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How to Bounce Back from a Setback

How to believe in yourelf during a crisis.

Finding the power to survive a crisis

Around Thanksgiving, I boarded a plane to visit family. A woman across the aisle from me struggled to wedge her suitcase into the tight overhead bin, eventually triumphantly closing the door and taking her seat. When we landed, she was yanking and tugging, but the suitcase didn’t seem to want to budge. I asked if I could help, and she replied, “It’ll come. I got it in, there has to be a way to get it out.”

Her calmness and confidence inspired me, striking me as a recipe for cultivating resilience in life. Resilience is the ability to adapt to challenging, stressful or upsetting circumstances, recovering enough to regroup, refocus and find ways back into a positive life, even in the face of a “new normal.” 

The woman’s reaction to her stuck luggage was a beautiful example of one of the American Psychological Association’s tips for cultivating resilience: “Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems.” 

The luggage situation might not meet everyone’s definition of a “crisis,” but anyone who has traveled by air knows how crowded, stuffy and rushed a plane aisle can feel when everyone is trying to get off the plane at the same time. The woman kept her cool by recognizing that her problem had a solution. It had to—she had evidence right in front of her that the suitcase had fit into the bin in the first place.

The moment reminded me of something that happened to me this past fall, when I took a solitary hike along a rocky ocean path. I was enjoying the luxury of time to myself in the fresh air, feeling strong as I picked my way from rock to rock and congratulating myself when I reached the end of the jetty. 

Then I turned around and saw how far my jaunt had actually taken me.

Yikes, that was a long way back. I felt myself slipping into nervous self-doubt. Weren’t there some rocks that had felt wobbly on the way out? What if I slipped and twisted my ankle?

I took a deep breath and, like the woman on the plane, realized with relief that I could certainly make it back—because I had made it out in the first place. I had the same strong legs, the same focused eyes and the same sunshine to guide me home as I’d had on the journey out. When I stepped off the rocks and back onto the shore, I felt relieved, but also confident and accomplished.

When challenges plant seeds of, “I can’t” in your mind, maybe you’ll remember the woman on the plane or me on the rocky path. Wherever life has brought you, consider that there is a way to come back to yourself. You have the power of resilience within you whenever you need it.

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