I’ve had my share of tough times. From dealing with childhood abuse, experiencing challenges with infertility, infant loss, and now being a mom to a child with complex needs, I have learned a thing or two about perseverance. As we endure coronavirus, one of the greatest public health challenges of our time, uncertainty and anxiety are at an all-time high. If there is anything life has taught me, it is that “tough times don’t last, tough people, do.” Rather than get stuck in the negative, I’ve allowed tests and trials to strengthen my grit, resilience, and determination to live a healthy, abundant life.
I think our society has misrepresented the idea of mental toughness. Images of plastic smiles, green smoothies, and flawless mothers of five have somehow made us believe that the race is for the strong, swift, and lean. I disagree, I believe life is for all of us, and we were truly made to thrive.
Here are five strategies I have used to master the art of perseverance in tough times:
Take Only What You Need
Whenever tough times came, I had to decide who and what I would carry along with me on the journey. In moments of crisis, it is best to minimize unnecessary activities that won’t support your overall wellbeing. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that we all have five levels of need:
- Physiological (our most basic, essential need for food, water, and breathing)
- Security and Safety (financial stability, health, wellness, and safety from bodily harm)
- Social Needs (friendship & community)
- Esteem Needs (personal worth, recognition)
- Self-Actualization (reaching our highest potential)
When tough times hit, It’s best to focus on the essential top three needs. For example, when my son was hospitalized for 11 months, I sat out most social gatherings, did not seek promotions or speaking opportunities, and certainly did not try to take on new projects. I’d learned from prior crises that accolades and “likes” had very little weight in times of crisis. I learned to take only what I needed to get through tough times.
The truth of the matter is when a crisis hits, we find ourselves surrounded by three categories of people: those who will not help, those who wish to help but don’t know-how, and those who can help. The first step is to acknowledge that all help isn’t beneficial. In moments of desperation, I sometimes made the mistake of seeking support from those who mishandled the delicate nature of my circumstances; people who couldn’t get past their hangups long enough to genuinely support me in my time of need. I have since learned to ask myself a few questions before deciding where I should seek support:
- Has this person been through a similar circumstance?
- Have I seen them demonstrate compassion?
- Can I trust them to protect my privacy?
- Will they honor or misuse this information in the future?
Sometimes, help comes from the most unexpected places. It’s also worth stating that no support will be 100% perfect. It’s important to understand that human beings some times fall short, but we should focus on their good intentions when they mean us well.
Ask for Help
I get it. Social Darwinism has caused many of us to believe in survival of the fittest. In his recent book: “All You Have to Do Is Ask: How to Master the Most Important Skill for Success,” Wayne Baker outlines why help-seeking behavior is the new marker of successful leadership. Even if you are not the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, it takes humility to understand asking for help in this day and age is truly a marker of competence and self-awareness, rather than pretending to have it all together. Help-seeking behavior saved my family and me during many crises. It was often in those moments I learned just how much most people were willing to lend a helping hand. Remember, despite what we hear in the media, the United States is a great nation where generosity abounds through foundations, social agencies, and private individuals willing to help those who are down on their luck. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for help.
Chin up, Buttercup!
I can recall moments where it felt my family and I would lose everything so near and dear to us because of one crisis or another. In those moments, I learned hope is a far more powerful emotion than fear. I learned bravery and courage were not the absence of said fear, but the audacity to press forward in the face of impossibility and opposition. It takes a lot to pick your head up and begin again. I remember facing one of my most humiliating professional moments and questioning whether or not I had the wherewithal to carry on and rebuild my reputation. I learned in that moment that most people have chapters they don’t read out loud, and sometimes, picking your head up and choosing to move forward from a significant loss makes you wiser and stronger. I learned it was ok to cry, be angry, and acknowledge your hurt. I decided to express my emotions through journaling, counseling, and physical activity.
Don’t Just Survive, Thrive!
Last but not least, make a promise to yourself to not only survive but THRIVE! After all, why would you be reading an article on Thrive Global if you didn’t believe somewhere within you was a winner? I believe in the power of the human spirit to will itself back from the pit of destruction. I think of the resilience of historical figures like Nelson Mandela, who chose to let his hardship refine, not define him. As I write this article, my son still requires significant nursing care a great deal of rehabilitative therapy, and, at times, a vent to breathe. Rather than see his hardship, I choose to see the miracle. I see the resilience of a 1-pounder baby who doctors did not believe could survive now weighing in the 97th percentile of his weight class. I see a toddler committed to expressing and loving his parents as a testament to what happens when we choose love over fear, hope over distrust, and courage over cowardice. Choose to find purpose, no matter the circumstance, to feel your emotions and move forward. Don’t just survive, thrive!