For much of my adult life, I’ve been fascinated by the ways people sustain their resiliency in the face of tough times. This interest led me to focus my dissertation research on the topic and collaborate
with my colleague Dr. Lynn Schmidt on a book we’ve co-authored about women, career adversity, and resiliency. This professional interest has recently taken on a deeper meaning with a discovery of a fascinating document created by my Grandma Connie shortly before her death in 1985.
Connie spent all of her life in California. My uncle Don, Connie’s brother, wrote about her in one of his regular opinion columns in the Miami Herald in the 1970s:
She worked as a legal secretary by day during the week and as a mother and grandmother the rest of the time. She did a good job at whatever she tackled. Connie was a damn good sister. From the time I was a little boy, no one in the family ever referred to her as anything but “Poor Connie.” That tag was hung on her because she never had enough money; any car she owned was sure to break down on the road; she had the first divorce in the family; she had to drop out of college because the depression found our parents on the verge of bankruptcy. Thus it was always “Poor Connie."
I was just beginning to know Connie as an adult around the time of her death. While my Dad had shared stories of her life and how much she positively influenced him, her life was a blur to me. Because Connie lived north of San Francisco and I resided in Virginia, it was rare for us to spend time together. Only recently did I have any idea of the challenges she faced in her life and how resilient she was with the discovery of a powerful document she created.
Connie created a visual timeline of her life from 1907 to 1977 that identifies phases of her life including her location, peak experiences (“highs”), major challenges (“hurdles”), and significant events that occurred during this period (“happenings”). The timeline of her life stretches nearly six feet long. I was awestruck when I read this document and discovered revealing details about what she faced and overcame in her life:
Her first husband’s intense jealousy of her and substantial debts of his she had to take responsibility for paying in 1940
A war-time job she took where she had to assume a supervisory role for the first time with 18 subordinates in 1943
Intensive loneliness she experienced as a result of moving in 1946
Compulsory retirement work then unemployment in 1974
Being elected president of her local legal secretaries association in 1976
Her timeline poignantly concluded in 1977 with a description of some peak experiences during that period including the phrase “Ah, peace!” A life well-lived, indeed.
I have no idea why Connie created this timeline. However, its the same type of personal development activity I’ve applied to my life as well as using this approach with my clients. A great strategy for building resiliency is a look back at our lives at challenging times we overcame to identify the factors that enabled us to thrive. Based on my father’s description of how Connie transformed his life when she adopted him as a kid, I suspect her innate sense of hardiness and motivation served her well through many tough situations.
Despite her undeserved label “Poor Connie,” my Grandma embodies the essence of what it means to be resilient and thrive. The legacy she created with her life, passed to me through my father, is such a source of inspiration when I face tough times as well as deepening my commitment to my mission of inspiring people to live purposefully and resiliently.
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Dr. Kevin Nourse has more than 20 years of experience developing resilient leaders and is the founder of Nourse Leadership Strategies. Together with Dr. Lynn Schmidt, he wrote Shift Into Thrive: Six Strategies for Women to Unlock the Power of Resiliency, which will be launched on September 12, 2016. His book is now available on Amazon for advance purchase.
(c) 2016 Kevin Nourse