The air was hot. My legs trembled. Every step I took, the pain got worse. It was unbearable but I kept pushing anyway.
The year was 2009. I was on a hike of 7,497 feet of nothing but alkaline granite and volcanic rock of Mount Sinai in Egypt. Bedouins surrounded the perimeter with their beautiful white tunics flowing gracefully around their feet. Hundreds of pilgrims of all colors and ethnicities from just about every part of the globe gathered nearby. A cacophony of languages and accents.
Everything had started off well. At first glance, this looked relatively easy compared to the “steps of penitence” route. It looked like I was just in for a 4.2 mile walk. While the mountain was extremely high, the ascent, though long, seemed relatively manageable.
That was until I saw it. This was it. We had hit the last leg of the hike about three quarters of the way through just by Elijah’s Basin. In front of me stood a set of about 750 super steep, uneven stairs composed of roughly hewn rock. The moonlight illuminated the corner of each one just enough so that I could navigate the climb. My feet stung. My body ached and trembled from all the work I’d put in until this point. Still, I persisted.
Right foot forward.
Pause. “I can’t do this.”
Left foot forward. “Yes I can.”
Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. All the way up the steps until I reached the final stretch. The final ten steps lay before me. Just over the 9th, I could see it. I had reached the summit. But I couldn’t run. I trudged up to the top and stood frozen in awe, bewildered by the scene depicted in front of me. To the west, the moon set, resting on the distant mountains. To the East, the sun slowly rose from beyond the mountains after some time. I had made it. Standing in the proximity of where Moses once received the Ten Commandments and surrounded by a phenomenal view of a panorama of mountain peaks, I felt amazing! Thankful I had pushed through. Thankful for the incredible opportunity to follow in the footsteps of a giant in the faith.
So much time has passed since then but my mind’s been harkening back to those days. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with so many unprecedented challenges — from the loss of loved ones we couldn’t come together to bury, businesses we may never be able to resurrect, critical sources of income, physical connection with one another, to loss of our normal way of life. Our peace of mind has also been severely attacked. I’ve been thinking that if we are to come out mentally, spiritually, and emotionally intact on the other side of this pandemic, we are going to have to be resilient. As I was pondering why this Mount Sinai experience kept coming back to me, it struck me that it’s because it taught me so much more about what it takes to be resilient.
I learned that resilient people are:
1. Visionaries who see the bigger picture
They have a clear vision of what they are looking to achieve. You can’t get to the top of Mount Sinai if you don’t have a desire to get there. You have to want to be there and to see yourself there.
2. Realists who understand that there are no shortcuts to success
On my way up those steep steps, I often wished there was a way I could just have been plonked on the summit. But, let’s face it — I knew in my heart that that path would not lead to true joy.
Resilient people keep climbing and working toward their goal. They appreciate the heavy lift involved in getting there and don’t look for short cuts. Such people get that most of the joy you feel in making it is tied to fact that you went through the journey. You (through faith or just by digging deep) overcame the obstacles. More than anything else, you battled with yourself and came out on the other side.
They also understand that they may face failure or setbacks from time to time but that those events don’t define them. They have a healthy sense of identity they tap into during these times and refuse to see themselves as victims.
Whenever they succeed, they don’t rest on their laurels. Like Nelson Mandela, they appreciate that: “… after having climbed a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” So they keep climbing and working toward the bigger vision.
3. Independent and appreciate that they may lose “friends” on the way
Not everyone wants to put in the work to get to the “top” or reach their goals. Some of these folks may hold you back from pursuing yours.
Resilient people count the cost and are not afraid of saying “no” to friends, family members, activities, or strategies that will lead them down the wrong path. They are not afraid of traveling alone if it comes to that. As part of an African proverb goes: “If you want to go fast, go alone.” These guys really get that!
4. Humble enough to seek help from appropriate sources
When I was struggling with taking another one of those steep steps, I would look at those ahead of me. Seeing others forging ahead encouraged me to do the same.
Although resilient folks tend to be quite independent (or faith dependent), they understand that if someone’s gone ahead of them, they can learn from that person so they can, at the very least, avoid missteps forerunner made. They seek out mentors, spiritual advisors, and material that’s helpful to them. They are also a source of inspiration and encouragement for those coming behind them — “lifting as they rise”.
5. Focused and run their own race
Finally, resilient people play the long game and don’t cater to demands of pride.
They can distinguish between (healthy) drive stimuli versus (destructive) ego stimuli. When you’re driven, you constantly keep wanting to outdo yourself but when you’re motivated by pride, you can easily be drawn into unhealthy competition with others or into giving up on a long delayed dream out of fear of people’s opinions.
Resilient people have a good sense of their own value, self worth, and calling and don’t compare themselves to others. They stay focused on running their own race and keeping their eyes on the prize. Though they are tough on themselves, they know that it’s important every now and again to stop, look back at how far they’ve come, and to be thankful for milestones achieved. This helps them refresh and gain perspective so they can keep going.
If you’re going through a rough patch these days, hang in there! Keep in mind that we are all facing some challenge at any one point in time. Take some time to revisit your goals; understand that any setbacks you’ve experienced don’t define you; draw on your faith, sense of identity, and loved ones for encouragement; stay focused on your journey; and don’t compare yourself to others. Believe that your best days are still ahead!