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I had a conversation with my dad a long time ago that had a profound effect on me.
I’d learned of a tragedy; one of those stories where a person lost several family members in a horrific way. Just imagining what had happened to that family hurt so much, I couldn’t grasp being the one to endure it. As I talked to my father about it, I told him I couldn’t imagine surviving something like that, let alone find happiness again.
“Mi amor,” my dad responded, “as unfathomable as this seems, human beings can overcome anything. We are resilient beings.”
Unsatisfied with his answer, I dug deeper.
“But what if it was me? Could you ever be happy again if something like that happened to me?”
I knew I was the person my father loved most in the world. I knew that I was everything to him. So I challenged him, thinking he would waiver.
My dad sat in silence for a moment, thinking it through.
“Obviously I feel like it would be impossible,” he replied, “but even though I can’t imagine how I’d find happiness again or the will to keep living, I know I would. We have the ability to tolerate so much more than we think we can.”
Until then, I’d never heard anyone say something like that. Most people’s response to my question would be: “I’d die if that happened to me,” or “my life would be over.” When speaking of the unthinkable, people pray that something like that never happens to them. They rely on their faith to protect their family, hoping it can shield them from something terrible happening.
But here my dad wasn’t saying he had faith that this wouldn’t happen to him. He had faith he’d be okay, even if this happened to him. He believed his resilience would be mightier than his pain. More importantly, my father wasn’t suggesting he was strong — he advocated that we were all strong—we were all resilient. He had faith in humanity.
I would later witness how my father handled his long battle with cancer and ultimately how he prepared for his death. I watched him live by his principles until the very end, proving what he had told me so many years ago.
That conversation forever changed the way I looked at life and people. I studied how people handled pain, loss, crisis, and tragedy. What I realized is that we are resilient beings, but some of us forget that we can tap into our strength.
Think of humans at the time of birth. From the moment we enter the world, we have to adapt to changing circumstances. We have to learn how to use our voice so our needs are met. We come already knowing how to cry, but in the process, we also learn to smile, coo and eventually speak. We learn how to crawl, walk, and run. We keep at it until we can hold the fork and put it in our mouth; until we can put one foot in front of the other consistently without falling; we eventually learn how to throw, catch, ride bicycles, read, write, follow instructions, and process emotions. In the first few years of our life, we fall and fail constantly. Nothing comes easy. And yet we don’t give up.
But eventually the challenges we faced in our early years become basics we take for granted. For many, life gets easier and we coast through it. Then when things get tough, we start ignoring, avoiding, or giving up entirely. The older we get, the further we stray from our innate strength—so much so that resilience becomes something we think we have to attain rather than something we get to tap into.
It is no wonder that Resilience is the R in my CORE formula for success. It is a skill that we all possess, and yet we can’t always grasp.
Since that enlightening conversation with my dad, I’ve learned a huge lesson: The biggest difference between people who claim their resilience and those who don’t, is their belief that they have choices.
Many of us are under the mistaken notion that if we lose what we love, we also lose the choice to live a full life again. But when we understand that we never lose our power to choose, then we are no longer victims of our circumstances.
Although we can’t choose nor control the things that will happen in our lives, these are but a few of the things that we do have a choice in:
We can choose to radically accept our circumstances.
We can choose to focus on what is within our control.
We can choose to practice gratitude.
We can choose to implement humor.
We can choose to get up in the morning.
We can choose to nourish our bodies with healthy foods and exercise.
We can choose to look for meaning in life.
We can choose to embrace our community.
We can choose to use our pain to help others.
We can choose how we respond to the things that happen to us.
I’m not suggesting that any of this is easy, but it is possible. Knowing that something is possible is exactly what you need to keep you going.
Before my dad died, I didn’t know how I’d live without him. He was my center, my North Star. But he taught me to believe that my resilience was stronger than my pain.
I realized that happiness is not a result, it’s a decision.
Even though I didn’t know how I was going to find my center, my peace, and my happiness after his death, I knew that I would. And so I have.
No matter what you’re going through or how much pain you’re in, you were born with resilience and you have the power to choose to tap into it.
You don’t have to know how will you overcome this — all you need is to have faith that you can.