Do the Hard Stuff

By Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

As a child I was blessed with two friends who profoundly inspired me. Michelle, blind from birth, was one of the most popular girls in the school. With exquisite auditory acuity, she recognized voices and would shout out across the quad, “how ya doin’ Gina!” before I ever saw her. She remembered everyone’s names, shared jokes while miraculously maneuvering independently with her cane. Sherry, another great friend, had cerebral palsy. Her speech and muscle coordination made walking a challenge, and speaking clearly a struggle. Cruel children teased her, imitating her slurred speech and lop-sided walk. Sherry never complained. Instead she would say, “isn’t it a beautiful day?”

Michelle and Sherry demonstrate the characteristics of resilient people described by Dr. Al Siebert author of The Resiliency Advantage. Both displayed high levels of empathy, had strong loving relationships, and adapted quickly to change. Faced with serious hardships, both women avoided anger and self pity. Instead they actively maintained friendships, worked hard in school, and earned the respect and admiration of many.

Those of us without major physical limitations can learn from people like Michelle and Sherry when life throws a few curve balls our way. If you’ve been downsized, out-sourced or canned, fight the tendency to fuel anger and self-pity. Instead, look for something positive about your situation. Even if you feel worried, focusing on a few positives gets your mind thinking creatively. Positive thinking generates energy that you can use to score your next job.  Here are a few advantages to unemployment:

  • More time for hobbies or interests like gardening, art, music, sports.
  • Freedom to see friends and family more frequently.
  • Can sleep in and get more exercise.
  • Can learn a new skill, like a foreign language.

Yes, it’s hard, but as Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own, “It’s the hard that makes it good!” Making it through difficult times raises our self-confidence. Character is carved out of the crusty clay of hardship. Earning your own money feels better than winning it. It raises your self-esteem.  Winning a game against a tough opponent feels better than winning against a less worthy opponent. It’s the hard that makes it good.
Another friend of mine, Dr. Kai Paul Swigart, counseled 13 year old surfer Bethany Hamilton after she lost her arm in a shark attack. Dr. Swigart is a psychotherapist, musician and recording artist. He plays several instruments, composes and sings. Kai is also legally blind. He dedicated a song to Bethany called “Blessing in Disguise.” (You can hear me sing on his Help The People CD). In her memoir, Soul Surfer:  A True Story of Faith, Family and Fighting to Get Back on the Board Bethany describes meeting Dr. Swigart. He told her he saw his lack of sight as an advantage. It improved his memory, increased his creativity, and directed him toward deeper matters. Bethany writes, “Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you.” Bethany still wins awards and inspires both in the water and out.

If you’d like to learn how to increase your resilience to the slings and arrows of life take a resilience quiz at The Resiliency Center. Check out The Survivor’s Club for resources to combat adversity. To help kids learn resilience check out the American Psychological Association’s Lessons in Resilience. If times feel tough for you now, turn off the T.V. and get moving doing something challenging. Television equates “easy” with good. Too much T.V. makes us depressed and anxious. Instead put down the remote and do the hard stuff.