7 surefire strategies for thriving in adversity

Mirriam-Webster says this about thrive:

Thrive: verb \ˈthrīv \ 3 : to progress toward or realize a goal despite or because of circumstances.

Thriving doesn’t mean we’ve put closure to something and we no longer allow ourselves to feel sadness or pain in our difficulties.

Rather, it’s taking our story and our memories and our hard places with us and stepping back into life while we still have breath.

Photo by Anton Darius | @theSollers on Unsplash

How is it that some people seem to flourish despite life’s challenges, while others wither and curl in on themselves?

I think a good deal of it comes down to choices (and please know that I’m not referring to the person, for example, who’s experienced a traumatic event and has no control over the symptoms of post-traumatic stress).

If you’re ready to step back into life, consider these 7 strategic choices for living well during and beyond adversity:

1. Stay connected.

There is the temptation to withdraw when we’re dealing with rejection, heartbreak, a serious diagnosis, job lay-off, the death of a loved one.

Thanksgiving is coming up and it seems less awkward to stay home and not be around people who don’t know what to say in our losses.

But consider this: If your favorite cousin or best friend was going through a hard time, you would want him or her to be part of the gathering around your table. And that’s how your family and your friends feel about you.

So, accept Aunt Millie’s Thanksgiving dinner invitation, and join in the fun and the cooking and the noise and the background music of football and the laughter.

Stay connected with your people.

2. Become comfortable with aloneness.

For those who have lost a spouse, or experienced a divorce or break-up, in addition to staying connected, learn to be comfortable with aloneness.

I love venturing out with my hiking posse, but there are times I relish hiking a wilderness trail that was a favorite of Gary’s and mine. Alone. I let a friend know where I’m going and then text when I get back to the trailhead.

I’ve sat in restaurants and movie theaters alone. And I’ve taken several solitary road trips out of state. And even though those dates and trips would have been infinitely more fun with my husband, they were still all very pleasant.

Here’s the thing: The more we venture out alone, the less daunting it becomes.

3. Learn something new.

There’s a Harvard Medical School article titled “Rev Up Your Thinking Skills by Trying Something New” that indicates three specific things that may help keep the brain more resilient:

  1. Healthy living (good nutrition and physical activity)
  2. Staying socially connected
  3. Challenging the brain by learning something new

Ask a friend to teach you how to play the guitar. Sign up for that foreign language class. Try your hand at sign language (no pun intended). Or cake decorating. Learn to do something you’ve always wanted to do.

4. Challenge yourself.

This thought from Abigail Brenner, M.D.:

Challenging yourself pushes you to dip into and utilize your personal store of untapped knowledge and resources. You have no idea what you’re made of unless and until you venture outside of your own familiar world.

I’ve always admired stand-up paddle-boarders: balanced on a surfboard in a standing position while paddling out into the water without getting dunked. Not anything I’d ever be able to do.

And then, while in Puerto Rico with Son Jeremy and DIL Denise, I signed up for SUP lessons. It was fabulously fun. And the board only dunked me once.

There is something brave-making about challenging ourselves—and not just on the physical level. I think it must have something to do with the courage it instills when we achieve what we thought would be hard, which motivates us to continue daring new things.

5. Venture out.

Step away from the comfortable. Explore. Create adventure.

If your barren place happens to be widowhood, then consider traveling somewhere you and your spouse had talked about going together.

Gary and I trekked all over the Cascades near our hometown in Oregon, and we enjoyed several hikes in Wyoming’s Tetons and the Colorado Rockies. Next stop: the Swiss Alps.

But we ran out of time.

And so a year after Gary died, I met up with a crew of fellow hikers in Switzerland with the intent of scattering some of Hubby’s ashes in the Alps (had I not forgotten to pack them). And it was an epic adventure.

6. Give back.

An article in Forbes indicates that “research has confirmed … having a purpose outside yourself is good not only for your mental health, it’s also good for your physical health, longevity and even your genes.”

It’s about having an outward focus, noticing other people going through adversity, and doing what we can to help alleviate their challenges. This takes the focus off our own hard stuff for those few moments, that hour, that day.

I get calls from friends and family: “My best friend’s husband was just diagnosed with cancer. Is it OK if I give her your phone number?” “My cousin passed away and his wife isn’t doing well. Would you mind talking with her?”

It blesses me to no end to make myself available to these people.

7. Lean into God.

By leaning into God, I mean reading his Word, and listening for his voice, and pouring out our hearts to the one who keeps Earth from colliding with Venus.

The one who put the playfulness in chipmunks and the wag in a dog’s tail, who planted redwood trees and strawberries, and designed the gorgeous, fluffy white stuff that swirls from the skies to sugar-coat the mountains.

The one who created us for fellowship with Him.

That God.

One final thought …

It was C.S. Lewis who said:

Hardships often prepare ordinary people for extraordinary destiny.

I look back on Gary’s and my wilderness years — those thirteen years that included a job lay-off, loss of home and investments against retirement, a live-in mother sinking into dementia, a cancer diagnosis, and stumbling into widowhood.

And while I would never wish that on anyone, I am grateful for how that desolate place shaped me into who I am today: more compassionate, kinder, with stronger faith and a deeper appreciation for all the simple pleasures that make up my brimming life. And quite frankly, I like this person better.

P.S. If you know someone who’s going through a hard place, please share or tweet.


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  1. Wendy Archer

    Thank you again Marlys for your wisdom and thought-provoking posts which often bring comfort, smiles, encouragement and determination to me (and others, I am sure).

  2. I love these words, Marlys, and hope it’s ok if I share a link on my Dear Julie page.

  3. Grace Lawson

    Your words are indeed inspiring and so helpful to so many people. You do have a wonderful God given talent for writing. God bless you abundantly !!!

  4. Kelly Turner Cole

    Marlys! Awesome words, oh how I needed to read this.. I am in another hard place in my life. And this is just what I needed to add to my arsenal of surviving to thrive through it all.

    I thank God for what you are doing now.. I pray your capacity to do more for God increases, and your blessings be overwhelming to you and your family!
    Love ya heart!

    • Oh, Kelly, I’m so sorry to hear you’re in another hard place in life. As if you haven’t already gone through enough. I love how you said, “surviving to thrive.” That describes you to the core. I’m praying for you and rooting for you, my friend.

  5. Marshall Matthews

    Wonderful, encouraging thoughts Marlys!

  6. Peter

    Such an encouraging read… Our time recently (my Barbara & I) due to Barbara’s condition and her slow recovery, has obviously created changes and has caused me to sometimes sink into a helplessness so far as how I’m able to help her, BUT it’s my being there and using many of the things of which you write, especially turning frequently to give my concerns to God, knowing his words will help me to find love’s way in our ‘togetherness’. As you said, ‘Being there’ for who ever may need you (Marlys) is ‘love in action’, we applaud you and I truly understand the ‘having a purpose’ especially in those times when others turn to you, God will guide you/us. C.S Lewis knew a thing or two, for sure.
    Sorry if I have overly burdened, thank you for who God would wish you to ‘be’. Our love, Bx P & family.

    • I love how you wrote this, Peter: “… knowing his words will help me to find love’s way in our ‘togetherness’.” Beautiful.

      Yes, for sure C.S. Lewis knew a thing or two! Thank you for sharing.

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