How resilient are you?

By Caitlin Kelly


I found this recent New York Times story interesting, which offers several specific tips on how to build your resilience:

Much of the scientific research on resilience — our ability to bounce back from adversity — has focused on how to build resilience in children. But what about the grown-ups?

While resilience is an essential skill for healthy childhood development, science shows that adults also can take steps to boost resilience in middle age, which is often the time we need it most. Midlife can bring all kinds of stressors, including divorce, the death of a parent, career setbacks and retirement worries, yet many of us don’t build the coping skills we need to meet these challenges.

I’ve long been interested in, and I most admire, people who are resilient — partly because if you’re not, life can end up morass of poor-me-why-me? misery.

Having said that, if you’re struggling with chronic illness and/or persistent poverty, let alone both, it’s damn hard to get out of bed in the morning with optimism.

I found this more recent NYT op-ed more interesting:


But a strong filter also creates real problems, because it effectively lies about reality to both the healthy and the sick. It lies to the healthy about the likelihood that they will one day suffer, hiding the fact that even in modernity the Book of Ecclesiastes still applies. It lies to the sick about how alone they really are, because when they were healthy that seemed like perfect normalcy, so they must now be outliers, failures, freaks.

And this deception is amplified now that so much social interaction takes place between disembodied avatars and curated selves, in a realm of Instagrammed hyper-positivity that makes suffering even more isolating than it is in the real world.

And here’s a new, great list of helpful tips on how to build resilience from my friend and colleague Gwen Moran, writing in Fast Company magazine.

I have friends and family who’ve survived sexual abuse and assault, negligence, brutal and costly divorces, serious illnesses…It’s not just a matter of surviving, (which can be difficult and isolating enough!) but coming out the other side with some hope or optimism intact.

You have to somehow believe it’s going to get better, even with much current evidence to the contrary.



I’ve written here a few times about some of the challenges I’ve faced, even as a relatively privileged white woman: mental illness and alcoholism in my family of origin, multiple family estrangements, job losses and protracted job searches, three recessions, multiple surgeries, divorce, criminal victimization.

But…it could always be worse.

I was struck, limping for a month through multiple European cities wearing a large and very visible brace on my right leg after re-injuring it on a bike ride in Berlin, how many people sympathized: “Oh, poor you!” or “You’re so brave!”

My choices? Stay and continue on, and limp, or leave in the middle of a cherished and otherwise wonderful vacation; popping painkillers and wearing my brace were not a big deal, and probably looked worse to others than it felt to me.

But bravery to me is a much deeper, and stronger quality.


You can only know really know how much you can handle once it’s thrown into your lap  — often without warning.


If you have health, friends and some savings, tough times are more bearable than if you’re ill, broke and lonely, when it can feel like the whole world is aligned against you.

I decided to marry my husband after he responded with grace, speed, decisiveness and generosity to a crisis within my family. His resilient and optimistic character revealed itself in ways that no movie date or romantic holiday could ever have shown me.

His resilience was one of — and still is — his most attractive qualities.

I value resilience highly, wary of people who spend their lives throwing pity parties, especially the otherwise privileged who are shocked! when difficulty strikes.

We have an example of resilience in our home, a weary little geranium plant who I’m always sure is about to kick the bucket at any minute. Instead it keeps on blossoming and blooming, even on its two scrawny stems.



Do you value resilience in yourself and others?


How did you develop it?

28 thoughts on “How resilient are you?

  1. That’s the word I was looking for this week. I was thinking of what it was I was missing out on, and it’s definitely resilience. I need to build it up for myself instead of being Scarlett O’Hara and going “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” No, think about what to do today and make a plan to keep it going. I thumbed through my morning pages and my stream of consciousness is full of transitioning to “oh well”s. Nope, resilience is something I’ve been trying to teach kiddos–time to remember I need some for myself too. We all do!

    Danke danke for writing. Great bit of healthy, productive living I don’t think we think about enough.

  2. I work with law students, and I’m constantly thinking about how to help them build resilience. Law school is challenging and stressful, and many people give up, develop or exacerbate mental health diagnoses, or turn to alcohol and substance abuse. I think one of the keys is learning how to reframe things that seem negative – for example, training ourselves to view failures (or not being as successful as we might wish to be) as growth opportunities instead. It’s definitely not easy, but it really helps me push through when things get more difficult. It sounds like that is exactly what you did on your trip when you reinjured your knee.

    I always enjoy your thoughtful posts!

    1. Thanks for commenting!

      I would assume that law students are, de facto, highly competitive people who would find losing unpleasant and possibly unfamiliar. So it can be a real shock.

      Journalism is so impossibly hard and competitive I never assume success. 🙂

  3. i absolutely find it to be one of the traits i most admire in people. i do feel that i have it, (and you clearly do), and i think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned, the ability to have hope you will somehow come out the other side. you may not know how exactly at first, but you will, and that you do know.

