“Why Some People Are Resilient, and Others Are Not.”
That was the title for the third lecture in a One Day University event I attended yesterday. Instead of doing garden chores and working out at my athletic club, I thought I would stretch my mind with a few scholarly presentations. The semi-annual event is sponsored locally by The Sacramento Bee, my employer of 32 years. How’s that for resilience!
Well, after listening to an entertaining, informative talk by Andrew Shatté, a psychology professor at the University of Arizona and co-author of “The Resilience Factor,” I have to wonder. Resilience refers to the capacity to overcome adversity, to bounce back from setbacks. I had my share of those at the Bee and still returned to work each day, intent on doing a good job.
In some ways, I was following in my father’s footsteps. He was a high school chemistry teacher in New York. Although he was disgruntled that he hadn’t been promoted to principal, he set high standards for his students, oversaw the chemistry club and missed just one day of work in 38 years.
I didn’t see my father as a role model in resilience. I thought the old guy was in a rut and afraid to leave the security of the job, like so many others who had struggled through the Depression. As a kid, I wanted the freedom and excitement promised by the boom years following World War II, from a cool Chevy Impala to a vision of man walking on the moon.
Thanks to the social upheaval of the 1960s, I delayed my entrance into the “real world” until I was past 30. Then I caught the last train to the middle class and followed my father’s work pattern, even though I didn’t have eight kids to support. In fact I had no kids and no economic need to stay tethered to my job. Yet stay I did, even though managers and C.K. McClatchy himself failed to see me as executive editor material.
Like my father, I chose job security over ambition. When I didn’t get desired promotions at the Bee, I could have displayed resilience by making an all-out effort to advance my career at another newspaper. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, that was a viable option. But resilience of that sort is tied to seven factors, according to professor Shatté. As he outlined them, I immediately focused on a few personal stumbling blocks.
Consider “causal analysis,” which is the ability to get outside one’s habitual thinking style and accurately identify the causes of adversity. Most people have their radar set to identify trouble in a fixed way, depending on how they were raised, Shatté said. That limits their ability to find more possible causes of the problem and potential solutions.
When I didn’t get a promotion, I viewed it as a personal attack by incompetent or threatened supervisors. I didn’t use it as an opportunity to assess weaknesses I might have or perceptions people had of me. Nursing a grudge did nothing to help me empathize with supervisors and build better relationships.
I also fell short on “realistic optimism,” defined as the ability to stay positive about the future and realistic in planning for it. Through my work years, I often saw life as a house of cards, set to fall apart sooner or later. Maybe that’s the Irish in me.
In retirement, I find it useful to reflect on the roads taken and the reasons why. Improving my resilience may help me stay in the game until I’m 100. Beyond that, I don’t know how much optimism I can generate.