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Brown Teddy Bear in Old Fashioned Suitcase

Resiliency Requires Experience

By: Donna R. Wood, Existential Coach

The one thing in life that I know is true is that one must know who one is, before they can create any type of life that is filled with meaning and purpose. A life of meaning and purpose doesn’t come wrapped in a Zen experience or regulated schedule. It comes from living each day as a person fully connected to the world in which one lives.

Through one of my self-care indulgences is where I learned this deeply important lesson. I spend time each week delving into the life and times of those who came before me, while digging through records, old photographs, and journals or articles. It is the way of the genealogist.

As I methodically piece together the life stories of all the men and women who were necessary to bring me into the world, I find myself in awe of their resilient natures. I’ve traveled back to the Norse Invasion of Great Britain, sailed across the ocean on a coffin ship, lived lives of anticipation and trepidation on the frontiers of Canada, climbed mountains in the Appalachians, and bumped along the prairies in covered wagons, all in the hopes of finding a new life filled with the promises of hope and prosperity.

Deeply engrossed in their stories, I experienced the heartbreaks of the women as their men marched off to war, leaving them to hold down the fort at home. I read the repeated scenes, where babies came quickly and left just as they had arrived. My mother’s heart ached for the women who buried their babies, leaving them behind as they forged onward. I learned of the greedy and callous men and women, who populate the family life line. There were the surprising discoveries of the clergymen, trying to hold it together in a new land, where it seemed all bets were off, and God was either dead, or overly alive.

In every family history there are the tales of war, and rumors of war, families torn apart and families coming together, women striking out on their own or cleaving to the security of men. There are times of feast and times of famine. The one thing that all of them had in common that allowed them to overcome is they were all fully engaged in the process of life – from beginning to end.

Resiliency requires experience – both good and bad. It isn’t built through reading the stories of other people’s lives. Although, those lives still have meaning and purpose for us in the present. They are the stories of hope. They are the stories of meeting yourself where you are, and building from there. They are the stories of sometimes building your wings on the way down, while living on a hope and prayer. They are the stories that brought us here today. One misstep, episode of indecision, or making a different decision by any one of them, may well have prevented our being born at all or having been born into a very different life – for better or worse.

As I venture into each life, I look for the lessons that I can use today to make my own life filled with meaning and purpose. But, most importantly, I leave their lives as they were, and engage in my own life, so that when my 25th great grandchild reads about GreatX25 Grandma Donna, there will be lessons they can use in their life, many of which were gathered into my own life from the ancestors. My legacy will be the lessons of hope, perseverance, and an enduring faith in tomorrow.

Feet on the bus

The Wheels on the Bus

By: Donna R. Wood, Existential Coach

Betrayal never comes from your enemies. It always comes from those who are closest to you; family, friends, and even co-workers. For those who are young, confident, and ambitious, what I am about to say may save you a lot of time and heartache:

Everyone gets thrown under the bus (and sometimes ran over by the bus) at least once in their lives.

You would think that the experience of being thrown under the bus by a family member or friend would be the worst; but it’s not. With family and friends, there’s a stronger emotional bond that allows space for forgiveness to occur more quickly.

When a co-worker, or boss, throws you under the bus, it’s a much larger, more complex experience. The bus that you’re on in the workplace carries everything that you have and are: your livelihood, your family, your possessions, etc.

We live in a world where most people define themselves not by who they are inside, but what they do for a living. The experience of being thrown under the bus by people you trusted can result in a full-on crisis of identity.

Years ago, I worked in a small nonprofit where I felt I was thriving in the world. I looked forward to going to work every single day, including Mondays. I didn’t mind working evenings and weekends, because I was doing what I loved. I put my heart and soul into the work. The staff worked as a team, developed friendships, and trust bonds with each other.

Three years into the job, things took a very ugly turn. It was so dark and nefarious; it broke every bond that had been forged. Truth became lies, and lies became truth. Everyone was walking on egg shells and no one trusted anyone. The ugliness of it all spilled out into the communities we were supposed to be serving, and even those who trusted us the most stopped believing in us.

The tires on our bus had all gone flat and we were limping along the road, digging huge gouges in the asphalt. The sparks of blame, finger-pointing, triangulation, bullying, mobbing, and toxicity were flying everywhere. Some people jumped off the bus. In hindsight, I should have jumped with them. It took three years of riding on a bus that was on fire before I was thrown off the bus, under the bus, and then had the bus run me over, grinding what I had known myself to be into the pavement in pieces.

When I pulled myself up from the pavement, I watched the bus continue to limp itself down the road. In some ways, I had felt a great sense of relief. I thought that it was over. I could just move on with my life and everything would be fine. It wasn’t over, and things definitely weren’t fine.

I was a complete mess inside and out. I had spent three years of my life in survival mode. I had been going through life protecting myself from certain inhalation. I started to feel like I was suffocating in my own skin; and at that final moment on the pavement under the bus, I think I suffocated for real. I had nothing left to give – to anyone, including myself.

As a highly sensitive person, I turned everything inward. I swallowed it all whole and absorbed it all until I imploded. Thank God, I had the wherewithal to know and understand that everything wasn’t fine in me, and I sought the help that I needed to put myself back together.

The danger in these types of stories is that there are so many variables at play, with many different actors, not all of whom are highly sensitive people. Some of them don’t swallow the hurt and pain. Some of them don’t implode. Some of them throw back the hurt and pain in the form of acts of workplace violence.

At the point of toxicity, you have reached the point where “If you see something, say something” is useless. You have reached the point of no return. Once a work culture reaches toxicity, the likelihood of a comeback to healthy is slim if not impossible, without a complete overhaul of management and staff.

There are five stages between healthy and toxic.

  1. Healthy
  2. Incivility
  3. Bullying
  4. Mobbing
  5. Toxicity

A workplace will always bounce back and forth between healthy and incivility. However, if you let incivility grow into bullying, the bus will pick up speed and race down the road until the wheels fall off at the T-Intersection of toxicity. Drive carefully.