Thomas Elva Edison was a school dropout at the age of 11 as his teachers did not have the patience and the skill to handle a partially deaf and hyperactive child who was prone to distraction. He didn’t have any formal school education. All that he learned was from his mother at home. As a young man, he was so passionate about his invention of incandescent light, that he failed more than 1000 times but each time he would bounce back with new vigor and perseverance to start afresh. Once a reporter asked him “How did it feel to fail 1000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1000 steps.” He also said that he also learned how not to make bulbs in 1000 different ways.
Japan was totally devasted by America in world war II. Who could have thought that this country would bounce back so strongly and compete with the US in science and technology in less than 3 decades?
Even as a common man, I am sure each one of us will have a personal story of resilience to share. Most of us have the tenacity and the attitude to stand up and start all from scratch once fallen. One such story is of my beloved wife Arti.
When we got married in 1994, she had just completed her graduation (BSc. Microbiology) and was not too sure of what she wanted to do in life. Somebody told her that she should pursue DMLT (Diploma in medical laboratory technology) in pathology and get into a diagnostic lab. She completed that and got a job in Thane where she would be exploited (working more than 10-12 hours daily) and pay was meager. In between there was pregnancy and we were blessed with a son. After about 24 months or so she tried her luck at Medical transcription (which was a hot trend in the late 90s) by first joining training course in MT in an institute, which promised to absorb her in their company itself, but never paid a single penny, still would get the work done from her. Her files were uploaded and sent to their US clients and yet they would say that ‘you still need accuracy’. She had failed to earn any money in more than one year. She then changed a company and started working for another MT company. She toiled hard for one month and was knowing that her files were again uploaded to the US clients, but again no pay. The same thing happened for the third time again, in a company in Thane.
But multiple failures didn’t deter her. She fought her battle and ultimately it dawned upon her that her passion was in Yoga. She completed a full course in Yoga and is now a very successful Yoga Trainer in Thane (near Mumbai). She’s enjoying her profession.
Many failures in our life will bring with it their share of disruptive emotions like anger, hatred, frustration, resentment, etc. Still, the one who picks up the pieces and starts a journey towards their goal again is the one who ultimately achieves success. Resilience is to keep bouncing back from failures. Resilience is one quality that differentiates a person from others when most give up or see it as futile or impossible to continue after suffering a few setbacks.
Resilient people possess the following characteristics:
- Acceptance of Realty: Resilient people see things and situations the way they are rather than the way they wish or fear them to be. Optimism is considered to be at the root of resilience however, without being in the state of denial. Resilient people are tuned in to the immediate situation with clarity in perception and thought process.
- Make meaning of difficult times: Some people when faced with some calamity will ask god “In all this world why me”? or “How can this happen to me”? Such people consider themselves as victims and living through hardships is a big NO for them. However, resilient people take their sufferings as learning and create some sort of meaning for themselves and others. Many times, we get to know who are true friends in times of crisis. Resilient people build bridges from present-day hardships towards a fuller much better future.
I would like to narrate a story of one of my good Trainer friends Aruna Prasad, a figure of grit and resilience. In her own words, Aruna says she had a date with death about three years back. Being in sales Aruna was used to the month-end pressures of meeting the targets and if it was the last month of the year, only a salesperson can understand the stress we are subjected to. It so happened that, she was told to achieve a sales target of 25 lacs anyhow in December. However, at the beginning of Dec itself, she had to be hospitalized with a life-threatening bout. She was in the ICU for more than a week. While she lay on the hospital, she had only one thought of achieving her target as a team leader, not only for her, but also for the whole team as this would have ensured special bonus for her team members and appreciation for the team, and as No.1 in her company. She was finding meaning in life as she was facing a near hopeless situation.
Immediately after she was discharged, she took rest for only one day and was on the field and her passion for work was so fanatic, that she literally worked for 12-14 hours a day, making personal calls to all the prospects in the funnel and also closing some deals over the phone. The result of her commitment was, she was not only able to meet her target of 25 Lacs but overshot it by 8 lacs to close at Rs.33 Lacs. During this period, she also came to know who were her real friends and who was her ‘so-called’ friends. Real friends had given her all the support, help and motivation that was required in those testing times, while the ‘so-called’ friends thought that since she was in the hospital, they could poach some of her prospects and customers. But gritty Aruna did not allow that to happen. Finding meaning is a very important aspect of resilience and such people have a very strong value system. Aruna had a strong value system in her work commitment and ethics, which saw her through in those challenging times.
