How to Build a Survivor

Survivors are born every day.

You may have heard that resilience plays a key role in whether people survive and thrive after a setback.  Our ability to grit our teeth and bear it may have something to do with it, but I think there is another factor that is often overlooked:  the support system.  A support system can be a network of friends and family, and it can be a setting on your phone reminding you of when it’s time to go to sleep/workout/write.

Plenty of people face significantly serious life choices.  For example:   Do I switch careers?  Do I go back to school?  What should my major be?  Should I go for that promotion?  How do I deal with a demotion?  Do I cut that friend loose?  Do I stay in this relationship or not?  Do I follow through with this medical treatment program?

I know, as I have faced a few of these decisions in the past, sometimes more than once.

I had a massive stroke at the age of 15, and was not expected to live, think, or walk again.  I take great joy in the fact that not only did I survive and learn to walk again, I went on to obtain a graduate degree and am now working my way towards official certification as a professional coach.  I was lucky, because it happened on a Sunday morning at a swimming pool.  The lifeguards knew how to handle medical emergencies.  Sure, the stroke left me with a movement disorder for which there is no cure, but I am here.  I walk and occasionally (not often enough) jog.

At the age of 36, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Again, I was lucky.  It was an aggressive cancer, but it was caught quite early.  I underwent a little over one year of chemotherapy following surgery, but I am here.  And this more recent experience served to remind me of the good fortune I have with such a strong support system around me (parents, husband, friends).

I am often asked whether it is my past challenges that created my resilience.  But just like you, I was resilient the whole time.  And I was lucky.  Not everyone survives these things, and of those who do survive, not everyone thrives.  Some are left stuck and unable to move forward; not knowing how to step into a new life, a new reality.  For those who don’t know what to do next, I am here to tell you that there is hope.  It is possible to rebuild your life after a major set-back.  I have managed to do this at least twice in my life.

The answer to the question of how to build a survivor is that you don’t have to because we come pre-assembled and it’s a matter of tapping into our inner resilience and to putting in place the structures we need to accelerate our journey towards being our best selves.  I feel so lucky because I am now truly happy.  But it was a long road towards realizing that I couldn’t just go back to “my old life” after recovery.  I had to rethink, prepare, and rebuild.  Being a survivor is a lot like construction.  First, you have to design your life from a solid foundation of awareness around your values and purpose.  Then, you prepare the structure before you can layer-in the things that make a life a life (or a room into a room).  Only after you complete these steps can you begin stepping into how you want to be in your new life.

I’ve done this, and so can you.

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