Resilience Don’t Tap Out

January 23, 2021 John R. Hatfield 0 Comments

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places

Ernest Hemingway

Yep, we are in this together. Adversity is a fact of life. We have all been broken in some way or another. With adversity comes pain, suffering, bewilderment, fear, and frustration. For some it brings life to a screeching halt and others it forges a life of resilience. As Benjamin Franklin said, “The things that hurt, instruct.”

When suffering, pain, shattering, and the hardships of life happen, some are defeated and discouraged but the resilient become strong in the face of adversity.

I was an athlete in high school, and I learned basic character from two a day football practices in the Kansas heat and wrestling practice when you were hungry from cutting weight. Self-discipline, not giving up, hard work, and being pushed beyond what I thought I could handle built these indelible virtues I have called upon numerous times throughout my life.

Little did I know at that time in high school that I would face incredible tougher situations as I proceeded in life and would continue to call upon these virtues. During the Great Recession of 2008, I was let go from a six figure, twenty-seven-year career, got divorced, and my mom and dad died six weeks apart. I was knocked out and beaten down. My new reality, life can be very harsh at times. The heat suddenly intensified, I was in the crucible and the dross from the silver was being separated.

“A crucible is, by definition, a transformative experience through which an individual comes to a new or an altered sense of identity” 

Bennis and Thomas (2000)

Remember the famous Mohammad Ali’s iconic knockout punch against Sonny Liston, the victor standing over the vanquished? A harsh conclusion to a brutal fight that took place in the first two minutes in the first round. That is exactly how I felt. Financially within a year I was destitute, living in someone’s bedroom, on food stamps and giving plasma to survive. I was emotionally devastated from losing my mom and dad, who knew me the best and had loved me the longest and now feeling orphaned as all traditions in their home ended. Life for me would never be the same as before, I will never be that man again. I cannot undo what happened. But I became a stronger man in all the broken places. As Albert Einstein said, “There is only one road to human greatness: the road through suffering.” Resilient people integrate what happened to them; the experiences become a part of hammering out a different person. I like who I am becoming, pain has been a bitch of a mentor. “To forge is to make or shape (a metal object) by heating it in a fire or furnace and beating and hammering it.” 0xford dictionary. 

Many of you can relate with my hardships but others could add the harshness of a friend’s or family members suicide, the loss of a child or a sibling, the condemning judgement of others, the emotional, mental, and physical abuse or assault that has damaged you, rejection and even abandonment from a family or family member  or the constant shaming from people and even those who proclaim to be followers of Christ. It is estimated that up to 90% of us will experience at least one serious traumatic event during our lives (Norris and Sloane, 2007). Resilience is the ability to withstand, overcome, grow, and continue the journey.

“Resilient people turn fear into courage, suffering into strength, and pain into wisdom.”

Eric Greitens

No one is born with resilience

Eric Greitens

I was not born with resilience, no one was born with it. I became resilient in the tough and stretching situations I placed myself in as an athlete to not quit but persevere to the end. Looking back, I think my motive was prideful at times and my self-image was on the line if I gave in and quit. For everyone on the team there was a non-verbal camaraderie, we are in this together, no one quits. 

But there is another aspect to hardship and difficulty, that of the train wrecks that occur to us in life we all experience that double us over, knocking us down to our knees that form resilience. We are never prepared for these tragedies, misfortunes, and life altering trauma. We become resilient people as we navigate these bitch shows learning to endure the suffering and pain with resolute in trial as we walk through the devastation and rebuild.  Some painful experiences we will never fully recover from, we simply learn to carry the pain, holding it throughout life, yet not letting it control life, another picture of resilience.  

Like many of you, I have had to carry lots of emotional pain. I make choices to become intimate with the pain instead of hiding from it, pretending it is not there, running from it, medicating inappropriately, or letting it conquer me. There becomes a John I didn’t know when I’m intimate with the pain that emerges. To be intimate I become close and connected with the pain and loss. It is a practice that leads to healing and healthiness. I weep, I mourn, I grieve, I get angry, I pray, I reflect, journal, scream at God, I accept, I feel. Closeness emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually in the crucible of resilience shapes a stronger, wiser, more understanding person. I rise up and I reclaim and reinvent and move forward. It doesn’t mean the pain is completely gone, it means I call out courage and stay in the fight bruised but standing.

Poet Lord Bryon stated, “Adversity is the first path to truth.”

This famous picture in 1923 of Jack Dempsey (World Heavy Weight Champion defending his title against Luis Angel Firpo at The Polo Grounds in New York in front of 85,000 with 20,000 who couldn’t get in is framed and sits on my desk. It encapsulates resilience for me. In this picture, you probably think Jack Dempsey is the fighter who just struck an amazing blow that knocked his opponent Firpo out of the ring, but it was the other way. It was Dempsey who got knocked completely out of the ring. Fourteen seconds later he was helped back into the ring by the writers on the sideline and came back in the second round to KO the Argentine and win the fight. Resilient people don’t give up, they get back up, and stay in the fight. Jack Dempsey speaks loudly to me today, he’s a hero, he’s a reminder, an inspiration. When knocked down or even out of the ring, don’t give up, rise up, continue the fight. It’s all a part of life, a part of forging resilience.

In the words of Elisabeth S. Lukas (1984), a protégé of the famous neurologist, psychologist, and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, “The forces of fate that bear down on man and threaten to break also have the capacity to ennoble him.”


  1. How would you describe resilience?
  1. What did you learn about resilience?
  1. How have you been resilient?

John R. Hatfield

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Resilience Don’t Tap Out was last modified: June 21st, 2021 by John R. Hatfield