The older I get, the less patience I seem to have with excuses. My own. Other people’s. My own. Maybe I’m being a bit of a hardass here, but trust me, I’m no easier on myself. Honestly. I know my faults. I know the excuses I try to give myself and I’m not cutting myself any more slack than I am you.
I’ve gotten to a place in my own life where I am more aware than ever of where I’ve come from, what I’ve managed to accomplish and what I haven’t, particularly focusing on why I haven’t. No excuses. I didn’t focus enough on a lot of things and I have no one to blame but myself. Sure, circumstances definitely came into play at times but I can’t say that I always did the best job in dealing with some of those circumstances but I did the best I could at the time for the most part. And when I didn’t, the results reflect that.
Life is tough on all of us at times. I don’t think any of us get a free pass, although there are times when it seems that some people are just sailing through life with a one-way ticket on easy street. That’s all at face value though; look a bit deeper and it’s plain to see that we’re all dealing with something. Or several somethings. Some people just keep it to themselves a little bit better and for a variety of reasons.
I don’t know about you but I feel like I hear a lot of excuses. People are unhappy because they didn’t get the love or respect they deserved as a child. No one ever encouraged them to follow their dreams or said, “I’m proud of you.” No one said they were beautiful or valued. If only someone had praised them, they might have had more confidence and done more with their lives. And as a parent (well, as a person really), I know these things are important and can make a huge difference. But I don’t believe most of us had ideal circumstances in which we were raised, nor are we raising our own children as ideal parents. I’d like to think that we all do the best that we can with what we have and in many cases, work extra hard to learn more and do more, but I know that’s not always true.
Then there are those who truly were raised in horrific environments far beyond what most of us can even comprehend and while some of those people have gone on to never truly realize their worth or live a life that they might have even dared to wish for, there are plenty that live extraordinary lives. They somehow manage to move beyond their past and live a life that is so epically different than their early years that one cannot even imagine how they managed to achieve such a thing.
I don’t devalue the hardships that any of go through or have gone through. I am not disrespecting the small things that can add up to what can be something big. I guess my question is this: At one point do we get over things and move on to the rest of our lives?
Or maybe the bigger question is this: Why can some people move on and others cannot?
I have been mystified by resilience and amazed by those who seem to foster an abundance of it and yet the question always comes back to, “Why are some people more resilient than others?” It’s a topic that fascinates me. What gives us the mental and emotional strength to move forward and claim our lives?
My mother and I were speaking about this over the weekend. As the daughter of an alcoholic, I have never heard a negative word about her father. It’s clear how much she adored him, even when she relates some of the experiences of her childhood that weren’t so favorable. She said that she often hears people talking about being the child of alcoholic and the trauma it had on their lives, but yet she has a hard time relating to it. “Sure, it was embarrassing when friends came over and my father was moaning (going through the DTs), but there was nothing I could do about it,” my mother said. She’s practical if nothing else.
She has told me time and time again about her brother going through her father’s pockets when he was passed out to take any money he had for their mother, so their father wouldn’t drink it away. Maybe it was helpful that my grandfather, who died long before my birth, wasn’t a nasty or violent drunk but still, their lives were difficult as a result of his drinking. My mother also had funny stories about the same circumstances and she somehow has focused on the funnier experiences rather than the tough ones.
Why wasn’t she traumatized by the tough times and how is it that she fondly recalls the funny ones and can laugh about it with us? Why is it that she also seems to be the happiest of her three siblings and seldom, if ever, bitter? Her life certainly hasn’t been an 84-year long picnic, but she’s always ready to go on one.
I have friends and acquaintances of many ages and experiences and many confide in me. I see some go through the same cycles of bad decisions and unhappiness over and over and in reflection, they often point to childhood issues and how if only they had been treated differently, how different their lives might have been. These aren’t hardcore abuse cases by any means, nor are they all that different than what many of us have gone through for the most part. Why is it that some of us seem to need more? Why is it that some of it just feels like excuses to me? I know that there are issues that need many years of counseling to get over and that it’s totally legit, but some of it just feels like clinging to the past. Why can’t we let go and move forward? Why do some people have the resilience to weather the storm and bounce back?
I’ve been fascinated by resilience for many years now, perhaps because I’ve been through quite a bit myself in the last dozen years or so. I have seen many people go through hardship and emerge stronger, more determined to move forward than ever before and others that are a mere shell of what they used to be or possibly might have been. Some never regain their health, their emotional wellness, and their peace of mind or their willingness to risk their financial security, their heart or going after their dreams ever again. Some for good reason; they’ve learned something and know what NOT to do vs. what they hope to do. But some aren’t bouncing back at all once their hopes and beliefs have been dashed. How do others go through far more and somehow reach for more?
I had a conversation recently with a college professor about resilience. A former department chair of psychology that has also researched much in the field of education, she has a real interest in the subject of resilience. She lent me a book, “The Optimistic Child,” which focuses on a revolutionary program that purports to safeguard children against depression and build lifelong resilience. I’m looking forward to reading it and hope to find a few answers to these continual questions I have.
I see a lot of situations through the volunteer work I do which makes me wonder about many of these things. I wonder if some of the youngsters I encounter will have the inner strength and foresight to yearn for more and go after it in spite of what their lives are like now. I think a lot about resilience, about how young people in particular will know that there’s more out there than what they currently see around them and whether they’ll manage to have the confidence and desire to go after their dreams. Mostly though, I wonder why some of us can, in spite of the past and some simply cannot.
How much of it is an excuse and how much is just not doable, regardless of one’s best intentions? I would like to believe that resilience can be a learned behavior, but I imagine like anything else that one has to be open to the lesson.