During the drive back from San Diego last night, my 21 y/o son and I had a conversation about fortitude. How this one acquaintance of ours had the opportunity to really do something wonderful, but instead the opportunity got snatched away from her.
I wondered if it had been snatched away because she continually talked about being so tired, so stressed out, so worn from doing this something wonderful (which made others in the story think – well, she’s not up to dealing with this something wonderful, hence the taking away of the opportunity).
And I wondered – this would have been the perfect time for her to show the world that she DID have it in her to do awesome things. To triumph over nature and adversity. She didn’t, and that boat sailed without her. (Metaphor.)
I don’t understand that mentality. Maybe it was the way I was raised, but when things start to fall apart, the LAST thing you do is fall apart. You hold in your gut, dig deep, and get everyone over the hump so to speak. Then after the crisis has passed – THEN you can fall apart.
When I mentioned all this to my son, he said that lots of people don’t have that ability to dig deep and maintain their sanity while the sky is falling and at the same time take care of everyone else so they don’t get a concussion. (Okay – maybe he didn’t put it quite like that. But he could have, because he’s damned creative.) Which I guess I knew already, but it made me sad.
What do you think? Do YOU have that internal fortitude? (I think of it as what got everyone through two world wars. Dig in, do what must be done type of thing.) Does everyone have it, but not believe that they do? Can it be taught, or ripped out of a person?
Most important – is that kind of fortitude truly uncommon now? Have we as a society lost the art of doing more with less, and without whining about it? I’d love to know your opinion…
Great post 🙂 I’m always surprised at how much more I can take right after I decide I can’t take anymore.
It’s not just “taking” adversity though – it’s dealing with it, making the best of it, and not making everyone around you feel like the world is going to hell in a hand basket.
And…I understand what you mean. Another blow? Okay. Deep breath…and, deal with it….
My mother always said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” and I’ve taken that as my motto. Tell me I can’t do something, and that something becomes my goal. I’m proud to say I believe women and tougher and strong in many ways than men, perhaps because we have to take adversity in stride rather than it ruin our lives.
True, Toni – I’m just wondering if both my generation, and the one younger than me, isn’t being taught how to overcome adversity. Some people don’t ever get taught, they just rise above it – others let adversity drag them down. Hm…
Hi Christine – I believe it must be taught, and we’ve fallen off the mark on that one. The good, cushy life is a blessing, but it can weaken us. Tightening the belt and giving a few things up shouldn’t seem like the end of the world.
I don’t know what your friend went through, because you left that pretty nebulous, but it sounds as if she let herself down?
Lynne, I don’t know the full story, and I hesitate to surmise – but my guess is yes, she let herself down. That she never believed she could do it in the first place. Self-fulfilling prophecy, I guess.
I believe a lot of it has to do with “attitude”. If you think you can’t take it anymore, well, then you won’t be able to. But with a “can do” attitude no matter what, you can get it done. It’s all in your head. IMO
That is an interesting question. I think everyone expects more these days and when they don’t get it they think they have been cheated. Sometimes I think we just need to work harder for what we want. I always tell my kids, it will work out but it just might be quite as you imagine it would be. If you don’t try though, you will never have anything.
It depends on the situation. If it is a medical emergency or a family member in need I kick right in and am fine. If it is myself in need and it is not a medical emergency then no I don’t necessarily have the fortitude to push through it – especially if it is a long term problem. So for me it depends on the situation – who is in need, how severe the need is, and how long the need is going to last.
I know many women my age (and some men, too) who have that fortitude. Not sure I see it in many of the younger generation. I think to a certain extent, we as parents may have failed our children by making things too easy for them. “Helping” too much. I remember being bored as a child, and having to figure out for myself what to do, instead of having my life scheduled in An Activity every day of the week.
I had a co-worker who “did” all her daughter’s high school essays and book reports for her, because she felt it was more important the girl get a high grade than struggle with it. (Whereas I limited my help to one proofread and a few suggestions. My son might have gotten low B’s and high C’s, but they were HIS.)
Fortitude is a muscle or skill that you develop by working at it, IMO. If you don’t have – or don’t take – the opportunity to work at it, when push comes to shove, you won’t have it.
Great post, Christine. Really makes you think. I know when doing investigations, I’d often push down the emotions, feelings, & thoughts and just did what had to be done. There were times I should have been more afraid. There were times I should have been immobilized by what I was witnessing. But I just did what I had to. One part of my brain was working over time to make quick decisions for the safety of others as well as myself. The other part was just cataloging everything to be dealt with later. After everything was done and I was safe at home, I at times found myself shaking and even crying to release all that was pent up.
