Phew! 2016 has been a tough year for a lot of people.
I’m thinking of young people who are struggling to make ends meet and make dreams possible in a society increasingly unaffordable for them. I’m thinking of people whose dreams have been dashed, or whose lives are not going the way they had hoped.
I want to say to them, “Hang in there, You’re being challenged right now. Squeeze every happiness and wisdom from each experience, and it will serve you later.”
But how? I know it will, but that’s an audacious statement if it cannot be backed up.
Then I saw a lovely little phrase in an essay, “An ode to Leonard Cohen” (by Shozan Jack Haubner, NYT, 12/9/16). He wrote that for Cohen, the much acclaimed legendary musician, poet, and studied monk, “The opposite of despair was not hope - it was clarity."
That’s true. We, as individuals and as a society, seem to ride a pendulum of extremes -- from optimism to pessimism, from motivation to procrastination, and from hope to despair. But “clarity” -- that suggests something new entirely. It comes from new knowledge, understanding, acceptance, or presence of being. It’s aplomb, a new direction. It allows the full range of emotions from hope to despair, but clarity shows a new way forward.
We can get away from the either-or, the win-lose, dichotomous thinking.
So, quick, let’s try an experiment. I ask, “What’s the opposite of fragile?” And you answer -- “strong”? “solid”?
In his book “Antifragile,” Nassim Nicholas Taleb challenges our conventional ways of thinking. Taleb says there are things that are clearly fragile and things that are strong, but that there is also the Antifragile -- things that actually grow stronger from challenges or turbulence. He says, “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors…”
This notion might not be so foreign. We see this all around us in life. Bewildered children are dropped off by nervous young parents, delivered from the safety of their homes to the unknown newness and organized chaos that is the first day of kindergarten, but over time, the children grow and flourish. Young adults navigate the confusion and insecurities of college or their first jobs, and grow stronger and more confident even with increasing demands.
So let’s try again. Quick, in your mind, what’s the opposite of despair? Hope? If you embrace the “antifragile” in you, perhaps you can grow and strengthen beyond your current circumstances, beyond your current thoughts, feelings, and understandings to create something new. That can bring about a whole new direction.
Social scientists and educators might call this grit -- that formidable quality of a person wanting to overcome obstacles and challenges to become better, stronger. MaCarthur Genius Award winner Angela Duckworth thinks it is one of the most vital elements of one’s personal growth and how we turn out as individuals. She believes grit can be innate - or learned, by anyone, at any point in life.
Changes happen at the individual level and sometimes, unexpectedly, on a societal scale. We don’t know the future and what will surprise us -- what will develop as a result of exposure to challenges and hardships.
How much grit do you have? I believe one’s personal rewards will accrue by striving with patience and effort.
Let’s make 2017 an extraordinary year!
If you'd like to start off the New Year with the gift of time and focus on your own life, please join me in my North Seattle Continuing Education Course ,"From Midlife Through Retirement, A Path Forward." This interactive workshop runs from Feb. 21 through March 27, on Tuesday nights from 6:30-8:30pm. (No class on March 7,) You can learn more about my class from my Sept. 2, 2016 blog post. (After winter quarter, my next course offering will be in Autumn 2017.)
Thoughts for creating success in the second half of life.