The bus stopped, dislodging me at a rather nondescript part of an English town in front of a plain looking food-shop. Curious, I walked into the smallish shop; only then realising that it was a pizzeria. Inside, there were no tables or chairs: just a counter, a cash register and a bald, bearded tough looking man.
That had been my first encounter with Abdullah. Beneath his seasoned exterior was an enlightened survivor. Abdullah had arrived in the UK as an Afghanistani child refugee. He had braved through the initial culture shock in very trying conditions, adapted, grew up and became owner and proprietor of the little shop that I had just entered.
Such resilience was a characteristic I would know too well as I attended the town’s Loughborough University. Academic life was already stressful enough with its scholarly obligations. To complicate matters, international students were transplanted far from their familiar environment and their usual support structures of family and friends. Those who could not cope would mull badly over trivial matters such as sorting out their accommodation, paying bills or even completing assignments. The resilient ones knew how to roll with the punches. These were the ones who would reach out for support and continue functioning despite experiencing anger, grief or pain.
In the University of Minnesota’s study on developmental psychology, Professor Dante Cicchetti found that resilient individuals usually had good self-esteem, were able to control their ego and impulses, and were flexible in adapting to their environment.
I could observe those traits when I worked for a local publishing company early in my career. The owner – Hj Zainal Bin Ibrahim was indeed a study in resilience. His company had gone through several difficult business challenges but he was determined to plow ahead. He was courteous, seemingly unfazed, had endless patience and an exemplary “Never Say Die” attitude. He was creative in reinventing his company, and in continuously adapting to the local business situation. He made posters and signboards, published magazines, and even produced 3D advertisements for television. But it would take some time and phases before he could find the right conditions that matched his creative ability and business dynamics. His textile company Batik Mas is a fusion of his artistic expression, mastery of medium, and creative collaboration. It is also a testimony of his hard work and persistence.
There are patterns from the experiences of such individuals that we can adopt to improve our own resilience. Here are a few:
Resilient people have a good support base of people they can reach out for support. This acts as a pressure valve and helps them to cope.
We can learn from past experience, and apply it to our future actions. Think of how you have dealt with a previous difficulty. What skills or approaches have helped you?
Resilient people know what works and what does not: they reinvent themselves to adapt to the situation.
Goals help in facilitating accomplishments, and they give a sense of purpose and meaning.
Change is unavoidable. Accepting it patiently and dealing with it the best way you can makes it easier to adapt.
Stephen Covey – The acclaimed author of the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” once said “We are not a product of what has happened to us in our past. We have the power of choice”.
Like the Shakespearean soliloquy “To be, or not to be….”, resilience can be seen as a choice. Being resilient is not easy, but the intrinsic rewards are certainly worth the effort.