Upon unexpected termination at work, some people fall into a “justice trap.” They think that somehow a cosmic sense of justice will prevail. Consider the 12 million people who starved in the Ukraine in the 1930s, however, at the hands of Josef Stalin. Is that cosmic justice?
Justice, like fairness, is an ideal. In the endeavors of humankind, fairness is certainly worth seeking, but, like justice, it is largely illusory.
Events of varying magnitudes can disrupt one’s sense of homeostasis. Disruption and reintegration occur often, even simultaneously. Yet for each of us, increases in our resilience can occur in mere moments or over the course of several years, depending on what we experience and how we process it.
Perhaps the quintessential example of the resilient individual is none other than the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was defeated in his bid for Congress on many occasions. Even as late as 1858, two years before he won the presidential election, Lincoln lost his bid to become a senator from Illinois.
1831 – Failed in business
1832 – Defeated for legislature
1833 – Again failed in business
1834 – Elected to legislature
1835 – Sweetheart died
1836 – Had a nervous breakdown
1838 – Defeated for speaker
1840 – Defeated for elector
1843 – Defeated for Congress
1846 – Elected for Congress
1848 – Defeated for Congress
1854 – Defeated for Senate
1856 – Defeated for Vice-President
1858 – Defeated for Senate
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Following everything written above, in 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States.
A benchmark for the ages
Anyone studying Lincoln’s life could draw the conclusion that until 1860, when he was 49, he was largely a failure. Did he let election defeat after election defeat subdue his willingness to serve? Apparently, not at all. The resilience he exhibited during his decades-long quest to be elected to public office was eventually rewarded when he was elected U.S. president.
Once in office, Lincoln’s resilience became the benchmark of his tenure, during perhaps the most harrowing time in our nation’s history. The Civil War, in which a divided America slaughtered itself by the tens of thousands, is unprecedented in our history. All other mass casualties from wars or attacks came at the hands of external enemies to the U.S. Only Lincoln, amidst all other presidents, governed during a time in which Americans fought Americans; in some cases, literally brother against brother.
So, you had a meeting that didn’t turn out so well? Undoubtedly, Lincoln had one harrowing experience after another, as he lost the runs for U.S. Congress and for the Senate repeatedly. Somehow, as he processed his experiences, he managed to “fail forward,” drawing upon the reflections and lessons that he gained. Indeed, many successful people in history experienced career setbacks before ultimately achieving their greatest triumphs.
Drawing upon his inner strength, Lincoln’s lessons from childhood, his marvelous, self-initiated version of home-schooling, the philosophy and resilience he had developed over the years and his legal education, he was able to maintain a perspective of equanimity over a four-year period that would have broken other men.
Albert Einstein, for example, worked as a lowly clerk in the Swiss Patent Office when he developed his Theory of Relativity. Thomas Edison made 8,000+ unsuccessful attempts to find the proper filament for his lightbulb. Babe Ruth struck out more times than anyone on his way to hitting more home runs than anyone.
So, face your obstacles head on, and realize that you are more resourceful than you currently presume.