Building Resilience

The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with A Single Step

Old Chinese Proverb

The pandemic inches along, with its nearly two years of challenges for the globe. I just spent an hour watching Olympic cross country skiers racing. A top tier racer who fell early in the race was able to win the race with a wide margin of victory. A team whose coach had been quarantined with Covid was shut-out, despite high expectations. A veteran American did well; a young American did very well for his age of 21. And in the women’s race yesterday, similar surprising disappointments for some and similar well-met expectations for others. It’s ski racing. It’s not easy, and it’s not predictable.

But as any well-trained racer knows, the journey to an Olympic medal began many years beforehand with small steps, like discovering the joy of sliding on snow or the early stages of mastery of uphill techniques. There’s a love of the feeling that comes when you do your best–to prepare, to be fit, to be ready and to be mentally tough.

Speaking of mental toughness, the commentating for the Olympics is graced by the presence (and ever astute observations) of Kikkan Randall, US Gold Medal Olympic skier–and cancer survivor. So good to hear her insights on the racers, the course, and the competition. So good to hear her voice!

Small steps can lead to mental resilience. When you face a health challenge, be it cancer or something else, the most precious goal is to remain positive. To do so, take small steps that help you feel empowered and encouraged. Give yourself credit for going for a short walk when the temperature is below zero, for instance, rather than not going out at all. Give yourself credit for resting when your body is tired. Give yourself credit for establishing the goals that you can meet, instead of setting goals that you can not reach this week or this month.

I learned a lot, in 2007, when I was carefully measuring my energy output during arduous chemotherapy. The struggle to remain positive in attitude captured my full attention. Other times, with lesser struggles, we don’t always notice when we are going off-track.

Are you putting off self-care or exercise until your situation is easier? Is the pandemic providing too much of an excuse for not getting enough exercise? Do you miss your friends’ supportive presence? What can you do to make up for these differences? There is always opportunity. Make some small adjustments.

Small steps. I don’t ski as fast as twenty years ago. Illogically, this change surprises me. It shouldn’t. This winter, I have been trying to ski with a light heart and a lot of joy–at the speed that I can ski! I’m trying to no longer compare myself to 20 years ago. I remember that level of fitness, and I really miss it, but I am glad to still be skiing. It’s a pleasure to be out in the woods, in the winter, taking time to enjoy the sport that gave me so much resilience in 2007 when I faced cancer. It’s restorative; it’s good for me; and it reminds me of so many great memories.

I guess the blessing of aging is that you can have a lot of great memories. Make some new memories today. Feel your resilience. Do what brings you joy.