Resilience: More Than Just Bouncing Back

AJW's TaproomIn his bestselling book, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life, former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens writes, “If we limit our understanding of resilience to this idea of bouncing back, we miss much of what hardship, pain, and suffering offer us.” Drawing on philosophers and warriors from across the centuries, Greitens dives into the concept of resilience in far-reaching and provocative ways.

The book, structured around a series of 23 letters between Greitens and one of his former SEAL comrades, explores the importance of confronting life’s hardships intentionally and deliberately in order to develop the inner strength needed to turn adversity into success and despair into happiness.

In describing some of his own experiences on the frontlines of battle, Greitens observes, “It’s often in those battles that we are most alive; it’s on the frontlines of our lives that we earn wisdom, create joy, forge friendships, discover happiness, find love, and do purposeful work. If you want to win any meaningful kind of victory, you’ll have to fight for it.”

One of the most poignant sections of the book centers around Greitens’s discussion of the great Stoic philosophers, Epictetus and Seneca. These Stoics, in particular, were known for their belief that to be truly free one must be emotionally resilient to misfortune. As Epictetus puts it, “Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and invoke our own submerged inner resources. The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths.”

And for Seneca it was even simpler, “Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.”

Greitens notes that during his time in the military, especially on the frontlines, he often came to a psychological place where he could move beyond difficulties and find promise in an uncertain future. Through experience of hardship and despair, he grew wise and ultimately found joy.

In reading the book, I found myself repeatedly thinking about Stoicism and resilience in the context of my own life experience as a long-distance runner. Certainly, running is nothing near as scary or life threatening as the frontlines of battle, but some of the challenges and resulting scars that can be borne out of the endurance runner’s experience cannot help but make us stronger and perhaps, ultimately, more happy.

It’s a common cliche today that we ‘learn more from our failures than from our successes’ and in running we find opportunities for both every time we lace up our shoes. For me, it is not so much that I have these daily opportunities, but rather how I confront those opportunities and become better for them. As Greitens and the Stoics clearly assert, finding a way through to a better and more purposeful life takes hard work, patience, and discipline.

In my experience, running long distances provides a particularly valuable and meaningful space for resilient growth to occur not just from bouncing back, but from progressing ever forward, day in and day out, to a better and more fulfilling state of being.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from the Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery in Farmville, North Carolina. Their Baltic Porter is a deliciously simple and tasty winter beer. Deep, rich and velvety, the Duck-Rabbit Baltic Porter literally melts in your mouth and what could be better on a cold winter’s eve than that!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What does resiliency mean to you in running?
  • And how about in life?

There are 9 comments

  1. Jeff

    Seneca was a billionaire by today’s standards. Anything he wrote about stoicism was completely elitist fake news posturing – imagine Bill Gates wrote an advice column about living frugally.

    This column is getting really stale with its lack of original content, lack of analysis, lengthy quotations and the author’s weary tendency to lean heavily on repetition of simplistic cliches without discussion of fact or experience. It is long past time to retire this.

    Oh and while we are dwelling on critical analysis and facts, the American predilection to reverently fawn over its sociopathological military elite is extremely problematic. SEAL operators are murderous sanctioned assassins who freely commit war crimes:

    https://theintercept.com/2017/01/10/the-crimes-of-seal-team-6

    Here’s an applicable cliche: Don’t accept anything that anyone says or writes as fact or face value. It’s naive and simplistic. Bottoms up!

  2. Constance

    I’m shocked you’d quote Eric Greitens. He was forced to resign his position as Governor in shame amid a sexual abuse/assault scandal, among other crimes. Not someone I’d want to emulate, military history or not.

  3. Bobby O

    Shout out to stoicism, AJW!

    Of course Epictetus’s observations will be more detailed because his hardship was from being enslaved, whereas Senecca observations were from a ariatoceatic point of view. Epictetus was a slave who Senecca freed and than created a school of stoicism for Elictetus to teach at — if memory serves me correct. So sure, Seneca’s observations might be simpler, but that’s because he didn’t gain the wisdom in the way Epictetus had gained it.

    Kinda nit picky, but Senecca geta all the shine from these Stoic tech boys out in Marin and Silicon Valley when it was the slave, Epictetus, who had created the Stoic philosophy. Epictetus had to go through all the hardships which laid the original path to the philosophy of Stoicism — Epictetus was the original trail blazer for the Stoic philosophy. But no one knows squat about Epictetus, and everyone knows about the guy who he taught, Seneca.

    6-to1-half-dozen.

    And tbh, my personal opinion is that Epictetus is to hardcore for most people. I believe that’s why most modern people tend to relate more to Seneca. Wild story though, slave who becomes freed because he masters his mind, and rhen goes on to become the worlds most powerful commanders peraonal philisohpical teacher and ends up founding a school of the knowledge that helped him master his mind through his hardships. It’s one of the greatest human tales, ever. And no one knows about him, just the dude who he spit game to, Seneca.

    I digress.

    PTI.

    1. AJW

      Hey Bobby O, thanks for the comment. Great stuff! I almost made the entire column about Epictetus but I felt that it might only tell part of the story. I really appreciate you sharing your opinion. I tend to agree that it is, indeed, one of the great human tales.

  4. Bobby O

    @AJW do so on Epictetus. If it weren’t for him I might have lost my composure years ago over iRunfar not having a feature so you can edit the stone in which you carve your post. ;) Praise Stoicism!

  5. Marissa H

    AJW, Thank for this!!!

    Epictetus’s enchiridion is something I try to read yearly. The Latin translated version not modern one, but either do. Not something you page turn. Read carefully and digest. It is one of the most powerful thing I have ever read. Its very simplicity is the reason why it has survived to us through centuries.

    [This being said, this is one part of who we are and Epictetus neglects the other part, the joy of dreaming and being. Very few minds have been able to cover the full arc. One of them is Nietzsche, whom but he often requires too much concentration requires to see the wisdom hidden behind bravado and provocation.]

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