Personalization. Pervasiveness. Permanence. 2022 is better.
I came into 2022 without the fanfare of the new year that most people experience. It wasn’t different; it didn’t feel new and neither did I. I entered 2022 scared. Part of it was because I was exhausted. Exhausted from the weight of unexecuted plans. Exhausted from the weight of feeling like I failed myself; failed my growth, failed in getting any sense of fulfilment.
2021 was a year that did nothing to ground me into position. There was a strong sense of smallness and powerlessness; I felt stifled, limited. I felt incredibly small and incapacitated to lift off.
I entered 2022 ridden with anxiety. And anxiety is a devastating illness.
But this has changed.
When Sheryl Sandberg gave a commencement speech at the University College, Berkeley in 2016, she said these powerful words that I stumbled across again.
You will almost certainly face more and deeper adversity. There’s loss of opportunity: the job that doesn’t work out, the illness or accident that changes everything in an instant. There’s loss of dignity: the sharp sting of prejudice when it happens. There’s loss of love: the broken relationships that can’t be fixed. And sometimes there’s loss of life itself.
Some of you have already experienced the kind of tragedy and hardship that leave an indelible mark. The question is not if some of these things will happen to you. They will.
Today I want to talk about what happens next. About the things, you can do to overcome adversity, no matter what form it takes or when it hits you. The easy days ahead of you will be easy. It is the hard days — the times that challenge you to your very core — that will determine who you are. You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive.
Personalising this to the death of her husband, she continued and segued into the Three Ps that guided her to recovery.
After spending decades studying how people deal with setbacks, psychologist Martin Seligman found that there are three P’s — personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence — that are critical to how we bounce back from hardship. The seeds of resilience are planted in the way we process the negative events in our lives.
The first P is Personalization — the belief that we are at fault. This is different from taking responsibility, which you should always do. This is the lesson that not everything that happens to us happens because of us.
Studies show that getting past personalization can actually make you stronger. Teachers who knew they could do better after students failed adjusted their methods and saw future classes go on to excel. College swimmers who underperformed but believed they were capable of swimming faster did. Not taking failures personally allows us to recover — and even to thrive.
The second P is Pervasiveness — the belief that an event will affect all areas of your life. You know that song “Everything is awesome?” This is the flip: “Everything is awful.” There’s no place to run or hide from the all-consuming sadness.
The child psychologists I spoke to encouraged me to get my kids back to their routine as soon as possible. So ten days after Dave died, they went back to school and I went back to work. I remember sitting in my first Facebook meeting in a deep, deep haze. All I could think was, “What is everyone talking about and how could this possibly matter?” But then I got drawn into the discussion and for a second — a brief split second — I forgot about death.
That brief second helped me see that there were other things in my life that were not awful. My children and I were healthy. My friends and family were so loving and they carried us — quite literally at times.
The third P is Permanence — the belief that the sorrow will last forever. For months, no matter what I did, it felt like the crushing grief would always be there.
We often project our current feelings out indefinitely — and experience what I think of as the second derivative of those feelings. We feel anxious — and then we feel anxious that we’re anxious. We feel sad — and then we feel sad that we’re sad. Instead, we should accept our feelings — but recognize that they will not last forever.
How it mattered to me.
The art of living life was one that I was sufficiently deft at before 2021. I’ve always been described by friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances alike as someone with a strong presence, the gift of doing and an agile spirit that brought things to life with the best possible approach. I always felt admired, loved, and until 2021 I had never dealt with such a crushing sense of stagnancy or nothingness.
Why did I allow a year out of the many I’ve lived, and the many I hope to live, take away something I had cultivated over time and established myself in? Why did I give failure, or in this case, a strong ‘feeling’ of failure so much power? Why was I content to leave to others narratives about my capacity?
Understanding the 3Ps and using it to properly retrospect on 2021 was what I needed to break free of the malaise that was swallowing me. I used to call myself strong but what I defined as strength was deeply flawed. I thought it was about my can-do nature, my competitiveness, my assertiveness and my result-driven spirit.
Strength is neither fixed nor inanimate. Strength evolves. Maybe, the measure of my strength is in how I face the fact that I am simply human — mortal, vulnerable, creative, courageous and bold, making meaning of my existence by practising various arts: love, creative work, writing, marketing, communication, and communion with people like me.
What have I resolved to do in 2022? To leave the feelings of 2021 in the past.
To reject anxiety. To live. To do. To grow.