I've been thinking a lot lately about the reasons why certain people thrive under daunting circumstances and why some people struggle deeply under the same circumstances. This issue has been addressed by Malcolm Gladwell and lots of other highly intelligent problem-solvers so my intention is not to dissect it here, but merely to talk about it in relationship to my own life.
In some ways my life has been pretty easy. My father was a great provider and my brothers and I grew up with everything we needed and much of what we wanted. My dad is great at handling things. Be it the logistics of everyday life or ensuring we got braces when we needed to. He had the funds necessary to hook us up with a college education debt free. This is huge. I put all these things in the "resources" bucket.
On the other hand, my parents went through a divorce when I was seven and things became increasingly complex when my dad met my stepmother. I watched my mother wrestle intensely with trying to support herself. She ended up homeless by the time I was eighteen and was "on the road" for ten years. Hitchhiking around the country, making stops at various dysfunctional communities along the way. I sometimes wouldn't hear from her for months at a time, having no idea of her whereabouts or well-being. It was very stressful to say the least. I put all this in the "adversity" bucket.
Now that I have some distance on the hand I was dealt and have had some years to play my cards, I can see with relative objectivity how the interplay between the resources I was given and developed on my own, interfaced with the adversity I experienced. The conclusion I have drawn is that there is great significance in how adversity shapes our psyches, for better or worse, and it's the quality of our internal resources that allows to turn the adversity we experience in our lives into wisdom and momentum.
So as many others have concluded, adversity isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it's character building. A potentially invaluable education. That said, we must have the inner resources to deal with the difficulties that befall us.
Now that I have my own children I have recognized that I can't always mitigate adversity, nor would I want to BUT I can help my kids foster their own internal resources. I can provide them with tools to navigate the beautiful, harsh landscape of life.
AND I believe wholeheartedly that resilience can be learned. This is my work and this is all of our work as people muddling through life. It's what we all need to be doing to live the lives we want to live.
And to all of those that didn't have the resources to get through it, I salute you and honor your struggle. My mother grew up in a very unhealthy home which is in part why she was lacking her own internal resources. Her beautiful brother, Jimmy never made it through middle school and became a junkie. He died young of Aids. He is pictured below along with my original family.