Laurence Gonzales’ Surviving Survival is in some ways a sequel his best-selling Deep Survival. As the title suggest, this book goes beyond the work of staying alive and persevering during especially challenging moments to examine how does one live with and manage the aftermath of trauma. Gonzales uses a series of often harrowing mini-biographies to delve into the role and potentialities of the brain and the mind. This reader got the general sense that Gonzales believes in the innate hardiness of some individuals but he is at pains to draw out lessons for all of us. We have taken the liberty of distilling these 12 lessons even further:
- Take control. Devote yourself passionately to something connected to your ideal self.
- Be mindful. Get off autopilot and listen to your mind and body. Allow your unconscious brain resources such as blindsight to guide you via gut feelings.
- Be patient. Trust the process of recovery.
- Be tough. Look around at the suffering that is not happening to you. When it is your turn, own it.
- Find joy in the small things. Even under conditions of extreme suffering moments of relative lightness can be found
- Face your fears and put them in a rational context. Leverage rituals.
- Stay busy.
- Help others.
- Stay connected to your friends and community
- Be grateful. At the very least, you have survived and are still here. There is probably even more to be grateful for.
- Fake it until you feel it. Act as if you are better and you will feel and be better
- Lighten up. Even morbid humor helps.
Gonzales’ various subjects survived IEDs, murderous spouses and attacks from bears and sharks. We can build our own resilience in the face of life’s smaller insults by incorporating these lesson’s into our daily routine.
It’s not easy for me to talk about the mistake I’ve made. But as I thought about what I’d like to do with my life, I felt that people might be able to learn from my mistakes. I decided I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others—to help people get on the right track so that they can avoid adversity caused by bad choices. (p 25)
Before there was Lance…
Before there was Lance Armstrong, there was Marion Jones. One might argue whether seven Tours de France are more impressive than five track and field medals in a single Olympics. Beyond doubt however is the fact that joining the fast-growing population of incarcerated women represents a striking fall from grace. On the Right Track is the story of her recovery and her work to re-enter competitive sports as a WNBA player. Armstrong may suffer the embarrassment of the apology tour along with Ben Johnson and Alex Rodriguez (barely) but few among the legion of former drug cheats have endured the indignity of a full body pat down. Well, outside of airports at least.
Sorry for lying? Yes. Cheating? Ummm…
Jones got a relatively tough deal because she was found to lie under oath. She’s at pains to accept responsibility for lying and its consequences. She uses some variant of the word ‘lie’ at least at least 48 times. She almost always does this in reference to herself but it is hard to ignore that she outsources responsibility for her actual cheating. Excepting of course, those also disgraced cheaters that she was quite involved with that are barely mentioned in connection with doping—ex-husband C.J. Hunter and ex-boyfriend Tim Montgomery who have both received substantial bans for doping. Show me your friends and I’ll show you who you are. Getting mixed up with Ben Johnson’s coach Charlie Francis was another suspect move unmentioned in her précis of her track career.
Lessons for all of us
If Jones is quiet about her responsibility for her own doping, she screams out the lessons that all of us can take from her experience beginning with her decision to email family and friends acknowledging that she lied. Her words and deeds model many of the key factors for personal resilience:
- A Deep faith in God:The Word of God renewed my spirit and opened the eyes and hearts of eight women who decided that their future was more important than their past(p. 69)
- A Commitment to helping others:When we help others, we take the focus off ourselves (p. 88)
- A Deep commitment to those closest to you:Oba and I realize we are our children’s biggest moral influence (p.144)
- A Deep engagement in your own life:I began to pick up the pieces and set out to explore what could be made of what was left (p. 54)
- A Sense of mission:I am polishing my arguments for prison reform. Until 2008, I was just like everybody else when it came to prisons…Now I know a lot more (p. 209)
Even if we can’t all manage to run the 100m in 10.75s (with or without the help of steroids) we certainly all have had our ups and downs and can learn a thing or four from Jones’ On the Right Track.If we do, I suspect she will hold that her suffering was not for nought.
P.S. Oba refers to Obadele Thompson, Jones’ husband who once ran the fastest 100m ever, a wind-aided 9.69