by Monica A. Ross, LPC
What else did I find when I went searching on this personal journey for the secret sauce of resilience? I found time and again the repetition of the importance of having a sense of purpose. Emily van Deurzen an existential psychotherapist emphasizes that many people come to therapy searching for meaning. I’ve definitely observed this in my own practice.
And it is important to note that while certainly we are no longer living in the middle ages and by religious rule, still, people turn to religion for meaning. According to the Pew Research Center (2012) eight in ten people in the world identify with some form of religion. The most practiced religion in the world is Christianity.
Having been raised in the Christian faith, I can attest that Christianity’s aim is to offer up a sense of meaning and purpose. And maybe in part it is a sort of crisis in faith that brings people into therapy at times. The therapist’s job then is to help people make sense or meaning out of life’s seemingly meaningless and random events and to work within the context of the client's spirituality or anti-spirituality.
Meaning in life does not have to be tied to spirituality. Wasn't it Garrison Keillor who in gest said "It was a Lutheran town. Everybody was Lutheran. Even the atheists were Lutheran -- it was a Lutheran God they didn't believe in."
If the goal of making meaning could simply be put to gain greater understanding about the why things happen in life, then purpose maybe is more of a how to act based on the meaning that we find. Conversely, when we find no meaning, I believe that facilitates action as well and can sometimes lead to fatal consequences.
There is a favorite quote I have by a political dissident named Vaclav Havel. An article that I cite below from The Nation expresses it well “ ‘Whether all is really lost or not,’ Havel explained in one of his letters to Olga, ‘depends entirely on whether or not I am lost.’ “ (Crain, 2012).
But when a person is living in scarcity and battling things like lack of housing, lack of transportation, lack of employment, lack of money--it is easy to get caught up in ruminating thoughts. I've definitely experienced this myself. Those thoughts may go something like "How did things came to be the way that they are? Rumination is a bouncing back and in fourth in our minds about the causes and the consequences of events.
It’s the next step of asking "For what purpose?" that people may gain relief or at the very least come up with their own answers about purpose that help to make things make sense.
“Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
When we think about best performance practices amongst athletes and billionaires again, a sense of purpose. Elon Musk one of the billionaires I’m referring to talks about not being in the car business, but in the business of wanting to make an impact—that’s passion and purpose. Purpose is both making sense of the past—for what purpose did this happen? But it also has an eye towards the future in terms of my purpose in life is _____(fill in the blank).
While I began to think about these people coming from adverse backgrounds and how they became resilient I began to think that maybe this encouragement to become resilient is dumbed down a bit. Why just resiliency? Within success lies a component of resilience, in other words in order to be successful one has to be resilient.
But there is a place beyond resilience even, a place of truly high performance. Maybe that is what all of these successful entrepreneurs had in some sense achieved. And what do they have in common or what insights can we glean from their experience? The article below in The Nation explains.
Van Deurzen, E. (n.d.). Existentialism And Existential Psychotherapy. Retrieved from http://www.existentialanalysis.org.uk/assets/articles/Existentialism_and_Existential_Psychotherapy_Emmy_van_Deurzen.pdf
The Global Religious Landscape. (2012, December 18). Retrieved from http://www.pewforum.org/2012/12/18/global-religious-landscape-exec/
Crain, C. (2012, March 21). Havel's Specter: On Václav Havel. Retrieved from https://www.thenation.com/article/havels-specter-vaclav-havel/
Kotler, S. (n.d.). Billionaire Wisdom: 8 Insights From a Quartet of the World's Most Effective Entrepreneurs. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/242458