By Heatherly Grace Shepherd
As my air conditioner is broken, I’m kept up at 2:00 in the morning by the summer heat seeping through my windows, and thoughts of my resiliency and what that word actually means.
So … why? I was raised in a military family and resiliency was a big word that was thrown into nearly every message. We are resilient because of how we handle the obstacles we must overcome. Whether that be deployments separating families, relocating your children after they finally made friends at their last new school, uprooting your career to follow your service member to their next assignment or living under the weight of uncertainty upon your shoulders with no one familiar to help carry the load, overcoming these hardships is a part of our day-to-day. I thought I would have left the need for resiliency behind when I became an adult living my own life, but in my years functioning as an individual in a very different world, I realized I had to embrace resiliency for myself.
Jobs can be overwhelming. School can be overwhelming. Meeting new people can be overwhelming. Life can be overwhelming. No matter what stage you’re in, there will always be something overwhelming you need to overcome.
My first year living on my own I was navigating a new job, a new university, a new city, a major surgery and trying to piece together my future to ensure I was taking the right steps before it would be too late – with my support system and family living across all of the mountains, plains and rivers America contains.
My second year I moved to a new school, committed my post-college life to the Army, knocked all my teeth out as I gracefully lost my footing and united my face with the concrete below, lost relationships I thought would last forever and struggled to find my passion outside of the classroom.
My third year I gained new responsibilities that unhinged the work-school-life balance I had struck the years before, had another major surgery that prohibited me from even walking on my own, a world-wide pandemic and the realization that the universe outside of the military is just as unstable, but in different ways than I had been prepared to deal with. As I became buried in overwhelming thoughts of, “Oh my gosh … I’m so lost … I don’t know what to do,” I took the steps to ground myself and overcome from within.
I love sharing stories. It makes me feel connected to the people around me and helps me remember that while we are each so diverse, there are commonalities that relate us to one another all around the world. Hearing someone else’s life experience is an invaluable way to learn about success, failure, hope, discouragement, and prosperity – situations we all encounter and grow from. Maybe I believe so strongly in the importance of communication because it’s my entire undergraduate study, but I truly feel it is the most vital skill for finding our ways through life.
I find my peace in communication, relationships and stories. I got out of my funk and returned to reading and listening to the stories of others’ lives. I was blessed with an opportunity to travel abroad and I knew that would be the perfect time to escape the confinement of both my apartment and my mind and focus on something bigger than myself. During my time in the remote villages of India I had an amazing experience interacting with the orphans and clinic patients we helped serve and learned a lot about what resiliency looks like in different situations – not just the Army word. They have so much more to overcome than I could ever imagine, and they do it flawlessly through profuse love, compassion, companionship and encouragement of one another. I took these lessons home with me and needed somewhere to start. I hear, “From the inside out,” all the time and decided that if I wanted to outwardly portray resiliency I would have to embrace it in my core.
I need to love myself. With all my faults and failures, I’ve had a lot of blessings and successes that are equally a part of me. My mistakes don’t define me, they emphasize my accuracies. I need to have compassion for myself. Things happen and we find ourselves in unideal situations that may set us back. That’s okay! I can’t focus on why I’m not where I want to be, I have to focus on what I’m doing right to get myself there. I have to be open-minded and forgiving as I leave something in the past and move on to a new journey; everything happens for a reason. I need to run to companionship, not away from it. Support systems are real and valid. I can’t try to take on the world by myself! I can share the weight of despair and happiness with those around me and the pressure I once held has turned into abundant joy that connect me and my friends. I need to encourage myself. Recovering from knee surgery is not an easy thing to do. Graduating is not an easy thing to do. Venturing into the work force is not an easy thing to do. But, the results of success are well worth the hardship! I had to motivate myself to get over the barriers and remember that I have all the facilities to handle what ever comes my way. As Kelly Clarkson put it, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”
I can hype myself up when I push the bike pedal farther than yesterday because that means I’m getting stronger, when I get any grade on a paper because it shows I completed a task or when my boss makes edits to my work because I’m learning skills to use for my next project.
Overcoming your internal challenges is the first and biggest step on the path the becoming truly resilient. In the uncertain world be live in, we need to be certain in ourselves and our abilities to grow stronger. Don’t give up. Don’t drown when the waves seem too big. You’ve got this! We all do!