The Gift of Resiliency

Jim Roberts, CEO
November, 30, 2016 -

I have heard it said that life does not necessarily get easier or better; but we, in fact, become stronger and more resilient. As a person with a few years under my belt, I know this to be true. Perseverance leads to perfection, or at least gets us closer to it!

Every person’s journey through life can be described as the navigation through a series of good and bad experiences, hopefully predominantly good ones. But, challenges are unavoidable and some of those can be horrifically painful. And for some reason unknown to us, there are folks who seem to have an overabundance of heartbreak—a sad mystery for sure.

I have no idea who wrote it, but I love this quote: “Never blame any day in your life. Good days give you happiness, bad days give you experience. Both are essential in life in order to build the quality of character you will become!” Resiliency is the magical ingredient that propels us through turbulent times to the next place of repose; it is a real gift!

There has been nothing more inspirational or impacting to me than the stories of children, men and women who have transcended the most bitter of circumstances and risen like the phoenix out of the fire, becoming magnificent in character and stature. People such as Holocaust survivors, prisoners of war, severely abused children, freed slaves, refugees from war, and victims of dire poverty or brutal racism all provide us an unforgettable window into the awesome power of the human spirit to be resilient and overcome adversity. Bestselling author, Jodi Picoult, describes this reality this way, “The human capacity for burden is like bamboo - far more flexible than you'd ever believe at first glance.”

I have worked for nearly five decades in the Human Services industry which is replete with stories of human tragedy, but, more importantly, I’ve heard of countless instances of victory and triumph! Unfortunately, our nature is to focus on tragedy at the expense of celebrating the victory. Sometimes I wonder if we don’t promote self-pity and victimization at the expense of resiliency, self-determination and an “I can do it” attitude.

Going a step further, it seems like we have crippled a couple of generations by perpetuating a bunch of egalitarian nonsense. The notion that every child should get a trophy whether they deserve it or not is really disingenuous, and, in fact, an outright lie. There are winners and there are losers – period! When you teach a child or youth that they will always get a reward, whether they deserve it or not, it is damaging. That’s not how the real world works, plus, it hinders the development of resiliency and self-determination.

Similarly, for decades public policy has promoted “self-esteem” like a panacea to all of life’s challenges. I have heard it ad nauseam, “All they need is self-esteem.”  Unfortunately, all of the recent research proves just the opposite. What we should have been teaching our children all along is self-determination and the ability get up when you fall, dust yourself off and press on to a better situation. We are not all beautiful, extraordinarily talented and successful in everything we do. But, we all have the capacity to recover, to rebound, to make the best of who we are and what we have, and to achieve a measure of success. These capabilities are the possible– this is Resiliency!

In nearly 30 years at the Family Care Network, we have served nearly 20,000 and have averaged better than 90% success with the children, youth and families in our care. This number translates into permanency, self-sufficiency, diversion from institutional care, stabilized behavior, housed, and no longer “system dependent” children, youth and families. Mind you, this is also with individuals who have experienced incredible personal pain and trauma, and have presented the most challenging of behaviors. But, they were determined, extraordinarily resilient, willing to rise to a new level of achievement and personal success, and, willing to accept help in the process.

I think it’s time that the human services industry wake up and stop promoting “sameness” and “feel-good” practices. It’s time to get a grip on reality – life is not always fair, it is not always fun, it is not always successful, and there will be good days and bad days. It is time that we give our children the Gift of Resiliency instead of false rewards. When they stumble and fall--and they will--teach them how to get right back up and move forward. We need to teach them how to turn failure into success through persistence, tenacity and resiliency. We need to teach them to become overcomers, and not self-indulgent narcissists!

I would like to leave you with the words of José N. Harris, a writer, the son of migrant farm workers and a former foster youth. “There comes a time in your life, when you walk away from all the drama and people who create it. You surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Forget the bad and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right, pray for the ones who do not. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Falling down is a part of life, getting back up is living.”