The saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” has flowed from mouths of young and old for over a century, but does that make it true? As we stare challenges in the face, we often think of people who have beat the odds, overcome, broken barriers to get to the other side. How do we build the resilience found in those who inspire us and who is that person to you?
My grandmother is my resilience warrior. She was born in a small historic town in Puerto Rico to a growing family that consisted of 12 brothers and sisters. Her mother passed away shortly after and she went on to be adopted by godparents who gifted her with 12 more brothers and sisters. At just 19 years old, she moved to Boston to start a new life. She raised three kids alone, attended college, and worked for a major city hospital for nearly 27 years. By the time she raised me, she had seen it all. Thinking back at some of the things we went through, her ability to collect herself and put on a brave face amazed me. To this day, nothing rattles that woman.
I misunderstood all her advice and I’ll spend the rest of my life learning lessons through her layers of wisdom. I thought she didn’t understand me, when in fact, she knew my hiccups were temporary. A firm believer in the saying ‘it could be worse’ and she was right. Now with a child of my own, I think of the sayings she instilled in me. ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ being one of them.
The way I respond to problems has changed significantly over the past 15 years. Problems evolve but so do you. You go through your first breakup in high school and truly believe you’ll never love again. You lose your wallet for the first time and fear you’ll never make ends meet. Resilience comes in a two part growth process. It starts with an a-ha moment where you learn if a problem doesn’t physically kill you, you’ll survive. You gain a lot of confidence in knowing that if you are still living, there’s a chance to turn things around. This is what I call hope.
The second part of the saying “makes you stronger” touches on takeaways and how it contributes to your overall growth. Think about something difficult you’ve had to endure and what you learned. Have you ever been through a breakup and discovered qualities you did or didn’t want in a future partner? Learned about your professional goals or a desire for a career change from a job you’ve left? Realized a mistake in something you’ve said and approached things differently? All contributes to growth and it indeed makes you stronger.
This process spans over the course of your life and ultimately reduces the dramatic response to adversity. Recognize your trials for opportunities to learn and grow. Apply lessons and share your experiences with others. Next time you’re blasting Kelly Clarkson’s “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and singing at the top of your lungs, believe it because what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.