One more unknown art of Aruna is she can write poems as well. Based on her above incident she came up with the following 4 liners:
Zindagi ki Chand hasratein ab bhi baaki hai, Ek manzil Tay Karne ke baad duji abhi baaki hai. Shant toh ek din Hona hi hai mere dost, Fasle tu Tay karle jab tak khoon mein rawaangi baaki hai
Which can be translated in English as under:
In Life there are wishes and desires some, new goals are to be achieved one after the other. Death will quieten all of us in one day, my dear friend, better to move forward till there’s life and one can run.
3. Innovation and improvisation: Resilient people have this skill of making the most out of what you have. They are good at improvising a solution to a problem without proper or obvious tools or material. They put objects to unfamiliar use.
I remember when I started working first in the power electronics factory, once there was an acute shortage of some components like electrolytic capacitors for our development project for prototyping an Inverter (a power electronic equipment-industrial). There was also a strict budget constraint on development work as two of our earlier trials had failed and resulted in some loss for the company. We also never wanted to take a chance to make other than the tried and tested. So, our senior manager just went back to the junk area where a lot of old circuits boards and old capacitors were lying. Some of them were hardly used electronically, and just gathering dust. He asked me as a trainee engineer to take all of those, clean up and send it to the inward Q.C for performance and another testing. All of them were found OK by QC, a claim which was again verified when we connected those to our test circuitry and the test results, were exactly the same when tallied with the reference records. We were fully convinced that they can now be used in an actual prototype without compromising the quality and reliability of the product. This type of improvisation on the part of our Senior manager showed his resilience.
How can I strengthen on my resilience?
- Building on your positivity bank balance: Having a positive approach for any of the events, interactions with people and gaining from past-pleasant memories are the factors that can boost resilience. Think of all those situations however small the problem would be when you handled it with great tenacity and grit. We build upon our mental bank balance with these assets and expressing gratitude towards them goes a long way in building resilience. Creating such positivity mental bank balance can decrease anxiety, reduce symptoms of illness and improve the quality of sleep. All of which will lead to greater personal resilience.
- Keeping record: When we keep a record of all positive interactions, events, and memories into some written or digital format, they register higher value in our brain than the non-written forms of positivity building bank balance. Records can be as simple as maintaining a notebook and segregating it into say, family, friends, work, social contacts, etc.
- Review: Periodically review your mental bank balance by assessing which area brings you the most happiness and then concentrate more on that particular area. E.g. you may be spending more than 8-10 hours of your day in the office, however, your real happiness may come from spending time with your family, friends, hobbies, working on your health, serving the community, etc. Once you get to know, you can then focus on that particular area which will, in turn, get positive results in your work/profession as well. I discovered for myself that I am in the best of my moods and it gives me immense satisfaction after I have spent time with my closed group of friends and family.
How do I bounce back after getting reverses in professional life?
Losing a job or being sacked is now very normal in the corporate world. There is nothing to be ashamed of or really sorry/worry about. I also lost my job (very normal, even more in sales) a couple of times and I thought I handled the situation quite well. From some of my experiences I can say that:
- Failure is only the beginning or part and parcel of your working life.
- Each time I lost my job, I was so relieved to be free from toxic bosses, their corporate politics and their verbal abuses. I considered it was a blessing in disguise for me to have lost my job. Yes, deep down a feeling of uncertainty and anxiety was always there, however, faith in self and more in the almighty gave me the confidence that sooner or later this will pass too.
- Networking and established contacts in the industry really helped in getting a replacement job (in fact better than the previous one) within 2-3 months each time.
- Friends and acquaintances: played a major role in providing emotional and moral support and advice in the process of recovery. People who really cared for me, helped me gain perspective on the good and the bad choices I made. The key here was I was ready to be vulnerable with those whom I trusted.
- Maintaining confidence: After a career setback, it is quite possible that self-doubt/insecurity creeps in. Never allow that to happen. There will be some companies who may try to take advantage and offer you a very little package or smaller position than your earlier one knowing you are not employed. Saying ‘NO’ to such offers will take some courage, assertiveness, and patience.
