Humble Resilience: Bouncing Back. Bouncing Forward.

Humble Resilience: Bouncing Back. Bouncing Forward.

By Bob VandePol, MSW

“No way. That is NOT how I walk!”

Those words formed on my lips long ago in an 8:00 a.m. Anatomy & Kinesiology college class. The professor had just defined walking as “the repetition of leaning forward, falling, and catching yourself.”

I was a college athlete who took pride in my speed and balance. Certainly, my mobility was not limited by such a humble definition. My training focused upon building explosive power, flexibility and muscle memory. She went on to claim that perhaps the most important skill in learning to walk was mastering the steps in getting up after falling.

“That’s it. I’m outta here.”

Years later as I gleefully watched my own children learned to totter around the house, her theory made greater sense – for toddlers, that is, not me. It was only after a serious water skiing accident that necessitated my learning to walk again that I grasped the full value of that lecture. I had to lean forward, fall slightly and catch myself. Again and again and again.

Resilience lessons learned

Bob VandePol playing basketball1. Life is hard.

It’s wonderful but it’s hard. Acknowledge that fact, lean into it, and move on.

2. We make progress when we risk falling.

Success is often the result of managing risk just outside of our comfort zone into a growth zone. Safe but not too safe.

3. Look at both your destination and what lies immediately in front of you.

Being able to simultaneously picture both a distant goal and your very next step is important. Don’t lose sight of either. We need a mission, and we need tactics.

4. Sometimes we need different fuels to keep moving.

I was fueled by my faith, encouragement from basketball buddies to join them in next year’s tournaments, the desire to be active with my children, and by a surgeon who detachedly said, “That must have felt like a bomb went off in your leg. You will never play again.”

Each of those fuels provided the “why” behind the many painful “whats” of recovery.

5. Resilience includes “just soldiering on,” but it is more than that.

My physical therapist advised and required specific techniques that were helpful. He also pointed out where I could make things worse. He knew his stuff. I loved him. I hated him.

6. Social support is so very important.

We need encouragement, celebration, accountability, and feedback. Resilience is not solitary. Both receiving support and giving support are helpful to self, others, and watchers.

7. We fall often.

Sometimes it’s really embarrassing. That’s OK. We don’t have to pretend it didn’t happen.

Resilience is not stoic denial of the impact of a challenging situation. It is not presenting outward toughness and an answer of “fine” when asked if we are OK.

Resilience acknowledges the full impact of the stressor and answers, “Lousy, but I’ll be OK. This is really hard, and it knocked me flat. But within me, above me, and around me are the resources needed to get back up.”

8. Be consistent to maintain momentum.

Newton’s Laws of Physics include “An object in motion will stay in motion, and an object at rest will stay at rest unless some force acts upon that object.” Keep moving.

9. Celebrate gratefully and frequently.

I appreciate and enjoy being able to run, jump and play more than ever before. I also respect others’ resilience efforts in a new way.

Pick yourself up. Keep walking. Humbly and proudly.


Bob VandePol, MSW serves as Executive Director for the Pine Rest Employee and Church Assistance Programs which provides Critical Incident Response services to business, organizations, schools and universities as well as faith communities.

Active as a keynote speaker, Mr. VandePol has published and been quoted in business and clinical journals, co-authored book chapters addressing workplace response to tragedy and has been featured as subject matter expert in numerous video training series. Mr. VandePol can be contacted at 616.258.7548 or bob.vandepol@pinerest.org.

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