First, read Antifragile (Nassim Nicholas Taleb). This is an important book sharing an important idea: When unexpected change happens–and it always happens–some systems are fragile and break, some systems withstand the pressure and do not break, and some systems actually become better, stronger, or smarter in the face of challenge. Effort equals growth.
Too much challenge breaks things, but too little challenge robs a system of adaptation and growth. Taleb says we often talk about the benefits of resilience, which is the capacity to withstand stressors. But resilience just means we can stay the same in the face of challenge. His contention is that organic systems in particular need challenge to become stronger and better. We don’t just want to stay the same, we want to grow. We try to predict and control stressors or challenging events, but what we ought to be doing is building antifragility so that we can use those stressors and events to get smarter, stronger and better.
We struggle with the reality that change is inevitable. We fight to hold onto the familiar when we know that is impossible and not even desirable. But we worry about uncertainty and the unknown. We implicitly question our ability to deal with future difficult experiences. Rather than telling ourselves, “whatever happens, I’ll handle it,” we strategize to avoid any risk. And when life deals us an unexpected blow, we rage, protest, and despair about the unfairness of it. We tell ourselves we cannot do things because we have had a hard time in the past or we are dealing with too much right now.
Everyone needs compassion and understanding. Everyone needs a chance to cocoon and heal. But we don’t need to stop there. Ultimately, we would like to build the confidence, competence, and optimism to engage with life as it really is and to celebrate our wins and mourn our losses. A self is a series of experiences and part of our experience is how we direct our own growth and learning. For a long time, we devalued how we were feeling and tried to buck up, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and carry on. Sometimes we overcorrect for this tough approach and get bogged down in our feelings and difficult experiences as reasons for why we cannot do things.
If we can simultaneously have compassion for ourselves and other people and at the same time confidence in our ability to become stronger and better, we can make choices that promote constructive well-being, both for the short term and the long term.