- Trying to getting into new ventures: I was ready to take over the post of Head-operations although never had any experience of it in earlier 20 years of professional life. This proves your inner strength and helps to build shattered confidence.
What is Grit?
As per the definition, grit can be put as passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is staying put on the job and grinding it on without letting up, towards a better future. As per Author Angela Duckworth in her book “Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long term-goals even when we struggle, falter and temporarily fail”.
How do I develop resilience and grit in my children?
- Once I had been to one of my neighbor’s place and saw their three-year-old child was playing and running around in the house. The sweet soul tried to run a little faster and fell on the face 1-2 times and would start crying. Each time her mother would try to divert the child’s attention by saying “Oh see the rat is running and just went below the bed” or she would hit the ground with something and tell her child that ‘I had punished the ground for making you fall’. This I thought was the wrongest way of upbringing the child, as he/she grows up as an adult will always get in the habit of blaming others for his/her failures or diverting attention to something trivial rather than addressing the problem.
So, what were the better choices with the mother? I think she should have told her child the reason why he fell. Like “it was because you were not careful while running and you didn’t see the sofa edge on the way” or “you ran too fast in the house where you would be better advised to just walk and maybe when you grow a little older, you may try running but only slowly”. Or “you did not see some water that was spilled on the ground and you slipped on it.” This way the child is groomed to see the various dangers he is likely to face later in life and that it will be full of challenges and you need to overcome those if you have to be successful. Also, this way you are molding your child into positive thinking that you and only ‘you’ are responsible for all your actions and consequences thereof and you can’t blame others for it. These small things go a long way in conditioning your sub-conscious and guides you to handle failures later in life, rather than blaming others or getting into denial mode. Guard them against the illusion that they are talented, so success will be automatic. I always told the story of Sachin Tendulkar to my son. He is a God gifted talented player. But did it mean that he never had to work hard? Far from it. All India knows that even though his first coach Ramakant Achrekar Sir saw the natural talent in him, he was made to drill, play, run, and practice for more than 10 hours each day, and Sachin would get so tired that, the moment he used to come back home, he would go fast asleep, and his aunty had to feed him when he was half in sleep. The next morning, he would wake-up with new enthusiasm and passion for another long-grinding day. This went on for years in his childhood and teenage before a legend was born at the age of just 16 years to take on the most ferocious fast bowlers at that time. The same is the story of nightingale Lata Mangeshkar, even she is an extremely god gifted talent, however, even today at the age of 91 she does her Riyaz without fail. Ditto with Amitabh Bachchan. All these great people did require to work extremely hard in spite of being naturally talented to prove themselves and the world acknowledged them, that they are the best in their respective fields.
Our children are susceptible to this dangerous concept called “talent”. We live in a world of cut-throat competition and if our children failed based on the illusion made by their friends, teachers, relatives, and society in general that they are very talented, there is a possibility that the success goes to their head and they become so complacent on talent alone that they stop working hard and trying altogether. One example which immediately comes to mind is Sachin’s childhood friend, Vinod Kambli, again extremely talented, scored back to back double hundreds in a test matches in 1993 but never played a test match thereafter.
Angela Duckworth in her book “Grit” beautifully explains this concept. She says “Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them”. She comes up with the following two equations:
- Talent X effort=skill
- Skill X effort=achievement
If you see carefully, effort factors into calculation twice, not once. The effort builds skill, at the same time efforts make skills productive.
- The concept of Grit can also be explained by a simple example of the treadmill as many people make new year resolutions of losing weight and staying fit. (While I have never used a treadmill or even gym as I believe more in brisk walking and Yoga daily for keeping myself fit, I found this example very appropriate here). I know a friend of mine felt little pain and discomfort in the first two days on the treadmill, and then lost interest in going to the gym. Staying on the treadmill is one thing, but more important is to stay committed even when you are not too comfortable. Getting back on the treadmill the next day, eager to try again is more reflective of grit. When you don’t come back to the gym the next day, you are not keeping your commitment to self, your efforts plummet to nil, your skills stop improving and you stop producing anything with whatever skills you have.
