How Well Do We Handle Adversity?

I’ve been thinking a lot about that question having recently read Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandburg, CEO of Facebook and Adam Grant, a best-selling author and psychologist at Warton. It may be because of the people I know who have gone through very difficult times.

The book is Sandburg’s conversation with Grant after the sudden death of her husband.   Feeling that she and her young children would never find joy again she began talking, listening, and eventually discovering how she and others could rebound from life-shattering tragedies.

Life seldom works out as planned. Sandburg believes we need options and the agility to change direction.   She and Grant teach us how to develop resilience, to thrive in spite of disappointments, tragedies, and failures, even those of our own making.

Following its publication in April 2017 the Option B website (optionb.org) provides a place to learn from other people’s stories who with resilience have faced down challenges including grief, illness, divorce, hate, violence, and incarceration.

When applied to our behavior patterns resilience is a metaphor drawn from the ability of a substance or object to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching or being compressed.

However, unlike a substance or an object we are not naturally nor necessarily resilient.   It must be learned, practiced and taught.

While at the Community of Hope in Washington, DC, I observed remarkable transformations of people who had given up on themselves.   They were zombies, the walking dead.   And yet with timely intervention it was as if they were resurrected to new life – I call them resurrection stories.

I saw resilience in that deteriorating neighborhood as well.   Buildings became habitable again.   The street was safer.   There were fewer evictions. The police were no longer adversaries. Health care was available. People found jobs and children improved at school.

There were still casualties, but enough resurrections to give us hope.

During those years of urban ministry we experienced our share of adversity.   The financial strain at times left us desperate. But somehow, we found the resilience to bounce back.

As a leader I had to learn emotional resiliency – to not give up, or give in to feelings of failure when a project or plan didn’t work out.   There always had to be an Option B.

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