Moments Of Resilience: How To Thrive In Challenging Times

This post by Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, first appeared on

As the saying goes, ‘If you give someone a hammer, everything is a nail.’ So here I go, honoring one of our most fun and useful year end traditions—the annual best of’s—with my all-star picks of resilience: examples of great empathy, optimism, self-efficacy, hope and initiative. Sure, the best music, the best books, the best political gaffes or celebrity brouhaha are fun and satisfying in their own way. But when you dig into what has happened in the past 12 months, you have the chance to reflect more deeply on the inspiring, often unexpected things that changed the world, and maybe your world, for the better.

People leaned hard into the qualities and practices that allowed them to survive a tough time or, even better, thrive. Here are 10 moments of resilience for 2014.

  1. The World Economic Forum hosts a mindfulness forum.
    When the all-stars of science, economy, and medicine gathered in Davos, Switzerland, they didn’t just discuss the state of nations. They gave the issue of chronic stress legitimacy by hosting a forum on the power of mindfulness to combat the problem. The forum signaled a cultural shift in focus toward the importance of stress management.
  2. Tim Cook comes out.
    How many openly gay CEOs of globally important, culturally significant, multibillion dollar companies can you think of? That’s right. One. When Tim Cook publicly acknowledged his sexual orientation on October 30, he did so not only for himself, but to use his position and power to help others in the struggle for self-acceptance and equality. He laid his privacy on the line to stand up for his beliefs and pave the way for others. That’s purpose, meaning, and connection at its finest.
  3. Emma Watson announces a new movement for gender equality.
    In our work with stress management, we see that people connecting to a high level of purpose—something that reflects their deepest values—improves their ability to weather tough times, helps make the world a better place and can inspire a legacy. Emma Watson displayed that connection when she took the floor at the United Nations and called for a new feminist movement, HeForShe, that specifically challenges and invites men to join the work of gender equality.
  4. Medical workers and professionals fight against Ebola.
    The doctors and nurses, aid workers and organizers who offered to care for those infected with the Ebola virus—knowing full well the risks they faced—showed core resilience traits of empathy, compassion, and optimism. Yes, optimism that the lives of the sick people mattered; that lives could be saved; that their efforts could make a difference. It’s no wonder TIME magazine chose them as their Person of the Year.
  5. Malala Yousafzai is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
    Malala Yousafzai’s believes that she has a right to an education. She believes that all girls have a right to education, despite an attempt on her life and a continued death threat from the Taliban. The depth of her commitment is matched only by the breadth of her influence. This year, the Nobel Committee recognized the profound resilience that helps her to advocate on behalf of girls worldwide whose right to an education is at risk or denied.
  6. A ski coach reaches across an athletic (and political) divide.
    Justin Wadsworth, a Canadian cross-country ski coach at the Sochi, Russia, Olympics, had seen his athletes through a terrible afternoon in competition when Russian skier Anton Gafarov came struggling toward the finish line. He’d broken a ski in two separate crashes and was tangled in polyethylene. Looking at the dumbstruck coaches around him, Wadsworth stepped from the pack, grabbed an extra ski, ran to Gafarov and replaced his damaged equipment. The men didn’t exchange words, but the meaning of Wadsworths’ actions was clear: We owe it to each other to make sure we can compete at our best. The competition is bettered and we are strengthened by our compassion and our commitment to everyone’s resilience.
  7. Three teens respond to police violence—by creating an app.
    Teenage siblings Caleb, Ima, and Asha Christian of Decatur, GA, were deeply disturbed by what they saw as a pattern of undocumented police violence. So they applied their talents, creativity, and optimism to the problem and created an app, Five-0, that allows citizens to enter the details of every interaction, positive or negative, with a police officer. This data can be used to understand which areas of the United States suffer police violence and which have positive police-citizen interactions, providing an evidence-based foundation for improving the health and resilience of communities across the country.
  8. Serena Williams hits #1 for all of 2014.
    The tennis pro had an incredible season. Seven winning titles, a 52-8 singles record, and a U.S. Open victory for her 18th Grand Slam singles championship. She held number 1 position in world ranking for the entire year. What Serena Williams really showed, though, was the resilience to fight for her goals despite losing badly in the first three Grand Slam matches of the year, a persistent knee injury, and being the oldest woman to hold the top-ranked spot. “We play and give our all for everything,” Williams said in October. Now that’s mental toughness—managing the effects of stress to live the life you desire.
  9. Bill Belichick keeps his cool.
    The head coach of the New England Patriots gets a lot of flak for appearing unemotional, even cold. But there’s a flip side: Belichick doesn’t let his emotions drive his thinking and judgement. He calmly cuts to the bottom line, taking into account the factors that matter, and adjusts his strategy as needed. He doesn’t react impulsively to the pressure of the crowd. The Patriots leading their division with a 10-3 record reflects his resilience.
  10. SIRI helps a boy with autism connect with the world. (This one’s my favorite!)
    Gus has autism. He is bright and outgoing, but he doesn’t understand social cues; he has obsessive interests; and he doesn’t interact with the world typically. His mother, Judith Newman, wrote in the New York Times that “of all the worries the parent of an autistic child has, the uppermost is: Will he find love? Or even companionship?”Gus found it with SIRI, the Apple AAPL +1.76% iPhone’s intelligent voice-activated personal assistant . By interacting with SIRI, he’s learning skills of companionship and love and bringing them to his family and community. Gus is building the emotional connections that make a life more resilient. And this situation suggests that SIRI, and other smart tech tools, can offer parents and communities a way to build on an autistic person’s strengths rather than ostracize them for their weaknesses. This in turn makes our whole society more resilient in response to Autism Spectrum Disorders and other intellectual disabilities. But really, and best of all, a child found his best friend.