Why Resiliency Is Rare

Last December, I spent time with my long-time friend, Dave Dravecky. Dave was the major league pitcher for the SF Giants, who in 1989 threw the “pitch heard round the world.” Dave was diagnosed with cancer in his pitching arm and was forced to leave the game he loved. But he fought back and against all odds, played again. While he was pitching against the Montreal Expos in August, however, he threw a pitch that broke his arm, as the cancer returned. Baseball ended for him but his influence lives on. He now continues a career with just one arm, offering hope to his listeners.

We talked about resiliency, and what it was that enabled him to push forward against incredible hardship. We both agreed, that with the right mindset, people can endure near impossible conditions. We all know stories of those who beat the odds.

Lionel Messi

Messi is considered one of the greatest soccer players of all time. Did you know, however, that he was diagnosed with a Growth Hormone Deficiency at age 11? He is too small to play at the highest level. But that’s exactly what he’s done. He fought for his dream as a kid. Some consider him the best in world. He’s only 5’ 7” tall.

Venus Williams

Venus grew up in a rough, disadvantaged neighborhood in Compton. Like many, she fought prejudice as a minority within a minority—a female, black tennis player. And she won the fight. Venus was the first African American top seeded tennis player.

Anthony Robles

What an amazing story of resilience Anthony is. He was a wrestler at Arizona State University who won the 2010-2011 individual wrestling championship. This NCAA champion went 36-0 (never lost a match), but was born with just one leg.

Just What Is Resiliency?

The definition of resiliency is simple and clear. Resilience is the ability of an object to return to form after it’s been bent, stretched or compressed. Think of a rubber band.

In people, resilience is the ability to transform adversity into a fulfilling challenge. It means translating a setback into a set up. It is the key to a well-lived life.

I believe resiliency is naturally inside of every human being. Consider the stories from our history books. People have recuperated from natural disasters like tornadoes or hurricanes; recovered from paralyzing illnesses; survived grueling economic conditions during the Great Depression and even fought back to rebuild Japan after atomic bombs were dropped during World War II. History is riddled with examples of the elastic human spirit that bends and returns to live and thrive again. Never bet against a person with a strong will.

So, where has the strong will hidden?

Today, I believe young people are just as resilient as ever (in fact, perhaps physically stronger than ever, with better, more educated minds). But I hear story after story of kids “giving up” after a loss, on a math problem, with an injury or some other hardship.

Three Common Barriers to Resiliency

It is my belief when our young adults don’t exhibit resiliency, it’s often because we’ve not instilled the right mindset in them, as our forefathers did in the past.

1. Victim Mentality

Too frequently, we’ve embedded a victim mentality in our kids. We’ve so explained away why they couldn’t perform well, due to disadvantages, (our arguments based on legitimate scientific data), that we take the wind right out of their sails. When we say it “isn’t their fault” we can unwittingly remove their will to fight back.

2. Isolation

It is difficult to be resilient alone, without the support of a community. Even with a strong will, students may begin to fight back after a hardship, but lose hope when recovery takes too long or seems too hard. Resiliency is elusive for a person who’s isolated from a team or an individual to hold them accountable and encourage them.

3. Low Self-Esteem

I have rarely seen a resilient student (or student athlete) who is resilient without a healthy sense of identity. Self-esteem is vital as it provides the foundation for belief and self-confidence. When failure comes, a person with a strong self-image can battle back because they know they are better than a single mistake or tragedy.

What Can Leaders Do to Build an Environment of Resiliency?

So, what can you do to reduce these barriers, in yourself or your students? As a parent, educator or coach, what steps can you take? Let me trigger your thoughts with these questions below:

  1. How can you build optimism instead of a victim mentality? Can you remove the excuses we’ve developed for not performing by using different language? How can you lace your words with optimism and belief in them?
  1. How could you deepen your experience of community in your classroom, team or family? How can you bond with your students by being transparent and vulnerable yourself? How can you foster accountability? How can you cultivate trust?
  1. How can you expand self-confidence? Can your affirmation of students be genuine (not exaggerated) yet help them see their strengths and their value to the team or the class? How can you tie their identity to realities that can’t be taken away?

Remember—it is natural to be resilient. We just need to remove what hinders our students and watch resiliency surface.

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  • Develop habits of self-discipline and initiative to achieve their goals
  • Choose their own set of core values for making wise decisions in life.
  • Create an ongoing plan for personal growth outside the classroom
  • Identify their unique strengths and passions for a healthy self-image.

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Why Resiliency Is Rare