We frame resilience. . . as the capacity of a system, enterprise, or a person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances.
– Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy in Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back
Having hit all the deadlines for Phase 1, I steered eagerly into Phase 2. Blocks of writing time for the season ahead peppered my calendar. Accountability buddies jumped on board. To celebrate the milestone as well as the momentum, My Mister dipped into the Treat Jar and agreed to host a game night.
Then on the second-to-last day of the first month, my project ran aground.
Early on, I’d compiled a list of books covering this topic. Because this work would need to find its place in the literature, developing a bibliography was one of my first-month tasks. I spent several hours over several weekends reading and outlining what others have written on the topic.
What I failed to do was expand my search terms. Until the second-to-last day of the first month.
It turns out this book already exists.
In fact, it exists twice.
In the past three years, two different authors have written this very book. Same premise, same research, same-enough story, same twists on a title.
With this discovery, my afternoon writing block splintered on the rocks. Stalled there with my obsolete map, I stuffed down eight cookies, took three naps, and wasted two hours on social media. Surfacing from this depressive binge took some muscle. As the afternoon faded to evening, a few questions stared me down. The first of them was this:
Do you want to go for the ninth cookie and another hour of feeling like dumpster scum?
With a reluctant “no,” I shoved on my sneakers, snapped on the bike helmet, and dragged myself out into the October air. Leaves littered the road and an erratic wind turned leisurely ride into endurance test. Words from Zolli and Healy whipped around me, words from a book on resilience I’d read as one task in the project less than 24 hours earlier.
Maintain. . . core purpose and integrity. . . dramatically changed circumstances.
Neighborhood streets gave way to off-road miles as my wheels churned up new questions. The interrogating little beasts badgered and grabbed, desperate and hopeless and hurt.
I pushed past, slipping free of their grip.
Questions can feed momentum as easily as they feed defeat. The language I use — even (especially?) the secret inside-language — must climb past catastrophe. It must muscle on, veer always towards the possible.
Questions that begin in strength and creativity generate answers of hope and ingenuity.
It is up to me not just to believe in resilience, but to choose it.
Under afternoon light and facing down a most unwelcome shift in the current, these are the questions I hand-picked to join my crew:
- If not the book I’ve started, what other version of this book needs writing? What gaps in the topic remain to be filled?
- If not this book, what other book entirely? What other areas of my expertise can I tap to write what needs to be written?
- If not a book, what professional and personal goals can I set to harness the energy of my driving values and make a meaningful contribution?
- Is this the worst thing to have happened in my life? Does this even make the top 50? What carries over from surviving — even thriving beyond — far thornier obstacles than this?
- What new insights can guide me with regard to organizing and hitting targets in the “important, non-urgent” quadrant II of personal and professional development?
- In the past 30 days, what skills have I practiced that I can apply to other goals?
- In the past 30 days, what has my research revealed about the topic — one that is important in the world and fascinating to me — that I may not have otherwise learned?
- Who are the friends, partners, and colleagues who have shown up to encourage this work, and who will likely stay to offer support and sounding boards as I adjust to these changes?
- In what imaginative and adaptive ways will I continue to act on my core purpose?
These questions tagged along as I rolled home. They hung close while I played Rummikub with friends and eventually found my way to sleep. When I woke into today, they sat perched at the foot of the bed. Unmoored and adrift, I pushed off into morning with another dozen or two unanswered questions lapping at the edges.
One key fact that distinguishes this new day’s orientation: “unmoored” and “adrift” are at least moving. This vessel is not stranded on a spit. It bobs on wide open water.
With questions as company, I turn towards the shifting wind. All that’s left is to calibrate the compass and choose my direction of travel.
Image: “Ascent of the Spirit,” Vladimir Kush