A while back, a friend of mine took the State Bar Exam.  He studied hard and felt confident.  He missed passing it the first time around by a few measly points.

The Bar Exam is only offered twice a year.  They sit in February and July, and the results require three months to be published.  Engaging in this process is not a small feat, and many who do not pass the first time do not go on to passing on a future effort.  Although, some do.  Like this friend of mine.

But I’ve seen people get so frustrated at the “failed” status of their Bar Exam attempts that they take to all kinds of strategies.  Essentially, once you have finished law school you are in this pool of “graduates” who are not yet “barred.”  It’s a holding pattern that you can get stuck in because the exam itself can be brutal, and the process is further complicated by limited access to another crack at the exam.  You wait three months to see if you passed, and then have just three months before the next one.

I knew someone who took the exam multiple times.  She kept freaking herself out at exam time.  Even though she took prep courses and studied incessantly, trying to pass this exam became the bane of her existence.   And after multiple failed attempts over a period of years, having invested a ton of money, time and sweat equity into accomplishing this goal, she ultimately walked away from the law altogether.

Fortunately, this was not the case with my friend who missed his first attempt by a few points.  He was frustrated no doubt.  But his frustration was the fuel for his conviction.  He spent time analyzing where he fell short.  He then sought targeted prep courses addressing the one area that seemed to be challenging him.  As it turns out it was more of a formatting issue than a recall one.  So, tweaking his style of responding to questions earned him a solid pass on his next attempt.

I share this story because in this example, the soon-to-be-attorney-at-law that I described, chose resilience over frustration.  As we look at effective management of all types of situations whether in the workplace, home, or even in the realm of personal goals like running a marathon, we repeatedly see and hear the word “resilience.”  Turns out it is game changer when it comes to perseverance.

When we witness a person facing a difficult situation head on, when we see them do what it takes to renew their life’s energy after tragedy, and when someone appears unwavering as they navigate a crisis, we call this “resilience.”  Defined by the New England American Dictionary, resilience is “The capacity to withstand or to recover from difficulties” and also “The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape.”

We understand resilience to be a quality worth pursuing.  But we rarely do we take a close look at the specific attributes associated with resilience.  And to take this a step further, few of us have spent time delving into what it means to exude this quality repeatedly, and consistently over the course of many disappointments and disasters even.  When individuals take resilience to this heightened level, we call them Super Survivors.

In their book Resilience authors Steven Southwick and Dennis Charley break down the “Science of Mastering Life’s Challenges” in a way that helps us denote the consistencies among people who seem to make lemonade out of lemons again, and again, and again.

Before diving into the specifics, I am thrilled to make a special introduction to a colleague and friend of mine who actually introduced me to this book, and the concept of Super Survivors.  Chris Dale is a Financial Planner who also hosts an amazing Podcast called “Real Talk with Life After Grief Chris.”  Chris dedicates himself 110% to everything he does, and I am so grateful to have been interviewed on his show twice in the last two years.  Here are the links to those episodes of Real Talk with Life After Grief Chris Podcast (found anywhere you access your podcasts):

Back to the concept of Super Survivors, it turns out there are four levers that are generally pulled by people who consistently recover from tragedy and challenges that arise over the course of a lifetime.  These four actions work in concert to distinguish the determination of “Super Survivor” from basic “Resilience.”  Both are fundamental in pivoting when life’s surprises send us reeling, and here are are the four levers pulled by Super Survivors:

  1. Choose Life
  2. Reach Out
  3. Get Moving
  4. Give Back

Real Talk with Life After Grief Chris Podcast is comprised of a fully dedicated season, talking with Super Survivors and the ways in which individuals partake in pulling these levers.  The show provides a diverse discussion of the many ways we can engage in these four distinguishing activities.

And that brings us to the point of today’s post:  We don’t need to establish full command of these four actions in order to benefit from them.  In large ways and also in small ways, we can move from “resilient” to “super survivor” by getting creative in our approach to incorporating these behaviors into our daily lives.

For Example:

  1. Choosing Life may simply mean going out into the world with an open heart, instead of lugging our plaguing narratives around with us.
  2. Reaching Out could be checking in with someone you haven’t heard from in a while. Or making eye contact with a stranger, followed by a bright smile.
  3. Getting Moving could be taking on a new interest like meditation or yoga, or it could mean changing a routine, or a job even. It could be as simple as making a decision not to spend time in toxic situations or with people who dampen your spirit.
  4. Giving Back is definitely the most fun and there are countless ways to do this. For example, if we have survived loss, it might be powerful to help others who are new to the experience, either in a support group setting or even digitally.  Or, we can just hold the door for a stranger, make a food bank donation, or perform any act of kindness even if it is unrelated to grief.  (Click HERE for a two part post that I shared a few years ago on surprising a grieving shopper with a new accessory.)

In other words, these are small, incremental changes we can make in the direction of becoming Super Survivors.  We do not need to champion all of them like professionals.  But if we can do this consistently, no matter how insignificant we may feel our contributions are, we begin to change the fabric of our lives.  By building on our own resilience and getting intentional about engaging in pulling these Super Survivor levers, before we know it we ourselves are managing better than we could have imagined.

Spoiler Alert:  Does the pain of loss abate as we evolve into Super Survivors?  Not really.  But life can become more manageable and balanced.  Instead of fretting over our losses we are looking for ways to engage in the life force that we are still part of.  Focusing on opportunities to serve others is fundamental to our own healing, even if its benefits are slow and subtle.

If you have endured loss of some kind, we can’t change that.  Just like I can’t get back my two infant children who died, two of my friends who took their own lives, or the many friends and family members who have died by accident, murder or just plain natural causes.  We cannot breathe life back into our lost loved ones.  But we can use what we know to build ourselves up and become stronger, in the face of anguish and despair.

Making one small decision to move forward, followed by another, and another, can create the momentum we need to see what this life still has in store for us, and what we are capable of doing with the sadness that has permeated our very core.  As we practice little choices in support of survival, we tell the Universe that we are still here and sometimes even we start to believe it.

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