We shall go on to the end
We will fight with growing confidence
We shall never surrender
— Winston Churchill
I’ve been asked many times why, when faced with challenge, I don’t just give up.
Fortunately, I’ve never faced sexual assault, chronic or terminal illness, war, famine or poverty. Some of the people who read Broadside have faced these very real traumas, so I don’t begin to suggest my First World problems are terribly compelling, but resilience and tenacity do interest me.
Who cracks and crumples, hysterical, and who soldiers on?
While at university studying Spanish and starting my journalism career, I volunteered as an interpreter for Chileans who had suffered, and/or witnessed, the rape, torture or death of their loved ones, neighbors and fellow citizens, who had fled to Canada and who were claiming refugee status. In that role, I listened carefully to stories so soul-searing I’ve never forgotten them, even when I wanted to. I went to the dentist with one man to see if the X-rays could prove, (which they did not) that his jaw had, in fact, been smashed by a rifle butt. Another told me, in the detail he had to to prove his claim, about watching his wife and daughters raped in front of him.
My personal challenges have included:
– being the only child of a divorced bi-polar alcoholic mother who suffered multiple breakdowns and hospitalizations, some overseas
– her multiple cancer surgeries
– the loss of both grandmothers when I was 18
– putting myself through college, living alone for three years of it
– being attacked by an intruder in my apartment, at 19
– selling my work to national publications, starting at 19
– three recessions since moving to New York in 1989
– moving to, and adapting to, life in Mexico, France and the U.S.
– getting divorced
– becoming the victim of a con artist
– four orthopedic surgeries since 2000, including full left hip replacement in 2012; 18 months’ of pain and exhaustion before the operation
When single, I didn’t give up for practical reasons – who would have bought the groceries or made the meals? The laundry and dog-walking? Turning to my family for help was rarely an option, for a variety of reasons.
If you fall to bits, who pays the bills?
I’ve always had health insurance — even paying $500/month for it when I lived alone for six years — and with it, access to medical and mental health help when necessary. I know that’s been a huge advantage for me, as has the freedom from the pressing financial and emotional responsibilities of children or grandkids.
Sent to boarding school and summer camp from the age of eight, I learned young to take care of myself, not to ask for help, not to rely on others for aid or comfort. The hardest part has been learning to ask others for help — and being pleasantly surprised and grateful at how willingly some offer it.
At my absolutely lowest points, I still had my health, some savings, a safe, clean home I could afford. Maybe having lived in Mexico at 14, or having traveled to a number of developing countries, helped me keep a sense of perspective — I was still deeply blessed with what I had, no matter how tough things looked at the time.
And some people still dearly loved me; their faith in me, and their generosity and kindness, helped me keep it together. One woman, after the con man scared the shit out of me and I seriously considered moving back to Toronto, gave me refuge in her home for three weeks there.
The only time I really gave up, and my body made clear I had no choice in the matter, was three days on an IV in March 2007 , hospitalized with pneumonia. I had never just collapsed, (even when I really wanted to), and allowed others to take very good care of me while I rested and recovered.
Here’s a powerful post by tech entrepreneur Brad Feld about his own physical burn-out:
Finally, I do have a full time job and spent the bulk of my time working on that, so all of this other stuff was the extracurricular activity that filled in the cracks around the 60+ hours a week of VC work I was doing during this time.
I had a lot of time to reflect on this last week after I came out of my Vicodin-induced haze. At 47, I realize, more than ever, my mortality. I believe my kidney stone and depression were linked to the way I treated myself physically over the 90 days after my bike accident. While the kidney stone might not have been directly linked to the accident, the culmination of it, the surgery, and my depression was a clear signal to me that I overdid it this time around.
Do you ever just want to give up?
What keeps you going?
Here is Winston Churchill, in his own words.