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The Art Of Resilience-Dealing With Adversity

  • Michael 
The art of resilience-meditating on it

When I was but a wee lad, navigating my way into teenagehood, life was pretty simple. I had never been exposed to much in the way of adversity. So I hadn’t yet learned the art of resilience. It wasn’t something my parents worried about for us kids.

Nowadays, raising resilient children is no longer an afterthought. More and more, parents wonder “How can I teach my kid to be more resilient?” Well, maybe not most parents, but the parents in my circle do! I know Heather and I have had many conversations about it, worrying over our own children’s ability to bounce back from difficult situations.

I used to think that, to be resilient, to bounce back from difficulty or traumatic experiences, one needed to be genetically pre-disposed. You had to be born with an innate ability to adapt and overcome challenges successfully. But I’ve learned that’s just not the case.

Turns out, being resilient can be learned, developed, and cultivated. And it all starts with a strong sense of self.

Growing Up Fast

As a young kid, my childhood was less than troubled. My family was typical middle-class, living in the suburbs with other typical middle-class families. Life was pretty good for a youngster. My friends lived within a few blocks of us, and we all walked to school in the same neighbourhood. We really didn’t want for much, other than an antenna on our roof so we could watch American cartoons on Saturday mornings. What can I say, my needs were simple…

The art of resilience- me with antenna ears
My ears could have been antennas…

But, in addition to living the typical, Beaver Cleaver life, I rarely faced anything challenging or emotionally difficult. So I never developed resiliency. I was unprepared for trauma and adversity. How would I handle these when they, inevitably, came my way?

When my sister and I turned sixteen, our parents gifted us a trip west on the train, to visit relatives and see a bit of Canada. Imagine, at the tender age of 16, getting to travel, on our own, all the way across the country? What a wonderful gift!

And it was! Traveling on the train, watching the vast country roll by, was a terrific experience. And meeting so many of our family was rewarding and memorable.

But something happened on that trip. Something really bad. I allowed a stranger to manipulate me and put me in a vulnerable situation. Without going into any detail, I experienced a trauma that forced me to grow up awful fast. And I kept it to myself for many years. But I also learned just how resilient I was.

The Art Of Resilience

As parents, Heather and I fret about our own children’s resiliency. Both Zach and Beth-Rose have experienced anxiety and stress. And sometimes they haven’t come out of it as strongly as we might hope.

And, with Zachary heading off into the big, wide world in only a few short weeks, his ability to bounce back from adversity, to be resilient, weighs heavily on my mind. How will he manage university, 4,000 kilometers from home? Moreover, what happens when he’s faced with a challenging situation, something he’s never dealt with before? Will he find his own resilience? But the past few days have given me hope. Because Zach continues to surprise and impress me.

Believe In Yourself

In a previous post, I mentioned the importance as a parent to choose your battles. some things are just not worth expending energy on. Save it for the big stuff!

But for young people to develop resilience, they must first start by believing in themselves. And believing in yourself means moving toward a goal that may be beyond yourself, knowing full well there will be discomfort and stress. So believing in yourself means recognizing that this stress and discomfort will be temporary, and at the end, there will be growth.

Choose Happiness

This took me years to understand. No one, no thing, no circumstance or event determines our happiness. Happiness comes only from within. It comes from inside ourselves. Maybe just stop for a moment and read that again.

Ultimately, you and I are in full control of our own happiness. And waiting for something to happen or someone to come along and “make” us happy is a fool’s belief. Do you want happiness in your life? Do you want to be happy? It comes down to making a choice.

Moreover, we all know someone who goes through life playing victim. For them, life sucks, because everything happens to them. If only they could understand that, with a bit of a shift of thinking, their miserable lives would change drastically, in an instant. Happiness is theirs for the taking, if only they choose it! If this is you, choose happy. Do it now!


How much do you think about breathing? Pretty much never? I mean, none of us wake up in the morning, telling ourselves to remember to breathe. And yet, most of us don’t get the full benefit from our breathing.

One of the simplest, most effective methods of dealing with stress is breathing. I don’t mean just unconscious breath in, breath out. But conscious, focused deep breathing can greatly reduce stress and anxiety, while calming your mind.

Research has shown that different emotions are associated with different breathing patterns. And by changing the way we breathe, we can actually change the way we feel.

So changing the rhythm of your breathing will alter your emotions, pretty much instantly. Here’s an exercise you can try, right now while you read this;

Sitting comfortably with your legs and arms uncrossed, take a deep breath through your nose. As you breathe in, count to six. Hold for a count of three, and slowly exhale through pursed lips for a count of six. Do this 6 more times. Congratulations, you are now relaxed.

Shit Happens, Now What?

But inevitably, at some point, we will be faced with adversity. Something is going to come along and knock us down a peg or two. So first off, don’t let yourself become a victim. Don’t ask, “Why me?”, instead ask, “Is there something I can do differently?”.

Also, don’t put the blame on someone else for your misfortune. That just takes away your power to make changes for the better. Besides, taking responsibility for our feelings and actions helps increase our self-confidence.

And if you’re angry, feel angry. If you need to cry, don’t stifle it. Pushing away those feelings just delays the emotion, and numbness sets in. That’s not healthy either. Feel the feelings and you’ll start to feel better.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade with your friends. Having a strong support network of peers goes a long way to building resilience. Sometimes going it alone is not the best response. So surrounding yourself with like-minded friends who share your values helps get you back on track.

The art of resilience-friends and family

Stay Focused

When young people create goals for themselves, they build resilience by staying focused on those goals. Sure, setbacks happen, but staying focused on the ultimate goal makes it easier to bounce back.

Back in my mid-twenties, I decided I wanted to get into film school. I had no experience in the visual arts or media, but I set myself a goal. The school I chose only accepted 80 people into the media program, and only 20 of those into the Film department. Every year they received about 350 applications! I remained focused. I ran into several roadblocks along the way, but I stayed the course and got accepted.

Later I learned that many of my fellow film students had made more than one attempt to get into the program. One girl was accepted on her third attempt! Talk about staying focused, and overcoming adversity!

The Art Of Resilience- Going It Alone

We booked Zachary’s flight to Ontario this week. His close friend will be rooming with him in residence at the university, and he’s flying out the same time with his family. They offered to bring Zach along, even offering to have him with them in a hotel for a night.

But Zachary declined the offer. He’s decided he’s going it alone, and dealing with the flight, transfers, multiple bus rides, and navigation in a strange, new city. He knows it’ll be stressful, and confusing, and potentially upsetting, but he wants to experience it on his own. We argued with him for a while, but he made a good point.

He’s going to be living in a town all the way across the country, a long way from his home. Everything is going to be new, from operating a coin laundry to looking after his own residence. So why not start by figuring out how to get there on his own, and start problem-solving now?

Each time we let out a little more of the leash that keeps us attached to our kids, we discover a little more about them. Maybe our son is showing us he’s a little more resilient than we give him credit for.

The art of resilience-Zachary ready for the big wide world
Getting ready for the big, wide world
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