Am I as adept at this with my personal life? No. I try. But I don’t always manage it. I am working harder on it though. I think the younger generations don’t really have that. I was taught to keep going and to count on myself (not that I didn’t have great support from my family but they wanted me to be independent). As someone said above, I think we’ve made it way too easy on the next generation. They have a problem, it’s fixed. They have a need, it’s met. They’re not taught responsibility and accountability like we were. Now I’m not saying all of the next generation is like this. But I’ve met way more than I’d like of those that have no idea how to be responsible for themselves and feel that the world & everyone around them, “owes them”.
I really enjoyed reading this post.
People my age (40s) seem to have a hard time toughing it out. I suspect it is because we’ve had pretty cushy existences. The average person my age has never had to really struggle to get what he or she wanted (participation trophies, no child left behind, a free four-year ride to college courtesy of mom and dad). Many of us don’t know how to press forward or how not to break down when the going gets tough. We’ve just never had to do it.
In some ways, we are blessed to live in such a prosperous, sensitive time. In other ways, we are crippled by it.
I have been told, and I think it is true, that we teach ourselves either to overcome adversity or to be overwhelmed by it, by looking back at how we dealt with earlier failures and setbacks.
That is why it is important to give children the opportunity to fail, to struggle, to succeed or not. It is not just the immediate success or failure that is important, but the lesson learned that, yes, you do come out the other side. You did learn whatever you need to know to face and overcome adversity the next time around (and there WILL be a next time).
Those children who go through this process are more resilient and adaptable than children who are sheltered, who never face a loss or failure. They have a better grasp of reality and a better sense of self and community.
I was taught “tanstaffl” — there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch — that you earn when you succeed, and you learn when you fail, and that the struggle is common to all of us, so important to live in community and support each other in tough times and good ones.
Hmm, do I have fortitude? Yes, and sometimes I wish that I didn’t. I am currently, for the next four months, still in my forties. I don’t think that age has anything to do with fortitude. I think it is more what Beverly suggested in that parents who “help” their children too much interfere with the development of fortitude.
If you never have to deal with a bad situation, an unfair teacher, a shoddy coach, betraying friends, etc… then how do you learn to deal with a horrible boss, backstabbing co-workers, undermining mentors? Protecting people from bad situations means that they will not KNOW that they can handle other challenges. Helping people schedule, organize and complete work means that they won’t know how to do it for themselves later on.
I think this happens more in the last few decades than it did when I grew up. However, it is a choice every parent/person needs to make. Let the 8 year old fail. Take the 5 year old to kindergarten in their pajamas if they refuse to get dressed. Making mistakes, correcting them and learning from them is what develops not only fortitude, but true self-esteem. Yes, you show them how to do stuff, but it is their choice what they do or do not do. On the other hand, I know many teens with fortitude and I think it developed because their parents did not “help” their child nor own their child’s mistakes.
Sometimes I’ll read a book and think, “Wow, those were hard times,” or “That person went through so much.” Then I reflect on my own situation and realize whatever I’ve been griping about is not that bad. It makes me grateful. I do think that some people don’t have a lot of emotional strength.
I’ve never thought of myself as having fortitude. However, looking back over my life, I can see that I do. When I was immobilized by pain, I still got up and fed the animals. When grief overwhelmed me, I still went to work and got things done. I don’t know why I do that. To be sure, there are days when I pull the covers over my head and wallow, but then I get up and get on with things.
I finished all but the last semester of a Masters in Counseling (College Student Development emphasis). In many of the classes, the term “resilience” came up – the ability of a person to deal with adversity, and keep going. I don’t know if it’s taught (certainly I was’t allowed to wallow as a child!!), or if, as stated in my course work, it’s something you just have. All I know, is that it is a disappearing trait in the human race.
I have close friends, and even family members who prefer to dwell on their problems rather than kick themselves in the butt and do something about them. It’s irritating. However, I can’t tell them to do that – it’s something they have to do for themselves, much like an alcoholic deciding to get sober.
It’s hard to keep going when it seems everything is against you. I look back at those times and think about how much I learned from them. I try to remind myself of the “learning opportunities” when times get tough.
Oh, and the reason I didn’t finish my Masters? I figured out that they were all nuts…
Good question. By the time you get to my age (60’s), you better darn well have it … and no whining please. There’s simply no room for that!
Your question caused me to think about some observations I’ve made lately within my own family. I think the younger generation (in their 20’s and 30’s) have it. They’ve been clobbered by the economy and can see life may not be as easy for them as it was for us. I feel really fortunate to have enjoyed some of the best decades of the last century and hope somehow that things will turn around so the younger generations will feel the hope and excitement for opportunities that my generation did.