As I was leaving the gym a few evenings ago, working out among the “faithful few” who seem to be there consistently, the attendant behind the desk remarked that the routine calm was about to suddenly come to an end. Puzzled, I had to stop and ask what he meant by that. He laughed and threw his hands up saying, “It’s less than two weeks until the New Year and afterward this place will be packed!” I had to laugh along with him because, as I thought back, I knew he was telling the truth.
The New Year will bring new resolve. Folk, armed with their New Year’s commitments, will bum rush gyms all across the country and max out the schedules of personal trainers. That’s not a bad thing, but unfortunately for many the motivation won’t last.
It’s not just the gym where commitments will fall flat and lie on the ground like a weight too heavy to lift; it will come in the form of other resolutions made at the beginning of 2016. Personal or professional, regarding relationships or finances, education or enrichment, many resolves made at the advent of the New Year fall by the wayside and are left there, often with little attempt to resurrect them.
One of the most profound books I read in 2015 is “Rising Strong” by the renowned scholar and author Brené Brown, Ph.D., research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, which should be on everyone’s reading list for 2016. She addresses, compellingly, what each and every one of us will have to do at some point in the coming New Year: get back up. On the book’s cover Brown proclaims: “If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. This is a book about what it takes to get back up.” She delivers on her thesis.
Often overlooked and under-appreciated, “rising strong” or “getting back up successfully” is an essential quality, concept or creed we need to lock onto. But often we do not, and it’s because the importance and value of “rising strong” is little understood.
Brown addresses this when she speaks to the issue of what she calls “gold-plated rising” or the “Gilded Age of Failure,” which is the penchant today to gloss over the difficulties and challenges that come with recovering from failure, letdowns and disappointments. We glamorize and popularize the stories of those who have bounced back, those who have overcome, but neglect to focus on the effort and pain embodied in the process of overcoming. In doing so, when many face similar obstacles and failure like the glossed-over ones they’ve heard about, and rising becomes much more difficult than they expected, dreams and goals are left lying in the dust.
Brown notes: “Embracing failure without acknowledging the real hurt and fear that it can cause, or the complex journey that underlies rising strong, is gold-plating grit. To strip failure of its real emotional consequences is to scrub the concepts of grit and resilience of the very qualities that make them both so important — toughness, doggedness and perseverance.”
Reviewer Maria Popova makes clear concerning Brené Brown’s work, “To be sure, this isn’t another iteration of ‘fail forward,’ that tired and trendy cultural trope of extolling failure as a stepping stone to success — Brown’s research is about what happens in the psyche and the spirit when we are in the thick of the failure itself, face down in the muddy stream, gasping for air … about the choices involved in living a wholehearted life and the consequences of those choices in rising from our facedown moments to march forward.”
How important is this concept of rising strong? Just look around. Alabama leads the nation in the abuse of prescription medications. I’ve known and know people, professionals, who need such medications daily, not to cope with pain but to cope with life. And it’s not just prescription pills; it can be an abuse of alcohol or illegal drugs. There’s a litany of self-destructive practices used as salve for the pain brought by disappointment or failure in life. However, there are many who experience dashed hopes, shattered dreams and floundered resolutions who don’t self-destruct, but they do give up. Or, if they do get up, it’s not with the strength and fortitude to keep going forward. They may have risen, but not strongly.
You don’t have to be a fan of MMA to be aware of the phenomenal defeat recently suffered by the fearsome and brash yet beautiful MMA fighter Ronda Rousey. The bruising fighter went into the championship fight against opponent Holly Holm with a 12-0 record. Eleven of Rousey’s 12 victories had come in just the first round. However, with a devastating second-round kick to the former champ’s head, Holm achieved what is considered one of the greatest upsets in MMA history. Pictures of the defeated champion — laid out on the mat, knocked out, bloodied and beaten — spread like wildfire on social media. Her bravado, coupled with her ability, had been a big part of her appeal. Because of that bravado, many reveled in her humiliating defeat.
Stumbling, falling and landing flat on our face will not be as dramatic for most of us as it was for Rousey. Most will not applaud our failure or feel triumphant when we fall, but many will wait to see if, and how, we get back up. As you compile your list of goals and resolutions, make sure your last is this: When you fall or fail — and you will in something — you will get back up, you will raise — strongly. Brené Brown’s book will provide an excellent blueprint on how to do so.