The most resilient people I’ve come across, they don’t even have time to talk about resilience. What do they do? They smile, they keep their heads down, they work, they get on with life. It’s in their lifestyle, in their daily habit. Sometimes they stay that way because it’s the only way.
Where does resilience come from? Call it coping mechanism if you like. Where is it when you need it most? Does it live in La La land? Perhaps it’s tricking you, leading you on, playing hide and seek with you. Overall, they say resilience is within you. Sure! Very convenient! Always easier said than done. If you’ve come this far and you’re already yawning or rolling your eyes, I don’t blame you. Resilience sounds like a buzzword but is it just another cliché to bore you to sleep?
If you buy into what resilience has to offer, then brace yourself for some good news and bad news. The good news is resilience is something you already have. You don’t need to rely on others to give it to you. The bad news is we often look externally. Only later (rather than sooner), do we realize it wasn’t out there in the first place. Sometimes we just have to learn the hard way.
So, after a rejection, after a failure, after a defeat, after a setback, after a mishap, or after a bad luck, how do you bounce back, regroup yourself and rebuild your life, your relationship, your business, your career, your health or whatever you hold dear?
In September 2006, my former partner and I went travelling to a small town called Khao Lak in Thailand. The first half of the trip was for business – attending an HR conference, hosted by Cisco, the company he worked for then. The second half was for pleasure – touring around Phuket and surrounds.
Unlike Bangkok or Phuket, Khao Lak wasn’t as touristy and crowded. With my limited knowledge, I didn’t really know what to expect before I arrived there. A bit flashback: Khao Lak was one of the areas hit hard by tsunami back in December 2004. Before the trip began, I told myself I’m going to a small village in a developing country, don’t expect too much. It won’t be like living a life on a fast lane that kind of thing.
In case you’re wondering, part of the reason why Khoa Lak (as opposed to other more popular places) was chosen as the conference venue was to inject much-needed capital to the local economy. Because of this idea that we were doing it for a good cause and with good intentions, it’d make the whole trip extra special and meaningful, right? Not exactly! A few individuals weren’t so enthusiastic. I overheard that they felt either reluctant or compelled to stay in a place that was recently devastated by a natural disaster. I guess it is understandable. We’re only humans. After all, the area was declared as a disaster zone. Only less than two years ago, the powerful tsunami came so fast and without warning, it literally wiped out the coastal town within minutes. The catastrophe sadly resulted in thousands of lives lost including the locals and the tourists.
Fears aside. The journey began…
As soon as I set foot in the land, the air, the humidity felt and smelt different. That’s when you realise Wow you’re in a foreign country!
It was a monsoon season I remember clearly and on the day we arrived, there was a heavy rainfall down where we were heading. The wet weather could’ve been a big turn off, but it did nothing to dampen my excitement to be there. I was on a holiday mode! I got plenty of time!
Le Meridien Resort, our conference venue, was more remote and further away than I’d anticipated. From where we got picked up at Phuket International Airport to the resort was about a 2-3 hour trip by car.
Some might’ve thought the transport was such a drag and decided to have a quick nap whereas I quite enjoyed the views along the way. They reminded me very much of the Southern part of Taiwan in the early 70’s, where I spent my childhood on. It was this instant connection that kept me engaged, entertained and wanting more.
It was sightseeing to remember. I saw a woman riding a motorbike in the next lane. She was wearing a helmet and a big yellow raincoat enough to cover herself and her fellow passenger, a little kid sitting in the backseat. With the gusty wind coming from all directions at a 45-degree angle, they got wet all over. But they still carried on as if it was business as usual. I felt very fortunate to be in the comfort of this air-conditioned coach.
Also driving passed us by were a couple of utes with people sitting in the tray uncovered. The rain continued to fall, it soaked through their clothing but there was no sign of Hey, look at me, I’m suffering on their faces. They just held on. To them, it was all in a day’s work.
Upon our arrival at the resort, the hotel staff were very attentive to our needs and enquiries. I’ll never forget the welcoming refreshments served in the lobby. The Thai style drink was my first experience. It was so refreshing that I even requested a re-fill immediately after I’d finished the first glass. I was very impressed with everything. I couldn’t have asked for a better reception – the hospitality of the resort staff, front and back, the meticulous presentation of the resort rooms, facilities and resturants was the first class. Who would’ve guessed that it was nearly ruined by the tsunami less than 2 years ago?
During my one week stay there, I got a chance to speak with a few resort staff about the impacts of the tsunami on their lives. At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d make them uncomfortable, but I wasn’t quite surprised that they weren’t shy away from talking about it. One guy even pointed out to me where the sea water flowed and how high the it went right where we were in the hall.
If what they’d gone through isn’t enough to raise a few eyebrows, then read this. Well into our second week, in the national capital there was a military coup aimed at bringing down the then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the cabinet. The army successfully controlled the government and ordered to shut down the national TV network. I remember that day when we turned on the television, it was all fuzzy, there was no pictures on the screen. The event sent shock wave across the globe and all of sudden we felt like we were cut from the outside world. It didn’t take long before our friends and families learned about the situation we were facing here. Khao Lak, however, far away from where the coup took place, the life was still as peaceful as ever. While we were busy reporting back to our loved ones and say we’re OK, the locals, took it quite casually. They treated it like just another day. To them, the coup wasn’t the first time and certainly won’t be the last. Not everyone copes with stress the same way. For people who have never experienced political unrest or aren’t used to this kind of thing, it can be hard. I know one teammate suffered a mental break down. It was so bad that he had to cut the business trip short and fly back home the next day to be with his family.
Resilience, resilience, resilience. Sounds like a good mantra to have. Where do we start? Or should I say where do we stop? The story of our Khao Lak trip provides a great example – There’s something we can learn about how the locals dealt with the aftermath.
What is it?
Stop the victim mentality! But how? Time to rewind and unwind. The answer lies in the question of: How did you start the victim mentality in the first place? Unpack it, undo it from there. Be more than a survivor, be a re-builder of your life…