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Have you ever wondered how some people face terrible adversity in their lives and just seem to be able to pick themselves up and start all over?

Do you think these folks are less affected by their adversity than others? Are they less “emotional”?

Well, I have been thinking a lot about resilience lately, and thought I would share some of my thoughts. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I often take inspiration for my posts by reflecting upon observations I make of birds in my back yard.

Last week was a biggy

I came home from work one day and leaned over the fence to look at the activity in the back yard. What I saw sent a chill through my body.

The bluebird house, in which there was a nest with three chicks, was sitting there with its door open. This is very odd.

When I approached the nest box I knew the news was bad. No adults flitting on the fence or in a nearby tree to watch my movements and protect their progeny from any predatory intents I might have. No, the nest box was completely bare. The contents of the nest were strewn on the ground under the box (which sits about four feet off the ground). There were two downy feathers on the ground nearby but nothing else. No clues to the disappearance of the chicks who were 15 days old that day. No “calling card” feather that could be identified, sometimes dropped by a predatory bird if a fight ensues for dinner. Nothing. But the door of the box was open, even though the latch was in the closed position. Weird. I was distraught, that MY bluebird chicks would likely never make it to be parents. I was sad. I didn’t see the adults anywhere. Likely they had abandoned the nest that now held such horrible memories for them. Then, yesterday, I noticed some unusual activity around the very same box. When I checked, I saw a new nest has been started. Today it was in a more advanced stage of completion. This means there will be a new clutch of eggs laid soon, with a new brood of chicks to follow a few weeks later. Another try. Another chance to recreate life.

This is resilience.

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The bluebird parents did not have to be taught to be resilient. It is in their blood. It is part of their DNA. This is how the species will continue. Resilience is natural. So why do so many of us need to be coached to be resilient?

Why do we have such a hard time overcoming adversity?

In reflecting upon this, I feel that we have allowed ourselves to so insulate ourselves and our children from any sense of sadness, bad news, obstacles or impediments that we are losing the ability to be naturally resilient. Children learn by emulating their parents. I am certain the juveniles from the prior bluebird brood, who I often see flying with their parents and helping now with construction of the new nest, have learned an important lesson. I learned to be resilient after my dad died, when I was nine years old. Of course I didn’t realize that was what was happening at the time. I only knew there was terrible sadness and confusion. I learned my mom had not developed the skills she needed to keep us going after that loss, and I watched as she started a new life for herself and me. Those lessons became a part of my DNA, and a part of my determination to overcome obstacles in order to make the kind of life I wanted for my family and myself. While I would never wish devastating loss or adversity upon anyone, I do wonder how resilience occurs if there has NOT been any exposure to such situations early in life.

What do you think? What examples do you have? What have you done to help your children develop resilience? Do you agree that it is a natural phenomenon, or do you think we have to be trained or coached?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Recent Comments

Alice, I pick my friends, and I count you highly among them. Thanks.
Stan appreciate the words...

Stan, Thanks for taking the time to stop by. Yes, Billy is a treasure. One we are privileged to know and love.

Thanks for adding your perspective, Shari

Resilence is what makes me get up every day with a smile and put one foot in front of the other

Billy is a treasure indeed.

Thank you for the profound refreshment, Alice.

Aaron, thanks so much for such a wonderful comment, and for taking the time to visit and read my ramblings. Yes, wind, storms, pressure may all help, I do believe. Strong but not stiff. Flexible but not weak. That is resilience.

Billy, thank you so much for leaving your comment and adding so much to the richness of the definition of resilience. You, my friend (and I am honored to be able to call you that) are truly resilient. Not only have you found a way to keep going through multiple episodes of adversity, you have been able to give to others, and you keep giving.

I believe that is one of the human traits that allows us to be more resilient--being able to think outside of and beyond ourselves. Do do that so well. Thank you.

Alice, you are right on. Love this. Needed this.

I wonder if resilience is like the wind and the plants. Without wind, they don't grow to be strong enough to withstand wind. Moving from inside to outside can be devastating.

Maybe we need to raise our young outside, with wind, so that they grow to be resilient and strong.

Thanks for writing this. You're great.


Alice thanks.
I left home to join the Navy when I was fifteen. My mom made me work since I was nine. I gave her some of the money too.
Love her abundantly still!
Went through a civil war, people died, family and friends. Travel, loss while gone. Parents died while I was in America, buried them.
Married, no natural children, adopted my daughter. Wife cancer, survived and still going. Bills, Bankruptcy, loss of all things. Keep going, things will change. Changed what I do, because I wanted too.
So, I'm a Bluebird too.
Always love to read what your doing and saying.

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About Dr. Ackerman

Alice Ackerman, MD, MBA, FAAP, FCCM is the Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Carilion Clinic and Professor and Founding Chair of Pediatrics at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. Dr. Ackerman is recognized nationally as an expert in pediatric critical care.

She has been at Carilion Clinic since June of 2007. Her primary goals are to enhance the health care of children in the Roanoke Valley and Southwest Virginia, and is actively working to do this both as physician in chief of the children's hospital, as well as through involvement with many state-wide initiatives.

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