What It Really Means to Be Resilient

A tree shaped by the wind
Photo: Melanie Hobson/EyeEm/Getty Images

I used to think resilience was a tool I just didn’t have. I can be an easy crier. How can one cry frequently and also be resilient? When we think of resilience, we imagine stoic faces, superhero power poses, and triumphant fists in the air. If we do a Google image search for “resilience,” a person shedding tears certainly does not come up.

I don’t think that anymore. It’s a realization that has come from time and age more than any single aha moment, but I know now that — much like how courage is not the absence of fear — resilience is neither emotionless indifference nor unrelenting positivity in the face of challenges. Emotions and resilience can coexist.

When I need to remember that, I turn to a few of my favorite Japanese proverbs. Here are a few of the sayings that have helped me reconsider what resilience looks like, illustrated — why not? — by monkeys on trees.

‘Even monkeys fall from trees’

猿も木から落ちる

Illustrations by Kaki Okumura

Everyone makes mistakes. This is a fact of life. Professionals, experts, mentors, and leaders — even the most qualified people in their fields and positions will mess up on occasion.

And if they’re allowed to make mistakes, you are, too. Falling may hurt, and it might be a bit embarrassing, but it doesn’t define your self-worth. Try to embrace it for what you can learn from it. A monkey that falls out of the tree isn’t doomed to stay on the ground forever.

‘Flexibility conquers rigid strength’

柔能く剛を制す

Sheer strength may be more intimidating, but flexibility can be much more powerful in the end. Instead of resisting, bending to what we can’t control can prevent us from breaking. There’s a time for fighting and a time for letting go. Let yourself be flexible with what comes.

‘Fall down seven, stand up eight’

七転八起

So you messed up. You fell. That’s okay. You have permission to sit and cry, give yourself some recovery time, and seek some support and consolation from others. There’s no rush. The most important thing is that you get back up eventually, on whatever timeline that makes sense for you.

That’s demonstrating resilience. You don’t need to tamp down your feelings or put a positive spin on everything that comes your way. Resilience can mean crying, processing your sadness, bending to the forces that threaten to knock you over, and then, eventually, choosing to climb back up the tree.

Born in Dallas, raised in New York and Tokyo. I care about helping others learn to live a better, healthier life. My site: www.kakikata.space 🌱

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