Blog by Jordan Northrup

You wake up to an average day after sleeping soundly through the night. You get your morning coffee and start thinking about your day. You’ve got to get your kids to school. You need to get to work. After work you have a few errands to run, then you need to get home to get dinner going. Soon you start to feel overwhelmed by all the moving pieces. Sound familiar?

Here’s another one. You go to the doctor for your routine physical. They do the normal tests, but then call you back because your blood work has abnormalities. Cancer? But you’re only 35?! Suddenly, things begin to look bleak and you’re not sure if you can do this.

Last one. You’re on your way into the office and you know you’re going to have to present the end of year financials at the annual board meeting. You’ve done your best to prepare, but you know that you’ll stutter when you’re on stage with a microphone. You start to sweat as the dread kicks in.

If any of those scenarios hit home, you’re not alone. Every one of us go through periods where we feel overwhelmed by life, adverse situations, and our professional careers. Everyone experiences adversity, but why do some of us succeed? Why do some of us overcome, while others fall apart in ruin? I can’t change your situation, but I can help you to think about and face that situation in a different way. I can show you how to change your mindset so you can overcome it. I want to show you how you can be RESILIENT. define resilience like this:

1. The power or ability of a material to return to its original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched, elasticity. 2. The ability of a person to adjust to or recover readily from illness, adversity, major life changes, etc., buoyancy. The ability of a system or organization to respond to or recover readily from a crisis, disruptive process, etc.

What does “resilience” mean? It means to literally “bounce back.”

In her 2002 Harvard Business Review article, Resiliency: How resilience works, Diane Coutu offers a three-step framework to strengthen resiliency: 1 – Face Down Reality, 2 – Search for Meaning, 3 – Continually Improvise.

Face down Reality: No matter the circumstance in which you find yourself, slipping into self-denial about the severity of what’s in front of you will not prepare you to persevere through the trial. We create stories around ourselves to feel better about what is happening, but they’re just that. Stories. The real world is still at our doorstep, and it cares little about the lies we tell ourselves. Rather, if we can accept the brutal reality of what’s before us, we then begin to prepare ourselves for survival. This is not to say that one shouldn’t have hope or optimism; we must have those, but not to the extent that our view of the present is distorted.

Search for Meaning:  It seems that our go-to response to adversity is “why me?” Instead of taking that approach, ask yourself “why not me?” When going through the struggle, try to look for a higher theme or a higher purpose. How could your experience be a light to others? What could you learn from this trial? Rather than focusing on the hardships at hand, why not forge a path to a better tomorrow? Doing so will give you a reason to drive ahead.

Continually Improvise: We have a saying in the Marines, “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.” What do we mean by this? Those who hold steadfastly to their plan tend to come unraveled when the situation doesn’t play out as it was supposed to. Instead, we must constantly adapt and improvise if we hope to get through our trials. The ability to adapt faster than our circumstances ensures that we stay ahead of the situation and force it to react to us rather than the other way around. As Coutu writes, “Resilience is a reflex, a way of facing and understanding the world, that is deeply etched into a person’s mind and soul.”

Let me give you an example. Follow along and see if you can spot the correlation to the resiliency framework.

In 2006, I was a young Marine Corps Lieutenant leading a vehicle mounted combat patrol a few miles east of Ramadi, Iraq. I wanted to have the cover of darkness, so we left our base shortly after midnight.

We drove west along Rt 12, also known as “Rt Michigan.” This stretch of road followed the mighty Euphrates River. Our mission that night was to patrol along the river and deliver much needed supplies to various outposts along the way.

We drove slowly through the small towns and communities built along the riverbanks. We drove under blackout conditions; that meant no headlights. We illuminated our way by wearing night vision goggles. We constantly scanned the road for anything appearing to be a roadside bomb. We scanned the buildings for enemy snipers in the windows. We looked for any kind of threat lurking in the darkness. Eventually we came to the first large town, Mudiq. There was a large bridge that spanned the Euphrates River just before entering the town. We called it the 611 Bridge. A bridge of that size is a strategic asset, so our battalion had a patrol base built on top and below the bridge, allowing us to control foot and water traffic in that area.

We pulled up to the security perimeter and gained access to the patrol base. My Marines began to unload supplies while I coordinated intelligence and movement with the patrol base leadership. After 45 minutes, we were ready to move on. As my vehicle led the patrol out on the far side of the base, I noticed a mosque to our left. As the second vehicle cleared the mosque, I heard a screaming sound and saw a flash of light, followed by an explosion. My worst fears had happened; a rocket propelled grenade had been launched from the mosque minaret and had hit vehicle number two...our fuel truck. Immediately, flames leaped high in air as 800 gallons of diesel fuel ignited. The heat was so intense that the bullets of the machine gun up in the turret began to overheat and “cook off”. Bullets were flying in all directions. The armor on the vehicle began to melt and the truck began to sink into the roadway. I scanned the area for any activity. I noticed three men huddling in the shelter of a roadside shop to my right. I realized they were my three Marines that had escaped from the truck seconds before it exploded. I waved them over to my vehicle as we huddled behind the armor plating. Bullets continued to ricochet off our vehicle.

We received a report from the 611-bridge patrol base that they’d spotted a squad of enemy fighters moving onto our position. Mentally, I prepared myself for the complex ambush in which we found ourselves. Despite the chaos of the situation, I knew I needed to remain cool and in control of the situation. I had 30 Marines depending on my decisions, I had an additional three Marines with injuries, an enemy squad coming our way, and I had a burning fuel truck lighting up the area for miles. Why me? Well, why not me? Hadn’t I volunteered to join the Marines? Aren’t Marine officers supposed to lead in combat? Hadn’t I been training for years for just this scenario? The answers were yes, yes, and yes. It was up to me and my Marines to get through this situation together. The question was, how fast could I adapt to the situation and give the necessary orders to come through this alive.

I told my radio operator to report our situation to the battalion command center. The battalion coordinated with friendly units nearby to dispatch two armored personnel carriers to come get my wounded Marines and evacuate them to the nearest Army medical center. At the same time, I ordered my other Marines to maintain an aggressive posture in their vehicle machine gun turrets and get ready for a direct assault. By this time, I could see shadows of enemy fighters lurking along our perimeter, but they never attacked. They saw we were ready for them, so they melted away into the darkness as quietly as they had appeared.

The battalion command center ordered our patrol to return to base. We did so, but not before stopping at the medical center along the way to check on my three Marines. Thankfully, they were shaken up but not seriously hurt. We ended the night much different than when we had set out. We had survived and were all the wiser and more resilient for it.

Whether you find yourself on a battlefield, in the boardroom, or on the high school football team, you will inevitably face challenges. Sometimes the stakes are winning a game, sometimes they’re life and death.

We don’t always get to choose our circumstance, but we do get to choose how we face that circumstance. Choose to fight through and persevere. Choose to be resilient.

Posted April 12, 2023