Resilience: Five Lessons Learned from a Centenarian

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Many have heard the famous saying, “It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” That reaction could demonstrate resilience. Merriam-Webster defines resilience as, “An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” When one has lived 100 years, it is likely there have been seasons of success, change and misfortune. Our Dad, who we affectionately refer to as “Papa,” has seen and experienced much since 1918. There has been much success (he is alive and well), yet setbacks, downturns, disappointments and heartaches have been a part of life. As singer Danny Gokey says in the song Comeback, when the world thinks it is “Game, Set, Match,” how is it that this Centennial has demonstrated resilience time-and-time again.

Here are a few resilience lessons learned from observing our Centennial Dad that can be generalized to our own circumstances:

1. Filter. So, the position that you worked hard to secure didn’t come through as expected. You hear the dreaded three words, “Reduction in Workforce.” You didn’t get accepted into one of your top tier universities. These are only a few situations that present disappointments. What’s next? Acknowledge the facts of the situation, yet don’t stay there. Focus on what brings hope – whether within or outside of your control. What can you learn in your current position that makes you more marketable in the future? What is the Big Dream (The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson) you’ve had in your heart, but pursuit was sidetracked by the mundane – how can you make this dream a reality now? What are the advantages of the university you will attend? How can these advantages help set you apart from competitors? Focus on the positive possibilities of the situation, sifting to find and cling to cornerstones of hope for the future.

2. Encourage Yourself. It is a truism that what one thinks oftentimes manifests itself into words and actions. In every season of life, Papa has kept a song in his heart. This season’s song is, “If I Could Count My Blessings.” The lesson – count your blessings, not your challenges. Whether a song, quote or a personal slogan, meditating on that “thing” helps to bring encouragement. If you find it difficult to encourage yourself, consider keeping a daily Thanksgiving journal. Each day, jot down the day’s accomplishments or experiences that produced new learning. Practice focusing on the best, not the worst; the ideal, not the gap; positive possibilities, not losses. Journaling affirmations is helpful in appreciating your “now,” while providing intel to help shape decisions and actions in the future. Be your greatest champion and encourager!

3. Focus on the Greater Good. Sometimes life just doesn’t deal a hand that one thinks is fair. That could have been the case for Papa in 1931 when his Dad died. He was in a difficult position. Older siblings were otherwise committed and not positioned to help the family. He, on the other hand, was possibly too young to assume the role of helping his mother provide for his younger siblings, yet that is exactly what occurred. He stopped grade school and became a full-time worker, taking on jobs to support the family. In that instance, the Star Trek II line of Spock captures the lesson, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Captain Kirk responded, “Or the one.” Sometimes, resilience is focusing on the positive impact that actions and decisions have on others, rather than focusing on one’s challenging personal experiences. There is often opportunity to learn from the experiences, not run from them.

4. Leverage Your Talents and Interest. As a laborer, Papa was obliged to work a full day “on-the-clock,” having only time to focus during the day on “getting the job done.” Anything learned beyond his day job occurred in the evening. He had a keen curiosity and desire to feed his mind with knowledge, specifically to learn how to repair automobiles. He fed that passion, attending classes offered through community programs in the evening. He also spent countless evening hours on his own studying a really “dense” technical book to learn about the mechanics of automobiles and to how to make repairs. Papa did not complete grade school, yet he didn’t let his circumstances define him. He dared to dream and break the barriers to learn something new – something of interest to him, leveraging his natural mathematical and mechanical talents to become confident and competent in repairing his automobiles. He tapped into what internally motivated him – the desire to learn, leveraging his natural talents to master a new skill. What talents and interests can help move you forward in this next year? How can you tap into your talents and interests to learn something new to expand your professional marketability?

5. Live with Great Expectations. Even at age 100, this Centennial awakens each day with the thought of living each day to the fullest. That includes playing checkers, the strategy board game, on a regular basis and winning more games than he loses (with opponents of all ages). At no point is conceding or not showing up to play his “A – game” a consideration. He neither complicates life with multiple options or decisions, nor does he dwell incessantly on the past. Winston Churchill’s quote best summarizes how Papa has shown resilience throughout the years, “Never give in…never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

As you move expectantly into this next year, may you find inspiration from this 100-year old about letting go of the past, fully embracing this year with valor, and recovering and adjusting to life’s unexpected situations that give opportunity to demonstrate resilience.

Lillian Davenport, SPHR, SHRM – SCP, CTACC, Principal, End View Solutions, LLC

Lillian Davenport

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Lillian Davenport is a coach, consultant, and leadership strategist. Her signature program, M3 LeadershipSM, prepares you to enhance and develop your self-awareness, embrace your inner strength, and lead with confidence, courage, and impact.

Lillian’s career as a human resources leader includes roles at JPMorgan Chase & Co., Woodforest National Bank, and American International Group, Inc. (AIG), where she leveraged employee relations, and diversity, equity, and inclusion expertise in leadership development.