    1. I have no doubt about you! 🙂

      The irony of surmounting difficulty. failure, defeat and frustration is that…you did it and know it’s not terminal. It’s annoying! It’s tiring! It’s NOT FUN. But until you know that, of course, you can get through it, and you have, you might freak out in advance.

      I don’t love having been through so much stuff but it sure puts things into perspective.

      I also know that having competed athletically at a national level (saber fencing) taught me the value of winning and losing. No matter how hard you work, you ARE sometimes going to be beaten. So you have to know it and be emotionally equipped to handle that.

  4. I think resilience is valuable beyond measure, especially in our present culture of dominance. The “victory or death” mindset that is so pervasive in our non-dialogue absolutely demands it.
    It’s Sunday but I don’t feel like preaching, so I’m just letting that paragraph stand on its own.
    Thanks a lot for another good post see you again soon.

    1. Thanks!

      I sometimes despair at the unwillingness or inability to know (for the more fortunate) that life is not fair, (and why would it be?) so expecting 1000% sunny success is just silly and immature. If you life has been utterly un-scarred by disappointment, you might be living in a safe bubble and not venturing very far.

      1. Preaching to the choir there, sister, but there is, sometimes, an upside to the unfairness of life. I mean, the rain falls on the just and the unjust. For one man it is a disastrous flood and for another a green field full of beautiful crops. So was the rain good or bad?
        This being the case, I think it’s only right or, if you will, only fair to smile right back if fortune should happen to smile upon you.
        Sometimes people say or think that a person who catches a bit of luck doesn’t “deserve” it. OK, AND? No one deserves their luck, not all of it, but we get it anyway because life is not fair. In that way it seems to me, the more I think about it, that life is really scrupulously fair.
        It’s 6:10 in the morning and I’ve barely slept but I think I can now,so I’m off. Good luck.

  5. Resilience and courage are two of the traits I value most, in others and myself. Your line “it could always be worse” definitely resonates with me. Two weeks after my one-year anniversary of being in remission from cancer, my husband was diagnosed with leukemia. We pulled up our bootstraps and dove back into battle. At about the same time, one of our best friends was waiting to hear if he had cancer as well. This is a person in his early 60’s who’s battled health issues for decades, often having conditions that few people have ever heard of. Yet he gets up every day, no matter how crappy he feels, and lives his life as best he can, doing things that some healthy people couldn’t manage. When my husband has a bad day after treatment, we talk about Jim and how he has it the worst of anyone we know and yet he still keeps coming back, hoping for the best. We’re honored to know him. Thanks as always for a great post; your writing makes me THINK – as a reader, that’s the highest compliment I can give you.

    1. I have been wondering about you and your diagnosis — I remember it well and have often thought of you and hoped you were doing well. I am SO glad you are!!

      What a blow to hear about your husband and you must be worn out. It is very difficult to keep others’ spirits up as well.

      I really appreciate your kind words. The blog is one place I can just express myself freely and say things I personally think important — not just sling words for income. It means a lot to me that readers still make time to visit, read and comment.

      Best wishes to you, your husband and your friend.

  6. Resilience sure helps in this chaotic world in which we live. I’m much more resilient than I used to be, but like you, it’s been developed over the years by going through many difficulties. The one thing that’s made a huge difference for me is coming to the understanding that God loves me, is trustworthy, and is working everything out for my good and his glory. I find if I can focus on those truths instead of the circumstances I’m going through, it gives me a lot of strength to face difficulties.

  7. My dad moved to Canada when he was 50 to start over with 3 children. It was tough and no one would recognize his mgm’t experience because it wasn’t “Canadian”. He took a lot of jobs that were lower paying so we could have a future. He never complained and even my mom had to work once we were old enough. Sometimes when I face tough times, I just think of my parents.

  8. I think there’s an interesting social thing going on here because on one hand we have those who are silenced and suffering and who need to be heard and on the other, as you say, the privileged pity parties, often taking the language of those who are genuinely suffering. Balances to find between resilience as a real virtue, and the demand for resilience as a way of silencing those who truly need help.

    1. YES.

      Thank you for this. There are so many books and articles now praising “grit” — when having shitty circumstances means having to somehow surmount them, or…or…or what?!

      I was a Big Sister years ago to a girl living in fairly horrific circumstances. It taught me a lot about the enormous obstacles many people face, that many have no idea about.

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  10. OMG this post! I myself come from a history of abuse, poverty, etc.. one thing I have learned is no matter the situation you have to keep going. Although there was times were I was lonely and broke that changed over time but if I wouldn’t have kept going that would not have been the case. My blog that I just started talks about overcoming dark spots in your life so this definitely spoke to me 🙂 thank you

  11. Just the right word to describe what I went through recently. How truly ur words resonated with what transpired..great thinking and so real too.exactly resilience takes birth in us when we are thrown into unprecedented challenges and they mould you into a better human , well equipped for more challenging tasks… keep writing truths…

  12. Pingback: How resilient are you? - Pepple

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