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Resilience: Turning Challenges into Success

Education 09 Sep, 2020 Follow News

Dr. Livingston Smith is a Professor at the University College of the Cayman Islands. He is also Director of the CXC Education Volunteer programme

A story carried recently by the Cayman Compass, once read, made everyone’s day.

A graduate of the law programme, Ms. Kattina Anglin, told her story of the many hurdles and setbacks she had in her life but how in her middle adulthood, she found the courage to sit and pass the law school’s entry examination with the aim of fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a lawyer, an ability that everyone though she had.

Confessing to God that she had been ‘a bad manager’ or her life, she reported that she decided to turn her life over to him and from that point she gave up antisocial behaviours which were detrimental to her health and general wellbeing. She then signed up for the entry exam for the Law School as a mature student, passed the exam and began her studies as a mature student.

She completed her final exam ‘filing her assignments by email from home in the midst of the pandemic.’ Passing her exams with honours, she was preparing to pursue the professional practice course with the desire to use her qualifications and intimate knowledge of her society to help others.

She explained that she hoped her story would engender hope and renew enthusiasm to anyone who believed that it might be too late to achieve one’s dreams and desires.

She was quoted as saying, “If enough people hear my story, maybe they will understand there is always hope. As long as you are alive, there is opportunity for change.”

There is much to be said about resilience, what the American Association of Psychologists defines as ‘the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.’

Psychologists define it as ‘the psychological quality that allows some people to be knocked down by the adversities of life and come back at least as strong as before. Rather than letting difficulties, traumatic events, or failure overcome them and drain their resolve, highly resilient people find a way to change course, emotionally heal, and continue moving toward their goals.’

The American Psychological Association, in an article on the subject, entitled ‘Building your Resilience’ says that it involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.’ It points out that resilience does not mean that ‘a person won’t experience difficulty or distress or suffer major adversity or trauma in their lives, but that the individual digs in, utilizing all the resources available to forge a new way, or simply not give up.

‘While certain factors might make some individuals more resilient than others, resilience isn’t necessarily a personality trait that only some people possess. On the contrary, resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn and develop’ the article points out.

It recommends that resilience is enhanced when we ‘connect with empathetic and understanding people to accept help and support.’ ‘Building connections is crucial, such as joining a group whether faith based, civic, and committing to a positive life style.’ ‘Positive lifestyle factors like proper nutrition, ample sleep, hydration, and regular exercise can strengthen your body to adapt to stress and reduce the toll of emotions like anxiety or depression’ the article says.

Activities such as journaling, meditating, praying also help, and certainly avoiding, like the plague ‘negative outlets to mask your pain.’ The article says that turning to alcohol, drugs, or other substances is like putting a bandage on a deep wound. Instead the focus must be on ‘giving your body resources to manage stress, rather than seeking to eliminate the feeling of stress altogether’.

The psychologists also recommend finding ways to help others ‘to garner a sense of purpose, foster self-worth, connect with other people, and tangibly help others’ which can empower us to grow in resilience. So too is being proactive, developing realistic goals, and seeking out opportunities for ‘self-discovery’. A person going through a rough and challenging period, might develop negative feelings, thoughts and emotions, and will need to learn fast that what ‘happened to you isn’t an indicator of how your future will go, and that you’re not helpless. You may not be able to change a highly stressful event, but you can change how you interpret and respond to it.’

Situations differ and resilience may mean that ‘certain goals or ideals may no longer be attainable because of adverse situations in your life. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.’ The excellent advice given include maintaining a hopeful outlook even ‘when life isn’t going your way’. ‘An optimistic outlook empowers you to expect that good things will happen to you. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear. Along the way, note any subtle ways in which you start to feel better as you deal with difficult situations.’ Learning from one’s past and seeking help is also ‘crucial in building your resilience’.

There is certainty that in our various circumstances, we will face difficulties, challenges and setbacks, but like our forebears, each of us has the ability to draw on our internal mental fortitude, to pick ourselves up as many times as it takes. It is our resilience which ensures that we do not give up after a ‘defeat.’

Success is not so much determined by ability as it is by resilience and hard work and not buckling in the face of adversity.

From his intimacy with failure and resilience, American Quaker poet and advocate for the abolition of slavery in the US, John Greenleaf Whittie wrote the following poem, which readers might be familiar with. I am sure that Kattina Anglin and all of us can attest to its veracity.


When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,

When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,

When the funds are low and the debts are high,

And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,

When care is pressing you down a bit -

Rest if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,

As every one of us sometimes learns,

And many a fellow turns about

When he might have won had he stuck it out.

Don't give up though the pace seems slow -

You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than

It seems to a faint and faltering man;

Often the struggler has given up

When he might have captured the victor's cup;

And he learned too late when the night came down,

How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out -

The silver tint in the clouds of doubt,

And you never can tell how close you are,

It might be near when it seems afar;

So, stick to the fight when you're hardest hit -

It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.

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