Chapter 3: Change and resilience
“You cannot change the wind, but you can adjust the sails.” ― Elizabeth Edwards
Alli has lost her trust in German Shepards and Pit Bulls. She now only plays with dogs she likes and knows well, and she is ok with this reality. I wonder if that is a result of the attacks she experienced in the past or a result of maturity, aging, and being pickier who she likes spending time with. As we grow older, I find that we become more mindful of who we want to be friends with. We become pickier about who we want in our lives and who we do not want to spend time with. Time is a scarce resource. Even dogs seem to know that. Perhaps even more so since they live such short lives? I would argue that time is the most valuable resource as we cannot get time back.
Alli will be five years old in March, and she prefers to be friends only with the dogs she chooses to be friends with. She no longer plays with puppies — puppies are typically very hyper and wild. When a puppy approaches her and tries to be energetic, and jumps all over her, Alli lets the puppy know to keep its distance and that no one is interested in this puppy-wild behavior. Alli teaches them that she is the older one here. She is the Alpha, and that she will not let a puppy jump all over her. “Respect my personal space,” says Alli. Rhodesian Ridgebacks are very pack oriented, and given they used to live and hunt in dog packs; they can be very hierarchical. Same as lions, Ridgebacks have one dominant Alpha who governs the pack. Alli nominated herself as the Alpha at our dog park.
How does this relate to us, humans, and our experiences? As we grow older, we become more aware of what we like and don’t like, and we find people we enjoy spending time with. We become pickier about people who waste our time and don’t bring any fun or joy into our lives. We grow into who we are. We accept ourselves for who we are and for who we are not. Or at least the mature humans do. My observation is that some humans never mature, and some mature more quickly than others, perhaps because life and circumstances forced them to.
Tennis helped me to mature quite quickly. I lived on my own since I was 13 years old, and I don’t find it weird. It is what I needed to do to be a great tennis player. (Although I never achieved my goals.) I saw no other options, and even if there were options, I wasn’t looking for them. There was only one thing that was on my mind, and that was tennis. I wanted to be a great tennis player, so my day consisted of all things supporting that vision. I have a great love and appreciation for the sport as it taught me many things: focus, winning and losing, hard work, determination, planning, organization, time management, self-accountability, courage, discipline, respect, integrity, the importance of confidence and believing in yourself, perseverance, efficiency, effectiveness, attention to detail, mastery, the value of consistency and especially consistency in delivering quality and many others, including resilience.
The word ‘resilience’ comes from Latin ‘resilire,’ which means ‘to recoil or rebound.’
Some definitions of resilience:
The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness
The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity
The ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly
Psychological resilience exists in people who develop psychological and behavioral capabilities that allow them to remain calm during crises/chaos and to move on from the incident without long-term negative consequences
Why would tennis teach me about resilience? Tennis players spend a lot of time practicing resilience. After each missed point, we need to analyze what happened, learn from it quickly, and apply our wisdom in the next point/ game. There is no time for self-pity or sadness. “Shake things off and move on” is what the best tennis players do. Tennis helped me to be self-aware and learn how to re-frame my thoughts to maximize effectiveness and productivity. However, I recently realized that applying these skills on the tennis court and real-life may differ and that resilience is rather multi-dimensional. What do I mean by that? We may be resilient in one thing but not that resilient in another. Example: One might be resilient in handling physical pain but may not be very resilient in tuning out mental manipulation.
I used to think about resilience as an act of not giving up and pushing through.
The quote “fall down seven times, get up eight” comes into my mind.
When faced with an obstacle, my go-to mechanism was to keep going no matter what. Push through. Gather courage. Keep moving. Get consistent and be persistent. Focus on the things that are in my control and keep moving. One way or another, I will eventually get out of the dark tunnel into a nice and sunny meadow opening where I will be able to sit in peace and enjoy my warm cup of coffee. Just keep moving, or like Dory from Nemo would say: “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming…” My default mechanism for when things get tough is to “keep moving” as movement gives me energy. When faced with something that seems difficult and complicated, I typically intensify my focus on the things I can influence and continue to move forward one step at a time. While this is true in many cases, and this thinking and dealing with obstacles has served me well in the past, last year, I discovered that pushing through and continuing to move forward may not always be the most strategic move. At times it may not even be a possible option.
After encountering a new type of challenge, I have now added to my definition of resilience:
“Resilience is choosing to be our new selves.”
Resilience may mean surrendering to what is instead of trying to fight it.
Resilience means finding grace and flow and doing inner work to direct our focus towards things that bring us joy and fulfillment.
Resilience means finding our inner peace in chaos and craziness.
Resilience means creating space for stillness and boundaries to tune out people who do not serve us and poison our days with constant complaints and negativity.
Resilience means doing an audit on what we want in our lives and getting rid of distractions and things or people who drain our energy.
Resilience means facing challenges, understanding reality, and creating the new person we want to become.
AND there is no better time to do an audit on what we want more of in our life than when we find ourselves lost or on the ground needing to stand up for the 8th time. One of my wise professors once told me:
“Life is not about the wins, but it is about how we recover from the downs when a true character shows.”
At times, life puts us into a situation where there is nowhere to push, nowhere to run, nowhere to swim. The only thing to do is to slow down and just be — surrender. Sit in stillness. Be present with what is happening and with what we are feeling. Feelings can be challenging and tiring, but acknowledging them instead of fighting with them and trying to control them, and pushing them to the side can be part of a much-needed healing process.
I invite you to think about the following:
Who do you want to become? Be that person now.
What mindset is serving you, and what is not serving you well?
How can you do more of what is serving you and less of what is not serving you?
What people do you want to keep in your life? What people should you get rid of?
Perhaps you decided that being friends with Pit Bulls and German Shepards is not serving you, but you still need to live in a world where there are plenty of them running around. How can you create boundaries around them?
How does your support system look like, and how can you align your day to be the person you want to be?