Don’t seek to survive or be resilient, seek to grow.
The coronavirus pandemic is tough on all of us. For those on the front lines of the virus the effect is much more difficult, but we all are certainly out of our comfort zones and learning how to adapt. Some have found themselves very ill, some have lost loved ones, some have lost their jobs, some have lost their steady source of food, some don’t have any mobility, some are struggling to homeschool their children while working from home, some are holed up alone, some are working through the pandemic as nurses, doctors, grocery clerks, delivery people…the experiences are vast but all are forcing us out of what was our known reality. As the world hits the “pause” button, uncertainty is experienced by all economically, physically, mentally and emotionally.
In moments such as these we have to find ways to survive. The question is how do we approach our survival and how do we want to come out on the other side?
I would like to introduce a term that is used in physics, molecular biology, engineering, aerospace and computer science: antifragility.
Antifragility is a property of systems that increase in capability to thrive as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures.
Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. Resilience resists shock and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.
A good example of antifragility are human muscles and the human immune system. We all know the saying “What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” We can become stronger, faster, more flexible and endure more through successful training. If we stress our body in a healthy manner, the body responds to the stress by increasing its capability to handle the increased stress levels. The amount of training has to be enough to challenge the body beyond its present state.
I always look to nature to find a source of truth in how God designed the world. Beyond our own human bodies, which are fountains of examples, the Quaking Aspen is an amazing example in nature of antifragility. The Quaking Aspen is not a single tree, but a system of trees, and it can withstand the strongest storms. A massive storm could eliminate the visible trees, but the roots are deep in the ground and re-sprout in little time. Even a fire or an insect plague, which are devastating even to robust trees, are beneficial to Quaking Aspen colonies because they eliminate the competition and provide more growing space. One root system of Quaking Aspens in Utah named Pando is the heaviest living known organism on earth occupying 106 acres and weighing collectively 6,600 short tons. The root system is estimated to be 80,000 years old, making it among the oldest known living organisms in the world.
The point of sharing about Quaking Aspens is that they have antifragility through their connected root systems. I would suggest there are certainly ways each of us can come through stressors and challenges with a growth mindset, but the metaphor of the trees is to suggest that there is strength in connection.
When we try to go through our stressful moments, challenges or failures alone we are relying on our own lens, our own understanding, and our own point of view to give all of the wisdom and to see the opportunities for growth. That is very limiting. It limits all perspective to what we have personally experienced or what we can absorb through digging for solutions and hope. Again, I am a huge proponent of personal journeys where we use our time to look for growth and expand our own horizons. What I am speaking about is the highest form of antifragility, and I believe it must come through connection and support from others.
I can’t possibly count the number of times I have been deep in a personal mess, and as soon as I was weak/strong enough to open myself to someone else, I gained tremendous insight and support that helped me to look at the same mess in a different light. Actually, I have found that when I have had the most difficult learning lessons (and the longest trials) is when I held something to myself and didn’t open up to anyone. Those are the periods of my life when I am certain I went through unnecessary hardship and pain that could have been a lot shorter and less intense had I opened up to my support system.
Now, to come out antifragile, who is in your support system is key. The main point of antifragility is to come through the stress stronger. This means the people you are connected to and who you open up to must be looking out for your growth as well. I have been in dysfunctional relationships where the people I opened up to were not looking for my growth as opposed to some warped version of control, manipulation or obsession. It takes maturity and wisdom to seek and find people who share the same values and who are on the same journey toward growth. If they’re looking to grow themselves with the same core values, the last thing that they should want is to inhibit or delay your growth. The more you grow, the more they grow and vice versa.
I also believe the strongest network is one in which there is radical transparency, unique experiences, different backgrounds and, as I mentioned before, the same value system. I do not think surrounding yourself with people who come from the same background and experiences is going to help at all — this just produces comfort, which is the opposite of what is needed to become antifragile. We need to be challenged to grow and challenged to change through our stresses by our support system. They need to love us enough to want to see us expand on our journeys. All of this done with honest compassion, empathy and sincere love.
As with the Quaking Aspens, when we are connected at the root we can withstand any storm or virus. It is possible to come through this time period stronger than when we entered. I believe it will take the personal initiative to seek positives, gratefulness and opportunities rather than staring at the unknowns, the uncertainty and the negatives. But, most importantly, I believe it takes a system of support that we should seek actively to help us in our weakest moments. Only then can we take what could make us fragile and turn us into antifragile.
Originally published at https://www.alexismaida.com on April 1, 2020.