Posted on | August 30, 2010 | Leave a Comment
On a long drive across the country last week, Andrea and I listened to a book on CD. I had seen The Glass Castle remain in the top-seller section at Kepler’s, my favorite independent bookstore, for months. I noticed it again when browsing the library for books to entertain us on our trip so I checked it out. Andrea and I started listening to the 10-hour audio book on the third day of our trip.
Wow, talk about resiliency! Jeannette Walls, an accomplished journalist, tells the story of her chaotic yet magical childhood in The Glass Castle. Walls’ father was an educated, articulate alcoholic who told his four children that someday he would build them a glass castle in the desert. Her mother, an artist, was a self-absorbed optimist who believed children should be taught to fend for themselves. The family moved from place to place, avoiding bill collectors and law enforcement who were often after them.
There was very little money in the family that wasn’t spent on the father’s booze, so the children were frequently hungry. One poignant and painful scene recalls Jeannette and her sister, Lori, eating the last bit of food in the house: a stick of margarine that they covered in sugar.
Despite extreme poverty and inept parenting, Jeannette Walls – and two of her three siblings – became successful adults. How? They had a few protective factors in place:
Reasoning Ability: Walls’ parents were educated people and taught the children how to solve problems, both through logic and through experience. Unfortunately, the experience portion was often neglectful and abusive, which it need not be in order for children to learn to reason.
Internal Locus of Control: The Walls children had no option but to rely on themselves. They quickly learned that they were able to impact their own destiny and were all high achievers in school.
Autonomy: Having little parental guidance, Jeannette Walls and her siblings were quite autonomous. They got into a few scrapes because of this, but also knew they had to act independently of their parents.
Sociability: Amazingly, Jeannette Walls was able to keep her good intentions toward others and this always helped her in the long run. In one instance, she was able to befriend a bully by showing kindness toward a child in the bully’s neighborhood. She also had a special teacher at her high school who held high expectations for her and saw past the poverty to Jeannette’s amazing potential.
Is this the way we want resiliency to form in children – through neglect? Of course not, but the fact that Jeannette Walls and her brother and sister were able to capitalize on the positive in their experiences and become successful adults is a true testament to the power of resilience. In an online interview, Walls herself verifies this:
Interviewer: At this point in your life, if you could change how you grew up would you?
Walls: No, absolutely not. You don’t get to the destination you are at if you don’t travel the route. I think I would be someone totally different. I am a happy person. I wouldn’t want to re-live it but I wouldn’t want to change it.
Have you read The Glass Castle? I would love to hear your thoughts about it. Post your comments in the box below.
Posted on | August 19, 2010 | Leave a Comment
The other day, I was interviewing Sharon for a book I’m writing on handling grief related to financial loss. She lost her job earlier this year in an ugly fashion: she had been led to believe she would be receiving a promotion, but when she walked into her boss’s office, she learned she would be laid off.
“Of course I was shocked,” Sharon recalled. “But then I found out that 10% of our company’s workforce was being laid off at that time due to the economy.”
I asked Sharon how she reacted to losing her job. Being practical, she immediately moved to less expensive housing and trimmed her budget as much as she could.
But I was curious about the emotional aspects of Sharon’s job loss―how was she handling that? What she said took me by surprise and inspired me at the same time.
“You know, Bobbi,” she said, “I chose to expand rather than contract. I saw this as an opportunity to step out of my normal way of being.”
With this outlook, Sharon took a trip to Burning Man, read self-help books, attended some classes, and even landed a role in a community theatre play. All of these activities helped her cope: “I realize that I don’t have to pull inward and be depressed.”
Sharon is a resilient person. She made a conscious decision to learn from her situation. Not only did she bounce back, she bounced forward emotionally and spiritually.
The word “inspire” comes from the Latin spirare, literally “to breathe.” Listening to Sharon’s story was truly like taking a big breath of fresh air.
Posted on | August 15, 2010 | 2 Comments
Resilient people have a habit of finding the gifts at every turn in their lives. Whether the event they experience is positive or negative, they can find a gift in there somewhere. It’s a practice that helps them grow stronger and able to more easily bounce back from low points in their lives.
The other day I was talking to a friend on the phone about the roller coaster of her life in the past several months. To top off an incredible string of really difficult situations – including the death of her mother – she found out she was being audited by the IRS.
Finally, I gently asked, “Mary, do you think you’ll be able to find any gifts in this?”
I almost expected her to sigh and ask how I could possibly think there were gifts anywhere to be found. I mean, how could an IRS audit be a gift?
Mary did sigh. But instead of being frustrated at the idea of gifts, she said, “I’ve already found one. I’ve learned that I need help. I can’t do everything myself like I’ve always thought. I need a CPA and I need someone to help me organize. Even though this is really hard, the gift is in deciding to let go and ask for help.”
Because she was open to seeing the gift in her situation, Mary will not only survive her run of bad luck, but also come out stronger and more resilient.
What about you? What gifts are you finding in your life?