I still remember the socked-in-the-stomach feeling of learning that I had been rejected by my first-choice college. Everyone in my group of friends had been accepted to their dream school except me.
The shock was huge. At 17 I was convinced my life was, if not over, certainly on a downward slide.
I didn't know then that enrolling in my second-choice school would be the best thing I could have done. It was there that I developed a passion for journalism, which became my career. I made friends who are still dear to me, and I met my husband in my junior year.
Now, when my son and daughter face setbacks, I think about that disappointment and hope I've taught them what it helped teach me: You can bounce back when life throws you a curve.
We all experience failures or losses, but we don't all deal with them the same way. Some of us get stuck in hurt and resentment. We may blame others when things go wrong. Other times we blame ourselves and give up and shut down.
Emotionally resilient people, however, respond differently. "They may get angry or distressed, too, but they don't dwell on these feelings," says Al Siebert, Ph.D., director of the Resiliency Center in Portland, Oregon. People who possess this hard-to-quantify combination of courage, confidence, humor, and hope are more able to recover from disappointments. And while, like everyone else, resilient individuals don't get everything they want in life, they get more.
"Resilience is the basic ingredient of happiness and success," says Karen Reivich, Ph.D., a research associate in the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Psychology. "It affects your work performance and relationships. When you're resilient, you can make tough decisions with grace and humor. You stop being a victim and start being a survivor."
Whatever your resilience level, it's a good bet you can improve it. "Everyone has a set range of ability, not just a set point," says Jonathan Haidt, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "Whether you live your life in the lower or upper end of your range is up to you." v
Even though you can't always control what happens to you, you can learn to respond to disappointments and setbacks in more constructive ways. "Resilience is something that anyone can develop at any age," says Reivich, coauthor of The Resilience Factor (Broadway Books). These strategies can help.