The Pigeons in Downtown LA
As I was standing on a sidewalk in Downtown LA waiting for a friend of mine, I noticed a group of pigeons eating some bread crumbs. When a pedestrian walked close by to them, they flew away. I remember thinking to myself that they would not come back, but to my surprise, they flew right back and continued eating for a few moments before they were scared away by another pedestrian. I noticed myself becoming very anxious and angry with the inconsiderate pedestrians who didn’t alter their route as to not scare the birds away. In the meantime, the birds kept flying back to the sidewalk and kept on eating. You can imagine my frustration when they were scared away by a third pedestrian walking right through them. I was thinking, ‘how inconsiderate of those people, who don’t care that they disturb these lovely pigeons. Then I noticed the pigeons’ facial expression was quite calm! They seemed so focused on what they were doing. Clearly, they had adapted to the busy life in Down Town LA! Apparently, I was the only one feeling frustrated there. People were living their lives, walking to their destinations, and the pigeons were living their lives, eating the bread crumbs and flying away when necessary. This experience led me to wonder about all those times when I either stopped doing something because someone had discouraged me or didn’t even start doing something I wanted to do fearing the disapproval of others.
Misinterpreting disruptions as signs to quit can easily lead us to give up
I can remember many occasions when I simply gave up on a certain project or activity after being disrupted even just once by others, telling myself that it might be a sign that it wasn’t meant to be. Then, when anyone asked me why I haven’t finished what I had started, I would simply reply that X or Y didn’t “let” me do it or disrupted my efforts! In other words, I took these interferences or suggestions to quit to mean that I should pull out of whatever it was I had been doing. I wasn’t able to see these disruptions as an organic part of life and movement forward. That is — how many more times are we likely to apply for a job we didn’t get? In my case, none! At the same time, a man that I know had applied 185 (!) times before he was finally hired as a teacher. When I met him, he was no longer a teacher—he had become a governor! There is definitely a moral in that story about perseverance and resilience. In the same vein, the CEO of one of the dating apps recently stated that it seems to take 85 (!) unsuccessful dates before one meets an individual with whom they are a match. These experiences tell us quite unequivocally that disruptions, rejections, and accidents are parts of life. In other words, it seems that at times, the disruptions or obstacles can be misinterpreted as cosmic signs to give up or are used as excuses for our failures. However, they can equally easily be interpreted as an inevitable (or dare I say, welcome) part of the journey.
How can we use the concept of resilience to help us stay on our track?
Resilience is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”, or “the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape”.1It seems that the disappointment from not getting what we want or being rejected by someone we like is so painful that it can put us out of “shape”. The role that pain plays in putting us “out of shape” tells us that the other side of it — our resilience — would be related to our ability to tolerate pain or to find constructive ways of coping with pain. One important part that seems tied to resilience is our capacity for insight and for learning from painful experiences, and using those insights as energy to move forward and upward. Those insights often help us become better able to tolerate, resist and overcome the pain of disappointment and rejection.
Persistence in the face of these experiences requires energy. Insights into the reasons that we get hurt when rejected, our fears, our original desires, our actual likes and dislikes, our needs, our self-sabotaging behaviors, etc. — could help us channel that physical energy into productive ways, help us enjoy life, and eventually boost our mental energy and capacity.
Although we won’t ever be able to be as focused on our version of breadcrumbs in the face of our version of pedestrians, we can still learn from those Downtown pigeons quite a bit. Their resilience seems to lie in their capacity to remain dedicated to their goal and to learn to adapt to their environment, even when that environment interferes with their process or even causes them some pain or discomfort. Us humans tend to overanalyze situations, tend to draw far-reaching (and not necessarily accurate) conclusions, and to thereby enhance our fears while decreasing our level of energy. I suggest we use those analytic capacities to our advantage by gaining insight into our rejections, our obstacles, our processes, and use those to provide us with the resilience to move forward.