started doing mindfulness meditations once a day to help the class refocus at times.


She’s basically a better version of most adults I know.


I can’t think of an example when I have had to be more resilient than her.  For that, I am both grateful and sad.


Resilience. Now that’s beautiful. Thank you Sam for your beautiful portrayl of your beautiful student and all who contributed and shared.