I was reading a book the other day about resilience and the factors involved in becoming resilient. As a matter of fact, the book is called Resilience. One of the factors that the authors discussed was looking for meaning in difficult situations.
Probably the most resilient person I have ever read about to date is Viktor Frankl. He survived unimaginable torture in concentration camps and tells some of his story in his book Man’s Search for Meaning
. Ultimately, he contradicted Freud’s belief that motivation in life is driven by pleasure and Adler’s belief that motivation is driven by power. Frankl believed wholeheartedly that our only motivation in life was directly linked to our meaning; the meaning we assign to ourselves. Before being sent to a concentration camp, he was treating patients who were suicidal. While in the concentration camp, he recognized that what was true for his patients was also true for him. He had a manuscript for a book that he was working on with him that was thrown out upon entry to the camp. Frankl realized that he MUST work to rewrite this manuscript while imprisoned. With a scrap piece of paper that he kept hidden, he worked toward this end. He had purpose and intention. Meaning.
“Ever more people today have the means to live but no meaning to live for.” – Frankl
I read Resilience, Man’s Search for Meaning
, and other books (such as Choosing Courage
) related to great feats of strength (Physical, Mental, Spiritual, Emotional, etc.) and grit because I am intrigued by what keeps people going when life is difficult. In some way, I may be trying to figure out what keeps me going when life seems too difficult to keep taking another breath.
I have always had an enormous amount of perseverance. I mean, I am one persistent person. Stubborn is the word my family uses. Go ahead and try to change my mind when something is in there. It is immensely difficult. I would not consider myself resilient, but I have learned to fight for what means something to me.
Half-ass. I have written a suicide note. I have had a few well-planned ideas and the intent to carry those ideas out. I have done research and found information about the intensity of pain for each method to die as well as the typical time it takes from attempt to time of death. I have prepared, researched, had the means, and yet, I have half-assed it. I can’t help but think there is some meaning for the story I carry with me. The painful, untold secret.
Whole-hearted. Perhaps some of the greatest examples I have of why I should not quit and what gave me meaning in just small periods of time have come from my soccer career.
In high school, when I was a senior, my team was just barely big enough to play. Regulations state that the team must carry 7 players on the field. We had a team of 7 players; no injuries allowed. We had a keeper, sweeper, stopper, two outside defenders, and two floating midfielders. No forwards/strikers. The team that took second place in the state finals that year absolutely demolished us. At half-time the score was 12-0, and it was possible they had their third string players on the field at the start of the second half before the mercy rule took effect. During a throw-in, my teammate had only me to throw to. I was surrounded by at least five opposing players. With a giant smile on my face (and yes, I remember this like it was yesterday and am probably quoting verbatim), I looked at her and said, “Throw it waist high, and I will flick it behind me where you will be when you run back on the field. I will take off down the line, and you can pass it back to me.” Believe it or not, that is exactly what happened. She and I were both All-State players, but against that team, an announced play like that should have never worked. After the mercy rule took effect, the score was around 16-0. The referees approached me at the end of the game and said they had never seen a player with more love for the game, enthusiasm, and hope. Despite knowing my team would lose that game miserably, I had a sense of purpose and meaning. Not one of my players gave up during that game because their captain did not give up. My meaning and purpose was to acknowledge the inevitable loss but encourage everyone to enjoy the moment. I did not back down, and that was one of the most enjoyable games of my career.
My college soccer career was much more successful. Our team won nationals my junior and senior years. By my junior year, the team could play silently on the field and read each others minds and body language. The advantage to knowing your teammates that well while not announcing to your opponents where the ball is going or where someone is running is incredible. To do that in nationals was even more impressive. While those games were fun and gave a sense of great accomplishment, the game I remember is one without such a great outcome. It was my freshman or sophomore year, and we were playing a team that dominated the ball the entire game. We had more endurance and speed, but our ball control and passing were outranked. The strengths and weaknesses of each team kept the score close at 1-0 (them). With one second (I am not kidding, one second!) left on the clock, our striker tied the game. We went on to lose in overtime, but we never gave up, not once. A soccer game is not really a great definition of great adversity, but it was a place to find my own meaning on that field. It was a place to run as hard and fast as possible to support defense and offense. It was a place to encourage those who felt discouraged or tired. It was a place to work out what effort, fearlessness, perseverance, persistence, and mental toughness looked like in my life.
At the end of Resilience, the authors tell a story of a special needs boy who participated in the Special Olympics. He had a neurological disorder that caused him to struggle to walk. He wore a medal brace and bobbed back and forth down the track for a 100 meter run. As he crossed the finish line, a girl competitor told him he came in last place. His response: “Tha, tha, that’s OK…I came in.”
“We need not be the swiftest or the strongest. What counts instead is that we ‘come in’ – that we develop talents, put forth our best effort, and commit ourselves to a life of purpose, growth, and resilience.” (Southwick and Charney, 2018) p. 292
I have been told I live much better than I die. If I am going to half-ass anything in life, it should be the attempts to end my life. Some days I believe there is no meaning in my life. Some days I know I need to commit to understanding my purpose and being resilient for myself. Other days I know that the meaning in my life is to show others what life is. A challenge. A hard fought loss (or win). A smile. A hot rolling tear. A journey. A process.