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How Resilient People Stand Back Up When Life Knocks Them Down

Scott C. Hammond, PhD, who is a Clinical Professor of Management in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business was recently featured in an article in Fast Company talking about resilience. Hammond says:

Resilience is a choice. Almost every case we studied of people who survived being lost in the wilderness said they “decided" to survive. Even an eight-year-old boy lost overnight at 11,000 ft said, “I knew I wanted to live.”

The same is true for entrepreneurs and careerists who face what are seemingly insurmountable challenged. They make a choice. That say to themselves, “I want to get through this. I will do what it takes to survive until I can find a way to thrive.” Of course making the choice to be resilient does not guarantee a positive outcome, but it does have two interesting effects on individuals in survival situations.

First, they report seeing the ideal future. A good example of this is the famous canyoneering climber Aaron Rawlston who cut off his arm with his pocket knife when he was trapped in a narrow canyon. His story can be seen in the documentary “126 Hours.” Rawlston reports that while in a space between sleep and hallucination he saw his unborn son running towards him. He saw himself holding the young boy and laughing. He remembers a vivid sense of joy as he held his child. When he awoke he realized again his predicament, and also that he had no son, no wife and no future. But he did have a vision of the ideal that motivated him to action. Rarely do we realize the ideal in our lives, but visualizing the ideal creates hope, and hope motivated resilience.

Second, making the decision to be resilient helps us see our situation differently. In my book Lessons of the Lost: Finding Hope and Resilience in Work: Life, and the Wilderness I tell the story of Victoria Grover who was lost in the wilderness for five days with a broken leg. Victoria, who is a hero of mine, broke her leg at the base of a dry waterfall, 100 yards from water. She was in a place where she could not see or be seen, nor could she get to the needed water. Unable to climb up and over the rocks with her broken leg, she wondered what to do. “There has to be a way,” she told herself. Then she reported to me that she saw herself backwards, as if in a mirror. Backwards. Yes. Backwards. “I can turn around and go backwards over the rocks.” It took her 12 hours, but she got to water and warmth. The “backward” thinking saved her life.

There are tragic tales in the wilderness of strong people who chose not to be resilient. Who gave up. Four in five business start ups fail. But four in five are not bad ideas that will not work in the market. Some portion of those failures come because the entrepreneur was not resilient enough.