Back in my youth, I used to love riding a skateboard. I was first introduced to skateboarding in 1986 (yep, that dates me). My brother and I spent the summer in Virginia Beach, VA. My stepfather was in the Navy and stationed nearby. I found the wonder of skateboarding in our apartment complex. I learned new words like ollie, rail slide, street slide, and kick flip.
I studied the kids who could ride, the movements, the tricks, and the crashes. There were some epic crashes! I bartered for my first skateboard that summer, a used Nash Executioner with roller skate trucks. It was wobbly and unpredictable, but I was in love. I found something that was challenging and rewarding at the same time. I had heard of this premiere skate park called Mount Trashmore (yes, that’s the real name) and dreamt of going there for a session, but then reality crashed into my dreams. If I couldn’t stop myself without jettisoning the skateboard or crashing into something, I had a long way to go.
I started reading about what Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero and the Powell Peralta guys were doing but the scabs on my knees and elbows proved that very difficult. I fell down on that rocky asphalt so many times and I would get back up. I fell forward, backwards, and sideways over and over, but that is how I got better. That summer I remember getting grounded from my skateboard just because of my scabs, bumps and bruises. My mom knew that I wouldn’t stop skating, so she made that decision for me. As I healed up, I hit the streets again and again with similar results as before. My scars become reminders of how far I had come.
Well that summer ended, but my dreaming didn’t. My brother and I came back to Illinois and started looking for places to skate in that rural jungle. We made a plan to build our own ramps. We took scraps of wood and made our dreams a reality. The ramp was a crude mixture of wood we salvaged from our uncles. The building plans were elementary at best, but we loved those ramps. We learned how to ride up them, do some stalls, grinds and eventually we dared to drop in. Dropping in, for you non-skateboarding enthusiasts, means you stand on top of the ramp and then force yourself to ride down the ramp. It looks easy in the videos, but the bruised tailbones and egos told the other side of the story. Eventually, I got pretty good at riding. It wasn’t at the same level as the legends, but I could hold my own.
Skateboarding gave me an escape from the painful reality that my mom lived states away from my brother and I, and it taught me the valuable lesson of resilience. The only way I was going to get better was to get up after every fall and try again. I learned the lessons of what to do and what not to do. It helped to form me into the man I am today. I could have stopped and no one would have blamed me. After all, I was perpetually bleeding. I set my mind on the goal of being a skateboarder and that pain was the gauntlet into that dream.
Resilience is an interesting thing. The falls from skateboarding allowed me to learn what to do and what not to do. After a while, I knew the difference between a bad crash and a fall. The education in resilience would become a necessary virtue for my whole life. The practice of riding a skateboard is built upon several habits. You figure out how to kick, where to kick, and how to move your body to make the board go where you want it to go. This takes hours and thousands of simple repetitive movements that resiliently help a person ride. Life has a similar nexus. You can handle adversity after you have some good practices. I like how Greitens explained it.
“Practice builds habits. Our habits are our character. When it comes to virtue, practice “makes a very great difference—or rather, all the difference.” Eric Greitens, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life
No one escapes through this life without pain, suffering and fear. The question that I posit is this, “Will you get bitter as a person or get better as a person?” Or borrowing a phrase from Robert Jordan, “Will you be an oak or a willow?”
“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.” Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven
A huge upside to resilience is that a person has the ability to overcome a setback or a challenge. It is not a magical pill that helps you escape reality. Instead, it allows you to deal with reality without imploding, escaping or living like a victim. Furthermore, the beautiful thing about resilience is that you don’t have to deny your feelings, your reality or become reclusive or stoic. You can still live and move forward being fully human and fully known.
Let’s get down to street level.
Am I resilient?
When you think about the times you have failed, what did you learn? What have you done differently because of that event? Do you find yourself avoiding difficult things? Do you hide in your strengths? When you have a failure do you tend to get back up?
After all, how long does it take for you to recover?
Resilience can be formed through good habits.
Habit #1 Accept failure as a part of growth.
You failed and you are still in the fight. You are taking a breath! You made it through and you don’t have to be defined by the past. We learn by doing so of course you will make mistakes along the way. Woodrow Wilson well noted, “The difference between a strong man and a weak one is that the former does not give up after a defeat.”
Habit #2 Keep things in perspective
Look at your own life and notice the gifts, talents, and skills that you have. You have learned a lot through your experiences and you have people that you can lean on. Your life is not over and those bruises and bumps, even though painful, remind us of the long view (see below) You can take these little habits and make a profound difference.
Habit #3 Take care of yourself
You are human. You have feelings. This is no time for self-denial. The pain is real. What happened was damaging, but it taught you valuable lessons.
Habit #4 Connect with Other people
You were made to live in community. We are social beings. Resist the urge for a rugged individualist mindset of white knuckling through life while ignoring the help that others can provide. Theodore Roosevelt was a godly man that understood living independently wasn’t good for masculinity. He often sought God and church family for support and guidance.
Habit #5 Take the Long View
You have a lot of life to live so “smell the roses” as they say. God loves you more than you know. You have more going for you than what you may be experiencing currently. For those who are in Christ, you will not be defined by your past while you are in Heaven. Things are not as they will be. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (NIV, 2011)
I leave you with one of the best quotes of all time.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizen in a Republic” Speech