We are, as we often hear, living in an age of transition. All over the world, there are massive changes that are shaking up millions of lives and virtually every industry. And not surprisingly, these changes are causing no shortage of pain and anxiety. But the answers we see being offered in our global conversation often don’t take into consideration the fact that people respond very differently to adversity. Some are overwhelmed by it, while others can grow through it. So what we all need in an era of accelerating change isn’t just new job skills, but deeper life skills–the ability to navigate not just sudden hardships that change our lives, but the process of constant change itself.
Nobody is immune from the certainty of change. “I don’t know anyone who has been handed only roses,” Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant write in Option B. “We all encounter hardships.” But as they also write, the question is, “When these things happen, what do we do next?”
How you answer depends on your resilience, which Sheryl and Adam aptly define in the book as “the strength and speed of our response to adversity.” And as they also point out, science has proven that resilience isn’t fixed – it can be nurtured and it can grow. “It isn’t about having a backbone,” they wrote. “It’s about strengthening the muscles around our backbone.”
And one of the things that strengthens the muscles around our backbone is regularly recharging ourselves. For me, this became abundantly clear when I had so completely exhausted myself that, on the morning of April 6, 2007, I collapsed, hit my head on my desk, and found myself coming to in a pool of blood. Option B, as it always does, asserted itself. I was left with a broken cheekbone and several stitches over my eye. But I also learned a life-changing lesson. Looking back at my life, I could clearly see how often I had reacted emotionally to challenges, overreacted to the inevitable hardships of life, and all too often lived in a fight-or-flight state. So what I Iearned the hard way–why do we keep learning lessons the hard way?!–is that when I replenish my own resources I can get through these setbacks much faster. And we can all do this by, as Sheryl and Adam write, avoiding what psychologist Martin Seligman calls the three P’s: personalization–thinking that it’s our fault, pervasiveness–thinking that one event affects everything in our lives–and permanence–thinking that these temporary hardships will last forever. That is, if we’re always connected to our inner resources of strength and resilience, we can move much faster beyond blaming ourselves, assuming we’ll always feel bad and allowing the adversity, whatever it is, to permeate our whole lives.
But lessons of resilience are not just about life’s big, painful challenges, but also about the everyday setbacks that throw us off completely disproportionately to their significance. People have meltdowns because their flight is delayed, or someone cut them off on the freeway. How we relate to these everyday petty challenges and how quickly we can embrace Option B dramatically transforms the quality of our lives.
Every day we have a thousand opportunities to stress out and lose it. But if we’ve taken care to replenish our resilience reserves–to sleep, to breathe, to put things in perspective–we don’t. And that’s good, because there are going to come times of real crisis–divorce, illness, losing a job, or, as Sheryl writes about, losing a spouse. And that’s when we really need our resilience. “Tragedy does not have to be personal, pervasive, or permanent, but resilience can be,” write Sheryl and Adam. “We can build it and carry it with us throughout our lives.”
And as the pace of change itself accelerates in the coming years, building and carrying that resilience is going to be more important than ever. And the more we practice building our resilience muscle in our daily lives–being mindful about dealing with small setbacks–the better positioned we’ll be to deal with the big ones. Which, as Sheryl and Adam say, will surely come. “Life is never perfect,” they write. “We all live some form of Option B.”
So make sure you choose Option A for dealing with Option B. Prioritize your well-being, even when you think you don’t need to. Take care of yourself because at some point, we all inevitably need to.
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