Trampolines & Fax Machines

Last week I shared how my pre-Covid project about Resilience got completely derailed before it even left the station.

When it was still alive and kicking, however, I remember googling images for Resilience mostly to decorate the covers of my research binders.

Sadly, almost everything that came up was depressing.

Images of Sisyphus rolling a bolder uphill, for example, which are frankly not really on point.

Occasionally, I’d find an image of a tiny wisp of grass growing between concrete sidewalk cracks.

A better choice perhaps, yet still a little sad, much less uplifting.

As is most often the case, the Angel Card deck offered the best option:

Resilience represented as a joyous romp on a trampoline.

The problem with Sisyphus, of course, is that his task is designed to be eternal torture.

As soon as he gets the boulder near the top of the hill, Fate sends it down again.

There’s no learning, no adaptation or innovation.

Is Sisyphus truly resilient or a merely an unwitting victim doomed to keep repeating himself?

In either case, there’s never going to be a victory to celebrate.

That’s why I’m a huge fan of Lucille Clifton’s take on the subject:

won’t you celebrate with me

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

For better or worse, I know exactly how she feels.

There so much I like about Clifton’s work.

The poet Elizabeth Alexander praised her ability to create “physically small poems with enormous and profound inner worlds,” without capitalization and barely any punctuation.

Indeed, there’s such a blunt, beautiful truth to Clifton’s words, offering an almost lighthearted acceptance that everyday” she’s faced life’s opponents andby virtue of surviving, won.

There’s also a kind of low-key level-headedness––one antithetical to most inspirational quotes––in her asking us to celebrate:

what i have shaped into
a kind of life

It’s perhaps a modest victory––this “kind of life”––but a victory nonetheless.

Beyond images alone, one saying that comes up all the time around Resilience––one I first heard in my high school’s production of The Sound of Music via the Mother Abbess––is some variation of “When God Shuts a Door, He Opens a Window.”

In some ways, I suppose that’s a nice enough thought.

Yet even though 7 years of Catholic School should have taught me NOT to argue with nuns…I’d like to point out that…

A. Windows tend to be much smaller than doors. Thus, they’re definitely harder for an adult human to pass through. 

More importantly,

B. Why doesn’t God just open another door?

Honestly, wouldn’t that be so much easier for everybody?

And finally, 

C. Why can’t you knock on the door that’s shut? 

In fact, isn’t the whole purpose of a door to both open AND close?

As I dimly remember from childhood candy drives and walkathons, sometimes you have to go back a few times and ring the doorbell again and again to actually seal the deal.

Maybe a better saying would be:

“When God shuts a door,
consider trying again on Tuesday.”

Speaking of door to door sales…

Failing the LSAT and then being told by Disney she was too short to play Goofy at their theme park, Sara Blakely, future billionaire founder of Spanx, was more than discouraged.

Barely making a living selling fax machines, she felt like “I’m in the wrong movie…this cannot be my life.”

What got her through this rocky period was something her father taught her when she was growing up.

Each week, Sara’s father would ask her and her brother what they had failed at.

(You can watch Sara tell this anecdote on CNN Business HERE).

If they hadn’t failed at anything, her father would be disappointed.

It meant they weren’t reaching far enough or challenging themselves.

They were playing safe and going for too easy wins.

Most importantly, it taught Sara to an empowering view of failureat a young age.

Failure was not defined by the outcome but by whether she was trying hard enough and whether she was growing in the process.

Or put another way, she developed “Resilience Muscles,” ones that allowed her to keep going, emerging from selling fax machines more or less door to door, to create a billion dollar empire.

Along these lines…

I once worked with a career coach who created an activity designed to strengthen those Resilience Muscles.

He called it “The No Game.”

Working with individuals and small groups, he’s set an ambitious and unlikely target for each client.

Namely, to get 100 rejections.

Yes, that’s right.

He reversed the Overachiever’s Paradigm.

Rather than the usual obsession with the one magical jackpot payoff fist pump “Yes!” moment, the objective became simply putting oneself out there as much as possible.

Each “No” suddenly became a Win.

The game transformed every minor disappointment into its own mini-victory.

Not only did his clients’ attitude towards rejection shift considerably, it also resulted in far greater efforts and bolder risk taking.

The only downside, he reported wryly, was that sometimes, having developed a Teflon temperament towards the sting of “No,” people would momentarily startled when they actually got a “Yes.”

Speaking of celebrating resilience, I do have some very good news to report re: Agathor’s recovery.

Thanks to his bionic equipment, this week Vlad and I finally saw Agathor––who actually turns 7 today––on the baseball field.

Everyone was abuzz because, finally back with his friends, Agathor’s spirits were so uplifted, he actually managed to wag his tail.

That evening––and for days afterward––person after person in the dog community came up to me asking if I’d heard the good news.

It’s amazing how much delight the simple act of a potentially permanently paralyzed dog wagging his tail brought people.

“On this bridge between starshine and clay” those shared moments were the perfect embodiment of Clifton’s lines about victory.

Again, the invitation is:

come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

As we develop greater and greater resilience together, let’s remember that it’s perhaps best symbolized not by the boulder pushed uphill or the blade of grass emerging from concrete.

Instead, it might just be the joy that comes from bouncing back, whether on the trampoline, or from a rejection from Disneyland, or just via a healing Husky wagging his tail once again.

Namaste for Now,

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