Resilience Case Studies

Who do you think of when you think of resilience? 

I am Jewish. As I read more about the history of the Holocaust through historical fiction and other non-fiction, I cannot help but think that these survivors wrote the rule book on resilience. Not just the survivorship of the concentration camps but the friendships and love stories that blossomed out of tragedy. Sadly, there are lots of cases that are similar but this is the one that resonates most with me.

More positively, there are a few celebrity athletes that come to mind for me as well. 

Michael Phelps – Maybe you watched it on television or perhaps you read about it in Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, but Michael Phelps lost his goggles at the start of the Olympic 200m fly in 2008. Phelps could not see, so he went by feel. Instead of panicking he went by stroke count. Knowing how many strokes it was between each end of the pool he counted, relying on all the hard work and training session he had put in over the years leading up to this moment. He also played out specific catastrophes, such as losing his goggles, so that should they strike mid-race, he was prepared. 

Michael Jordan – When we think back on Michael Jordan’s career it’s hard to think that he had moments of failure, that he was knocked down and had to get back up. We look back and think of him as the greatest basketball player of all time. We remember the success he had, but he faced adversity throughout his career that made him the best. He famously said “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I cannot accept not trying.” He courageously took shots at the buzzer, some he made, some he missed. We tend to remember the ones he made, but it was learning from his mistakes that made him the player we remember.

Mary Cain – The running world’s headlines have been dominated by Mary Cain’s story of abuse from her former coach Alberto Salazer. Mary Cain was the fastest girl in America, until she wasn’t. What is remarkable about Mary’s story is how at such a young age she can offer so much wisdom into events in her life that are so tragic. Mary isn’t simply placing blame, she owns her part of the story, such that she can share her lessons, which has empowered others to speak out, but also hopefully encourages an end to this style of coaching behaviour. 

We all have our own case studies of resilience. I have my shoe story from the Pan American Games. I was knocked down and around during my PhD studies, which I have now successfully defended. I’ve had my heart broken and found the love of my life. While the famous, superhero stories can be encouraging, it is drawing on our own experiences that help to make us better, helps to make us stronger. It is our superpowers that keep us going.

What is your story of resilience? What do you drawn on to build yourself up when you fall down?