From tragedy to triumph
A few years ago, I heard a presentation by Paul Turney, employee assistance program manager for Novant Health, on the topic of resiliency. The points from his presentation resonate with me during the tremendous change that we are currently experiencing as we continue our journey of developing the Novant Health UVA Health System culture. I wanted to pass some of those along to you as food for thought.
First, let’s define resiliency. His definitions included:
- The capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress. (Think of a stress ball being squeezed.)
- The ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. In other words, it’s our capacity to endure stress and bounce back.
He then spoke about the three focus areas of resilience coaching. The first is to accept that, “Life is not fair.” It’s not fair now, never has been, and it never will be. He used examples of this premise like why some people get cancer and others don’t, why some suffer from natural disasters and others don’t – we can think of many examples to support this premise. Stress and adversity are unavoidable both personally and professionally. If we get lost in a problem, it grows to become bigger and bigger, until we find ourselves behaving like a victim. We get in our “pit,” which gets deeper and deeper and we can’t seem to get out. However, if we can find a way to focus on solutions, then we can stay in control of the problem, and, eventually, it gets smaller and it’s easier for us to get out of that “pit.”
The second premise of resilience coaching is, “Growth follows adversity.” If we all have to go through stress and adversity, shouldn’t we gain something from it? Each misfortune or change we navigate through builds our skill to better survive the next one. Many people not only survive these events, but thrive from them, emerging stronger than ever before.
The third premise of resilience coaching is, “Resilience skills can be learned.” We all have natural resiliency skills, but if those are not exercised, over time, they will diminish. We can learn to create resiliency and optimism, but it is important to note that while it can be learned, it cannot be taught. It’s up to each of us as individuals to choose our attitude about adversity – to focus on taking something bad and making it good or purposeful -- to move from tragedy to triumph. Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor, once said:
“… everything can be taken from a man [woman] but one thing; the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” -- (from Man’s Search for Meaning)
The final illustration that Paul used was that of Yellowstone National Forest and the devastating fires that occurred there more than 30 years ago. While the fire destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres, today there is new growth and regeneration of plants and wildlife. There are flowers among ashes. The earth itself is resilient over time – it bounced back. And while it is different than before, it is more beautiful than ever. This reminded me of a trip I took to Mount St. Helens and the regrowth there that I experienced firsthand.
We all have fires in our life, some major and some minor. Our choice is clear. We can choose to focus on the damage and devastation, brought about by the unfair circumstances we face in life. Or, we can focus on the potential for the new growth and regeneration – flowers among the ashes. With an optimistic outlook, we are empowered to expect that good things will happen in our lives.
My hope is that this will make you think differently about the trials you encounter. At work, it might be staffing, budgets or dealing with a difficult patient, while in your personal lives it could be financial concerns, family dynamics or caring for a sick parent. Whatever you may be dealing with today, I hope that you will look at it with a new attitude – that of opportunity and growth. That you will focus on the goal, share your ideas for solutions and help make them a reality!
(Photos from Mount St. Helens National Park)