How to Thrive in 2015: Take Your Cue from these 7 Resilience All Stars

At the end of year I took a good hard look at who had exhibited considerable resilience in 2014, and made a list of my favorites. Not only do they serve as great examples of great empathy, optimism, self-efficacy, hope and initiative; they also are the most likely to flourish in the next year. Why? Because resilience is a skill that you build, and that, like any skill, gets better with practice. These folks leaned hard into the qualities and practices that allowed them to survive or rise above a tough time. Learn from what they did in 2014, and let them inspire your efforts to thrive in 2015.

1. Tim Cook came 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.

2. Emma Watson announced 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.

3. Medical workers and professionals fought 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.

4. Malala Yousafzai was 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.

5. Three teens responded 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.

6. Bill Belichick kept (and 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. And his leadership has results: the Patriots are headed to the big game again this year.

7. SIRI helped a boy with autism connect with the world.
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 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.