To Overcome or Succumb: Keys to a Resilient Life

Mar 5, 2012

“The crowning experience of all, for the homecoming man, is the wonderful feeling that, after all he has suffered, there is nothing he need fear any more — except his God.” ~ Viktor Frankl, WWII concentration camp survivor & author of Man’s Search for Meaning

He doesn’t remember much about his childhood, other than the fact it was absent a father. His mom didn’t attempt to make up for the lack, being she was consumed with her bitterness and drug habit. In that sense, he grew up motherless as well. Now that he is an adult, he has children of his own. Five, in fact. With multiple mothers. He doesn’t do much parenting either, choosing to lose himself and his painful memories in substances and questionable friends.

In another city and state, a woman sits with her graying husband, quietly remembering decades of life together. With two children and nine grandchildren, her heart is full, a dream realized and often savored. Rewind 60 years, however, and you’d see her the youngest of three children living a horrific nightmare. Abused by an alcoholic father and abandoned by a promiscuous mother, she volleyed between households, each equally traumatic. Although thought of those years can occasionally bring back a twinge of pain, it long ceased ruling her existence. She’s happy. More than that, she’s buoyant with joy and life, and sorrow finds no place to land in her soul.

I know both of these people well. And as I’ve watched their lives unfold over years, I always come back to a singular question: What led one to overcome and the other to succumb? The woman endured far worse trauma of the two, and yet she is the most alive.

The concept of resiliency is intriguing to me. According to Merriam-Webster, it can be defined as follows:

Re*sil*ience (noun): 1. the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress; 2. an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

In my encounters with people all over the world, I’ve discovered two camps of people: those who barely survive and those who thrive. Those who thrive show joy unequal to their circumstances, courage in spite of every reason to fear, and determination in spite of countless obstacles. What’s the key to their resiliency?

  • A positive outlook: the ability to believe things will work out, in spite of evidence to the contrary.
  • Physical exercise: a commitment to physical health and activity, no matter what
  • Problem solving capability: creative capacity to work through a challenge in various ways
  • Social connection: a network of resources and support, via friends, family, church affiliations and other relationships.
  • Flexibility: an ability to cognitively, emotionally and behaviorally adapt to unexpected scenarios
  • Ability to express emotions: honest identification and communication of emotions without habitual negativity or compromise to a positive outlook.
  • An eternal perspective: Without losing the ability to enjoy the present, a sense of eternal purpose and destiny that trumps all earthly challenges with an eternal promise.

Whether the challenge is a childhood trauma, cross-country move, divorce or job loss, how you and I approach misfortune or change will have a significant say in the people we eventually become.

As I continue to watch the lives of the man and woman as well as so many others, I’m coming to understand the sacred importance of developing a resilient spirit. As we know, the unexpected is expected. I want to be the kind of woman who overcomes rather than succumbs, who thrives rather than merely survives.

How about you?

Which of the keys to resiliency is your strongest asset? And which needs the most attention?


  1. Susan

    Great story of contrast from real life. I like the 5 points of resiliency. Something we all can chew on, especially when life get’s difficult.

    • Michele

      There’s a lot of research out there on resiliency, Susan. You’d probably enjoy some of the science behind it. Fascinating!

  2. tammy

    Wow, this was for me today! I am determined to be an “Overcomer” till my dying day. (Rev.3:21). Thanks for sharing, Michelle. Glad I stumbled onto your website. Will come back for visits!

    • Michele

      Thanks for stopping by, Tammy. Nice to meet you! And I’m glad this post was timely for you today. And thanks for sharing Rev. 3:21 — a good verse for today!

  3. Jeff Vankooten

    Fantasic Post! As someone whose main focus is resilience in my keynotes, training, and coaching I appreciated your insights. Thanks!! Bounce back and thrive!

    • Michele

      Have you read the book “The Law of Happiness” by Dr. Henry Cloud? He has some fabulous insights into the science behind happiness, which includes concepts on resiliency. I think you’d like it, especially considering your area of expertise!

  4. suzy

    Hi Michele,
    Once again – a wonderful thought to absorb.

    I have a very close example, too, of the power of the choice to succumb (though he himself wouldn’t call it a choice).
    As I myself replace the appearance of overcoming with the truth of freedom, I celebrate the journey and grow daily in a deeper joy. Maybe for some, the first key to resiliency is as basic as digging deep to make the Choice to thrive… tho I know that’s not as easy as it sounds:)
    Have a great weekend

    • Michele

      No, that choice isn’t as easy as it sounds, but it IS a choice! Thank heavens!

  5. Tracy L

    I really appreciated this post, Michele. My mom had a devastating childhood, and she had every excuse in the world to go down the same dark path. She decided at age ten she was going to get the hec outta there and make a better life. She worked really hard despite everything stacked against her. Now she’s in her mid-sixties. She and my dad have been married 38 years, she’s the best mom in the world, not to mention still plays golf and enjoys her four grandchildren while juggling her job as a financial executive. I look at people who blame their circumstances for the bad choices they’ve made and say nope, not buying it.

    I look forward to reading your blog regularly, Michele. You are a beautiful writer!


    • Michele

      I would LOVE to sit over a cup of coffee and hear your mom tell her story. I bet it’s incredible. My dad has a similar story, and every day I realize it was his choice to thrive that made the life I live today possible. Thanks for sharing, Tracy. And for the writing encouragement!

  6. kapil

    I am no different from most of you. I too have been a victim of stress, blame, procrastination since early childhood. I am 31 right now & have a 4 year old son. I am still not able to understand why life’s simple matters are not simple for me. But I have modeled leadership in my family for the next generation & trying to battle it out for the old generation too. I try to keep things as simple as possible. I am greatly inspired in my life as i have incorporated personal accountability.

    But all of this came, because i was resilient & had all the positive traits in-spite of all the negativity around me. One line for you all, ” Its not about the person in the fight, its all about the fight in the person’.

    • Michele

      Positivity is powerful! Thank you for the insight, Kapil. Keep pressing on!


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