Monday, February 22, 2016

What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us Resilient

I spent all day Friday and half of Saturday at a failure conference.  It was hard because I have yet another sinus infection/cold thingy that is making feel very raggedy, and also has stolen my voice.  Those of you who know me might have noticed that I love to talk and share my opinions.  There was lots of opportunity to do that at this conference, and I couldn't because no one could hear me.  It was very frustrating, but at the same time it made for a unique experience for me.

Now, you are probably sitting there saying, "sorry about your voice and all, but 'failure conference,' what?"

It's kind of what it sound like.  There were some speakers and some discussions and they all centered around failure.  Mostly, I would say, the points that everyone made were:

  • Failure is part of life and part of the process that leads to success
  • Everyone fails
  • Being afraid of failure kills growth (personal, professional, all kinds) & learning
  • Changing the way we think about failure will make us less risk averse
  • Sharing our failures is important; it helps us and others learn from our failures
That feels like an inadequate summary of the weekend, but you get the point, I hope.  Even though the conference was put on by ULA (Utah Library Association), the themes and lessons were really applicable to every part of life.  A couple of the presenters were from outside library land even - and I think that was the point.  

Anyway, the reason I'm writing about this here on my "I'm very sick" blog is this:  Being chronically ill has already taught me a lot about failure.  Or, if not about failure necessarily, about resilience.  I have to say that this conference was an excellent and much needed reminder of that.  I've been extra  frustrated and discouraged lately.  This weekend reminded me that I have the tools (I even have some extra tools now) to work past what I definitely see as a failure to live up to my own expectations of myself.

Granulomatosis with Polyangitis and all the superfun damage it has done to my system limits me.  Right now while I'm still kind of recovering from my relapse, I'm definitely more limited that usual.  In theory, after time and a few surgical procedures, my life will eventually get back to something that more or less resembles normal.  I will probably always be more susceptible to infection than other people, but at some point (hopefully soon) I should be able to go more than two weeks between colds/sinus infections.  But for now, I am limited.  Accepting those limitations feels like a failure to me.

I am definitely the type of person who wants to say yes to everything.  It's not so much because I think people expect me to, honestly.  I want to say yes to everything because everything is so fun or interesting.  I am enthusiastic about following through with my ideas and experiencing things born out of the ideas of others.  It is so hard on me to say "I can't say yes to that because I can't comfortably say that I will be healthy enough to follow through."  That feels like failure to me.

Maybe it's not though.  Maybe the failure would be in saying yes and then either pushing myself way to hard and making myself sicker, or then not completing what I set out to do because I had to spend a few days coughing my guts out and sleeping.  Maybe the failure is in not learning to accept that I can't do everything right now.  Moreover, I don't have to do everything right now.

One thing that came up many times over the weekend is that we are always harder on ourselves for our failures than other people are.  It couldn't be more true.  No one but me expects me to be able to say yes to all the things.  And no one but me sees it as a failure when I say I can't because health.  I need to remember that and start treating myself with the acceptance that other people have for my limitations.

Now, lets talk about resilience.  Because if anything makes a person resilient, it's living with in body that is constantly trying to kill you.  Here's a slide from the keynote speaker, Maureen Sullivan, this weekend:

That is not a good picture. If you can't read it (or if you can but want to save your eyes) here's what it says:

Resilient Individuals...
  • have a staunch acceptance of reality
  • have a clear sense of purpose and meaning
  • easily improvise
  • are optimistic
  • are curious and continually open to learning
  • have a growth mindset
  • are self-aware and mindful
  • are adept at solving problems
  • are willing to experiment and take risks and
  • have a healthy tolerance for failure
Maureen asked us all to look at this list and pick a few that were true for us, and a few that we needed to work on.  

I honestly believe that I can apply every single bullet point to myself.  Some maybe more than others (I have a hard time accepting reality sometimes).  Some of them are probably just part of my personality that I've had all along (curiosity, improvisation, problem solving).  A lot of them, I'm pretty sure I came to from being sick.

Take optimism for example.  My first round with GPA, I had so many medical professionals praise me for my "positive attitude" that it eventually made me want to positively punch the next person who said it.  Dealing with that though, really did bring out the optimistic side of me though.  I think it's important here to clarify what I mean when I talk about optimism though.  I don't go through life thinking everything is always going to be ok... sunshine and rainbows abound.  Optimism for me means finding silver linings and looking forward.  It means not getting bogged down in the terrible moments and letting the self-pity and self-doubt and negative self-talk go on and on and on.  I totally experience all three of those awful things.  But I say to myself, "Ok Cassie, you can feel bad for yourself tonight, but in the morning you're going to over it because self-pity won't get you anywhere."

That last bit was probably more mindfulness and self-awareness than optimism. What can I say, I think a lot of those bullet points are interdependent and work together to make resilient individuals.

There is so much more from this weekend I could go on about, and maybe I will in a later post.  Or maybe I'll create a whole new blog dedicated to failure.  For now though, I think this post is long enough, and anyway I have other things to do.  I am so glad I went to this conference, and it couldn't have been better timing.  I definitely needed the reminder that failure is just a part of the process, and just because I may fail sometimes, failure is not who I am.

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