I grew up on a truck farm and developed a deep appreciation for all the plants of our earth that quietly sustain us. As a farmer you try to help the plants produce food, but in the end all you can do is provide the right environment so they can do the work they were designed to do – that work that was packed so neatly within the seed of their birth. I became so enthralled with seeds that when I was 13, I collected them. So much determination was stored in those little packages that even when the environment was less than ideal, they were resilient enough to overcome the difficulties and fulfill their potential.
Today, when I work with people – as audiences in my speaking or radio work, as students when I teach, as individuals or groups that I counsel – my goal is to encourage them to discover and acknowledge the potential built into the seed within them and especially to strengthen their natural resilience, the better to confront and overcome the difficulties that will certainly arise on their journey to reach their own potential.
All of us began with resilience – it’s part and parcel to that seed called human. We could not have survived without being a resilient species. As we grow up, it’s easy for that resilience to feel bruised and even shattered. About 15 years ago, I did some research on how adults learn – not the concepts but the practical ways in which adults bring fresh knowledge into their lives. I learned a great deal about how they do so and wrote a book on it called Riding the Current. Among the findings were individuals who were adept at sitting in ambiguity with great comfort, and the more I examined the data, I realized that the qualities they all showed (beyond being comfortable in ambiguity) were that they knew who they were (had a clear sense of identity), they had deep knowledge (in some areas – professional or not) that served as a frame for further insights, and they had insatiable curiosity. As I explored this further, I realized that these individuals were resilient in the extreme, and that each of those qualities were ones that anyone can work on and so unlock their own resilience.
My work today focuses on helping individuals do precisely that.
I define resilience as the ability to make a decision in the uncomfortable – sometimes ambiguous – space between stimulus and response. [add reference to PT blog] I created what I call the Phenomenal Four – four daily practices that build the three qualities I just listed – identity, knowledge, and curiosity. One of those practices is to write a personal story each day. (A personal story is one where you are in it as one of the players – perhaps the main one.)
As Paul Costello says, stories don’t just inform us, they form us as well. They are part of what makes us who we are. So, by drawing upon the stories of your life, by bringing your own history into the present, you have a chance to see what formed you as your seed opened up to blossom. I find it remarkable that such a simple tool, one that seems to have been written into our DNA, into how we think, how that simple tool can be used for such a monumental task of helping each of us discover who we are.
Now, I am in awe of those who do monumental pieces of work. All I’m doing is a bit of watering, pruning, weeding. I do it because, small though it is, I believe if we all knew better who we were, that reality would feed the world and help sustain those monumental efforts. And it begins with a story to find out the one buried in the seed called by your name.
Now just in case you were wondering why this is so important to resilience, know that when you know who you are, you are more confident and more creative and more resilient. For me, just having more confidence, creativity, and resilience are quite enough to make the world a better place – all from a few stories.