- Discipline: The key to parenting grit is to be strict with regards to the discipline with your children. I remember when our son Ajinkya was just about 6 years old he had shown some inclination towards calculations and math. So, we put him to the coaching of the abacus which also promised the development of both the hemispheres of the brain. He was also interested in going for Judo-Karate (for which ultimately, he went up to black belt) classes every alternate day. He used to like both initially but as he got into 4th standard, these extra-curricular activities, school, and top of that scholarship classes were quite overwhelming for him. I could still remember his anger and frustration in those days. We never forced him to join any extra-curricular activity, but having joined there was no possibility of going back on commitment. As parents, we both had decided our goal was to teach him discipline and to go at things hard. It is important for kids to understand or rather the job of parents to make them understand that things don’t just happen and you have to finish what you begin. We clearly told him you have to go through all the practices. You can’t say ‘I am bored or tired’. There will be times when you don’t want to go, but you have got to go, anyway. (Thankfully, our child never troubled us much anytime and always obeyed what his parents would tell him to do.) The result of this discipline was he came third in his category at all India abacus tournament in the first year and second in the following year. Having said that, we never pushed him to get upper ranks or compete with other students. Grit is all about competing with self.
- Exposure: again, we would give our son as much exposure to the outside world as possible. He would happily go for the camps (around 2-3 days) of karate along with other kids right from the age of 5 years. It is where he learned to wash his inner garments himself, take and eat food independently and sleep without your parents beside and also without bedtime stories. This drill I think was very helpful in shaping him up as he grew older and had to stay without parents during his engineering in Jaipur. This also molded him to take decisions himself and understand the importance of discipline in life. A parent needs to set a stage that proves to the child, ‘I am not trying to just have you do what I say, control you, make you be like me, make you do what I did, ask you to make up for what didn’t do’. It has to be like ‘we are giving you what we have got’. There is underlying selflessness to tough love. Children are like plants, if they are fed and watered in a right-way they will grow beautiful and strong. It’s just a question of creating the right environment. Children carry within them the seeds of their own future. Their own interest will emerge if we trust them.
- Unconditional Supporting: Give the confidence to your children that you support them irrespective of their performance, although they must always strive to give their best. Have faith in their capabilities so that they start believing in themselves. That belief comes from self-worth and self-worth comes from how others have made us feel in our lives.
- Parenting is not pampering: I have seen many parents who give and shower things on their kids whatever they ask for or even what they don’t ask for and sometimes those which they can’t afford. These parents fail to balance between discipline, firmly enforcing expectations they have from children on one hand and love, affection and respect on the other. Parenting is also not just getting relieved of your responsibilities after you have put them in the best of schools, coaching classes and giving them what they ask for. It is important to see their progress, whether they are disciplined and do they have the awareness of the hardships their parents may be going through so that they are successful in their lives. It is also important to see what company they have, with whom they hang out, what are their views, plans, and passions for their lives, etc. What value system they are developing for themselves and how strongly do they believe in it?
- Parenting is not being overprotective: I remember my son would come home alone from school right from 4th standard and in fact, didn’t like that my wife or my mother/father went to pick him up. It also helped that we were always staying close to the school (just about 10mins walk) although it required to cross the busy traffic road three times to get to the school. These days I find parents lifting their children’s school bag themselves and dropping them right up to 8th or even 9th standard. Yes, I do understand that if you have a girl child, you need to be more protective and careful these days for the obvious dangers, however, better/additional option is to make her strong enough to face any eventuality herself by training her on self-defense and martial arts.
We also trained our son to go to the market or grocery shop right from 6th standard to buy small stuff and would ask for all the account for money spent, and returned. This way he was groomed to take care of the money, spend it wisely and keep an account of it. By the 9th standard, he was able to go the bank alone for doing simple tasks such as depositing cheques and updating the pass-book. In his eighth standard, he himself was a member of the Rotract Club taking part in various community and social service activities.
Studies have shown that children who take part extra-curricular activities fare better on just about all the areas-they get a better percentage of marks, have higher self-esteem, are less likely to perceive small troubles as big challenges and tend to have a better holistic development as a person.
The key here is to just leave your children on their own after a certain age, keeping a close eye on their movements initially.
Conclusion: Supportive yet demanding parenting is the key to laying the foundation for grit and resilience in children, as they grow as adults to take on the challenges of the outside world. These parents appreciate that their children need love, freedom for expressing thoughts or actions to reach their full potential. They manage their children on the basis of their wisdom, experience, and knowledge rather than power.