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Mastering resilience: Are you a spiral or a stick?

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Model your life on the spiral, not the stick. – Carol Orsborn

I love this little instruction. Orsborn says that in our society, we are encouraged – pressured, perhaps – to achieve success and to achieve it in a straight line of ascent – a stick. We’re not supposed to let anything get in our way; we just need to keep after it, keep moving, keep fighting . . .

The problem with this kind of approach is that we then have no flexibility and our vision becomes too narrowly focused. When the strong winds of life come along, then, we have no ability to bend with them and, because our sight is so limited, we can’t see our way to shelter.

Orsborn suggests that, instead of striving to be a stick, perhaps we should aspire to the spiral. Life is constant change and the spiral teaches us that, even as things change, they come back around again. Not in an endless circle, but in a gentle upward growth.

Being fully alive

In nature, destruction often is the requisite state that precedes new growth, like the bursting open of a pinecone in the heat of a forest fire, releasing its seeds to the soil. When you are fully alive, you are continually asked to let go of what you have in order to make space for new possibilities to come to you.

And sometimes that letting go can feel like you are moving down the spiral for awhile. This is often the time when you are cocooning and allowing the old you to slough away while the new you is growing, soon to spread your wings. Being open to new growth will soon have you moving upward on the spiral again.

Mastering the art of resilience

So, the trick is to allow for the difficult times and to realize that they are as much a welcome part of our lives as the good times, for it is in the hard times that the sapling that can bend in the fierce winds grows strong.

Rather than saying that you will succeed, allowing nothing to get in your way, mastering the art of resilience requires you to do whatever it takes, understanding that many things are going to get in your way.

Takeaway points: The spiral shows us that, although life is ever-changing, it has a steady pattern that helps us to continue upward, even as troubles visit us. Resilience is honoring the destruction with the construction and realizing that both make us strong.


Is your life modeled after a stick or a spiral?

Orsborn, C. (1997). the Art of resilience: 100 paths to wisdom and strength in an uncertain world. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Photo credit: NicoCanali

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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.