My sister, Gabi tragically lost her 20 year old beautiful, bright, eloquent daughter Jenna three years ago to a rare lung disease. It was an arduous and, post a double lung transplant, incredibly painful passing.
It’s a road no-one should travel. Nothing prepares you for the loss of a child let alone knowing day in and day out for years you have limited time together.
But the stories of resilience that emanate from my sister’s family are nothing short of awe inspiring. For example, Jenna, while sick and in desperate need of a lung transplant, discovered organ donation was in a sorry state in their country, South Africa. So, in just six months she initiated a campaign to raise organ donation – by a whopping 267%! One very ill 20 year old has made a permanent and profound difference in the face of overwhelming adversity and in the process influenced and saved the lives of so many after her.
My sister, spent her younger years before she had kids as a driven, high-flying marketing executive and then successfully ran her own business. She gave this up to care for Jenna.
Then post Jenna’s death came the brutal reality – a family’s life forever changed; a career and a business she no longer wanted because it held no more meaning. And yet here she is today booked out as a Life Skills Coach and speaking at conferences around the world about resilience.
What happened? How did a fundamentally life-altering experience result in a highly successful 360 degree career change?
Five valuable lessons on adversity and resilience which can be applied to any career situation as well as other life situations:
1. Ask what is your intent?
The most driven, energised and self-disciplined people go through periods when it is hard to self-motivate. The antidote, contrary to what most of us think is not to push through but instead truly examine your intent.
She uses the example of resolving a conflict with a work colleague. Before deciding what to do, acknowledge and understand your intent – but make sure to examine it honestly. Is it to display power or is it to resolve the conflict? Is it because you have to or because you want to? And why do you want to do it? How are you going to do it?
Once you understand your intent, make it three dimensional i.e. write it down, clear the space and the time in your calendar, imagine the various scenarios and run them through in your mind, share your intention with a partner, friend, or family member (sharing your intention will help hold you accountable), and finally change the energy around your intention by being authentic with it.
2. The value of stillness
Most of us place enormous value on doing… taking action, being productive, making things happen, finding solutions, striving harder, working faster, filling time and grabbing every moment available to be busy. She has done this all her life but her experience has taught her constant change, challenge and adversity tests and drains your reserves and while it is seemingly a contradiction, there is true value in stillness.
"But, it’s super hard. Most of us have our inner voices shouting at us: “What are you doing? Are you crazy, we’ve got things to do, this is a waste of time.”
Gabi had to reach the point of total exhaustion before realising, when she had nothing left, that simply sitting in stillness enabled her to truly see, hear and immerse herself in the pain, the joy, the strengths, the vulnerabilities, the uniqueness, the sameness, and find, as Eckhart Tolle said:
"You have a treasure within you that is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer."
3. The brutal truth
There is no path to healing or resolution without facing down the brutal truth. This could be, as in her case, a devastating loss, or simply a challenging dynamic at work, your career or home. The only way you can do your best thinking and really start working out how to move forward is to examine and explore, on every level, the truth of things as they are rather than how you want them to be. As Nelson Mandela said:
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
Facing down the brutal truth of your reality in any situation is difficult, but it is the first step toward building resilience. It is a huge ask to let go of the illusion of how you think life should be and face down what is — but it is vital.
4. This and that
In a world of paradoxes where we are constantly challenged to have all the answers, we have to find a way to live with uncertainty. We have to accept we can’t know, solve, understand and control everything. In every situation, there is a bit of this and that.
Gabi has found the simple yet powerful word ‘and’ can really help change perspective. It carries inordinate power when used as a tool to manage negative thoughts and feelings or when circumstances overwhelm you.
For example, a situation at work is unfair… and it’s a chance to make a change; there is conflict… and opportunity to solve it; change can be challenging and extremely rewarding, a team can be disruptive and bring fresh thinking, you need to access hope, a vision for the future and face reality and live in the now.
For Gabi, living in the land of ‘this and that’ has opened up a wealth of possibilities.
Our ability to choose how we respond to challenges or adversity is what Gabi refers to as our “response-ability”. It is a powerful tool. You may not be able to change the event, but you can choose how to respond to it. The lens through which you look at it changes your perspective.
Putting space between an event and your response can have a positive effect on your ‘response-ability’. It gives you time to evaluate every angle, to actively seek perspective and purpose before you respond. Even a little time and space can help us access flexibility, adaptability, creativity and a broader perspective.
What is your true potential? Are you letting adversity stifle your career and negatively impact your decision making, or can you apply one or more of Gabi’s rules to change and truly open your world of possibilities?