Over a meal with a small group of successful business friends a while ago we started to share how the experiences of our early years had influenced our resilience levels. Coincidentally, almost everyone around the table had experienced hardship, feelings of inadequacy, unfair treatment or judgement by authority figures, low self-esteem and times of 'doing without' in our early years (and for some of us, me included, well into our adult lives.)
Hardships and hard times are a precious gift. They teach us. They toughen us. They give us strength - IF we approach them with the determination to overcome. Every one of us noted that if we'd not experienced those earlier tough times we'd not now be capable of doing the work we do, nor in a position to contribute to society in our various ways.
Reflect for a moment on the adults you know. Have you noticed that those who've had an easy life as youngsters do it tough when the pressure comes on? Often the brightest ones, who've not had to work hard in school or even university, struggle the most when complex tasks require solid application. Further to that, when times get tough and jobs get scarce, those same people are not well equipped to cope with the situation. Many of them find it scary, depressing and mighty uncomfortable.
On the other hand, if you've already been at the bottom of the pile, if you've already survived on the smell of an oily rag, if you've been unemployed or part of a group that the 'popular' crowd don't want to be bothered with, you know you can deal with tough times - because you've done it before.
It starts at childhood, so let's consider our child-raising techniques. I speak from the perspective of having raised six children, five of them boys, and now as a grandmother of seventeen.
I profoundly believe that if we make our children's lives soft and easy, if we take away risk and challenge, if we always seek to protect our children from adversity, we weaken, damage and distort the precious young lives we're entrusted with. Of course we protect them from danger when they're little, but - danger and adversity are not the same thing. Real danger is life-threatening; adversity is just a situation that we have choices on - choices of attitude, choices of action.
Although many people know this intellectually, how often do you hear successful people - who have experienced tough beginnings - say, 'I don't want my kids to have to go through the hardships I did.' And so - they bend over backwards, spend vast amounts of money, do everything they can - to smooth the path for their children, to make life easy for them. Very faulty thinking. There is a DIRECT relationship between kids who have life too easy or have been over-protected and adults who lack resilience. Often they are also selfish and self-centred to the point of narcissism. Sadly, these people rarely rise to their potential.
And in the school environment, look at the trend towards not making any kid feel like a failure. This is not preparing them for the real world - no boss is going to say 'Never mind the stuff-up you made, or the major customer your mistake just cost us.' From an early age, let them feel the consequences of their actions, or lack of action. It won't damage their psyche to be told they've stuffed up and these are the consequences, as long as it's fair and done with love and firmness.
Many people with wonderful easy childhoods, with every advantage and everything they want lavished on them, end up living adult lives of boredom, emptiness and quiet desperation. Softness makes us weak and ineffective.
So how do we develop resilient young people?
It's too big a topic for this one article, but here are four of my basic rules.
Don't mollycoddle them. Very young children, starting at age two, can make a contribution to their family with chores and can be pushed to take responsibility.
From an early age let them feel the consequences of their actions. Let the punishment fit the crime.
Don't give them everything they want. Make them earn and save for their rewards and treats.
Link pocket money to tasks. It's not a right.
I'm glad we've had a tough economic time recently. We needed it. To be an effective nation and effective people we must become resilient again. Resourceful and resilient people and companies thrive. They're prepared - with the right attitude. They know how to rise above immediate circumstances, they have the long view and they have determination.