For the last nine months, my friend, a journalist, had been trying to pull off something big at work. I’d love to tell you what it was. It was bloody exciting. It wasn't spies or state secrets or celebrity-injunction-level gossip, but it was thrilling nonetheless. And after months of negotiating, organising, manoeuvring, fixing, refixing and finalising, the coup was less than four hours away. Her career was about to be made; she was about to be her bosses' favourite for eternity; she was about to parachute from a plane, cartwheeling through the air with ribbons and fireworks exploding around her, and then she’d land, like a perfectly en pointe gymnast, feet together, head high.
And then, because the universe can turn magic into fuckery quicker than Andrea Leadsom’s leadership bid, it all fell through. The parachute failed. The fireworks never exploded. The coup of the century didn’t happen.
I don’t know how to cultivate resilience – maybe it’s running through the fire enough times that it eventually hurts less. But I do know that when you witness it first hand, it’s incredibly powerful
I felt the heartbreak and deflation from across the other side of London. I imagined the tears she fought to hold back. I imagined the sick feeling in her stomach, the sweating, the flicker of names of all the people she’d have to tell it wasn’t happening. I imagined that feeling of injustice – of getting so close, of doing all that work, of being touching distance of the prize.
Totally, absolutely, completely and overwhelmingly crushing.
After a bit of texting, she called me. I took a deep breath. There will be tears and anger and frustration, I thought. Except there wasn’t. I mean, there was a small wail – a bit like that from a child who has been told it’s time to leave the party, but then – then there was laughter.
She was laughing.
We laughed together. It was OK. There was nothing she could do. There was nothing anyone could have done. It was so close to actually happening that the fact it didn’t happen erred on the comical because life is just like that sometimes. And, as she said to me, “You have to laugh.”
I would have sobbed. I would have had a long chat on the phone with my mum, who would then have probably offered the schlep up to the city to make sure I was OK. I probably wouldn’t have done much for the rest of the day, other than plan on where I was going to order at least two bottles of wine. The self-pity would have been in full swing.
I emailed her that afternoon: “I hope you’re feeling OK.”
“I’m fine” she said. “That didn’t happen, but I’m still going to find something great to replace it.”
I was so proud. Because, in that moment when I picked up the phone and heard the laughter, I also heard an incredible sense of perspective; I heard a resilience; I heard a refusal to be beaten; I heard a, “Shit happens, but up I get and on we go”; I heard a strength of character that didn’t make this the pity-party I would have. She made it a lesson – an experience; within no time at all, she had bounced back. The show went on.
I don’t know how to cultivate resilience – maybe it’s running through the fire enough times that it eventually hurts less. But I do know that when you witness it first hand, it’s incredibly powerful. If something shit has happened or is around the corner, please think of my friend. It’s not what happened – it’s about how you deal with what happens. And for that reason, whatever comes your way, resilience allows you to take back control of the situation. You decide how this is going to pan out; you decide what the next step is. You are not helpless.
And another person’s resilience is exceptionally infectious. I don’t ever want to be at the pity-party. I want to be bouncing back.