How Resilience Can Define Make or Break Moments

You’ve come to the crossroads of fear and resilience. With a sense of urgency, you determine this is your make or break moment.

You wonder if you have what it takes to be resilient in the face of an unknown or scary situation.

What does make or break mean? Well, this depends on the context of your current circumstances. Examples include:

  • A pivot point guided by intention and risk, where you determine whether you attempt to ride the path to success or risk failure. You step into action rather than avoid the issue.
  • The Hail Mary pass in football or in your personal life, defined as an act of desperation that has a small chance of success. You are willing to do it because the cost of not doing it is certain failure and you believe it’s possible.
  • Difficulties in your life have made it personally impossible to absorb without a decision or action. Poverty, a divorce, an act of violence, or a serious illness are examples of challenging experiences.

What Do We Know About Resilience?

According to Emmy Werner, a developmental psychologist known for a 32-year longitudinal study, starting in 1955, resilient children “meet the world on their own terms.”

roadblock-road-closed-roadsignThey don’t let others interpret or define their experiences, even if they are difficult by subjective standards.

George Bonanno, clinical psychologist, discovered resilience is impacted by perception of loss or trauma.

The difference between a fragile person and a resilient one is whether they see an event as traumatic or an opportunity to learn and grow.

A roadblock becomes something to navigate around, rather than a limiting event.

And finally, Martin Seligman, father of positive psychology suggests resilience exists in the mind of an individual who believes she can change the situation.

Most important, while some people are born with a certain attitude or DNA, resilience can also be learned. Yay for all of us!

Maria Konnikova in her New Yorker article, “How People Learn to be Resilient” shared,

“Frame adversity as a challenge, and you become more flexible and able to deal with it, move on, learn from it, and grow. Focus on it, frame it as a threat, and a potentially traumatic event becomes an enduring problem; you become more inflexible, and more likely to be negatively affected.”

Make or Break Moments

keep-pushing-forward-apple-store-billboardNow we are back at the crossroads.

When the awareness of choice and challenge happens, the decision is clear. Push forward or avoid what is in front of us. Here are a few examples:

Christine McAlister

When Christine McAllister, founder of Life With Passion, lost her full-term baby, she experienced a profound feeling after intense loss.

Although she did not respond to this unfortunate life change immediately, she decided the loss of her first child was not going to define her.

While she did not ignore what happened, she chose to focus on her life as a wife, businesswoman, and mother to her second child. She also founded a non-profit Miles with Maeve, honoring the memory of her daughter.

Randy Pausch

When Randy Paush, Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University was diagnosed with metastasized pancreatic cancer, he reframed his situation.

Although he died in 2008 at the age of 47, Randy chose to share his wisdom in a tradition known as the “last lecture.” He shared a lecture on achieving childhood dreams, choosing to focus on fun, rather than sadness.

In one of the most watched videos on YouTube (almost 20 million views), Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” communicates his uplifting message in spite of of a sobering setback.

His make or break project left a lasting legacy for life and learning. In reference to his diagnosis, he remarked, “we cannot change the hand we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

Sheryl Sandberg

With the help of Wharton psychologist Adam Grant, Sheryl Sandberg, technology executive and COO of Facebook co-
authored Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.

In the face of her husband, Dave Goldberg’s sudden death, Sheryl decided to moved forward beyond loss in the face of public adversity.

In the words of her personal essay,

“I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning.”

She chose life and meaning.

Your Crossroads at the Corner of Resilience and Fear

Have you ever made a make or break decision? What choices did you make or what actions did you take?

When I was thirteen, I made a choice. The resilient mantra designed to get through these challenges lasted almost four years. You can read about my early detour here.

Read more stories like these in Activate Your Agile Career: How Responding to Change Will Inspire Your Life’s Work.

Want to know more? If you are interested in the future of work, career development, the workplace, personal branding, workforce trends/ideas, agility, or how to cultivate happy profitable employees, subscribe to Marti’s 52 Ideas. For more details on career agility, check it out here.


Marti Konstant
Marti Konstant is a workplace futurist with an agile mindset. She is a career growth analyst, author, speaker, personal brand architect, and founder of the Agile Careerist Project™. What started out as a quest to fine-tune her evolving career sparked a research project, a book, and workshops, where future of work and career agility are central themes.

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