Is fortitude key to thriving?

In the past 30 days, I’ve had two days off. For the past two weeks, I’ve worked 12 plus hours per day. This temporary gig requires patience and humor. Without a great deal of fortitude, I’d be sunk. As an entrepreneur, I have long been aware that tenacity, fortitude, and flexibility are more important to achievement than intelligence, knowledge, and contacts.

Fortitude is what gets you through when you do everything right and things still turn out wrong. It’s what allows you to get out of bed and be excited about a project no one else appreciates. It’s what enables you to be ethical even when it means your bottom line will take a hit. And fortitude supports the patience it takes to slowly build a successful endeavor. Most importantly, fortitude is what allows us to weather the storms that come our way, slog through the aftermath, and emerge better for having had the experience.

I’d be willing to wager that those who had previously developed fortitude have been less detrimentally affected by the pandemic than others. That doesn’t mean they felt the losses and inconveniences any less, it just means they had a well of mental and emotional strength to draw from while envisioning ways to navigate the rapidly changing environment.

While most years won’t bring a pandemic, all will bring unexpected challenges beyond our control. So how does fortitude fit into everyday life?

Life is a game.

We seem to recognize the value of fortitude in sports competition. We expect elite athletes to train relentlessly, endure painful injuries, and still perform. We expect them to be able to focus and deliver peak performance no matter what is reported about them in the press. We feel free to bash them publicly when they struggle with their head game. And yet many of us allow ourselves to be mentally and emotionally lazy.

But life is the overarching game. And creating the life we desire is infinitely more achievable when we are mentally tough and emotionally balanced. We are all capable of improvement. All we need is to prioritize and practice building our skills.

The sooner, the better.

I’ve seen adults who had very little difficulty early in life self-destruct when hard times finally found them. Perhaps if they had developed fortitude sooner, they could have continued their early success.

Failure and fortitude go hand in hand.

No matter what you’re attempting, you will sometimes fail. As long as you keep learning from momentary setbacks, you will remain on a path to success. Each failure helps build fortitude.

Everyone’s tolerance is different.

Developing mental toughness requires difficulty. Removing all difficulty and pain will not help a child, for instance, develop fortitude. But each child will have a different level of tolerance. And each will require a unique approach for absorbing difficulty as a positive experience. Finding that approach and encouraging children while allowing them to feel disappointment, frustration, fear, sadness, and anger are key roles of parenting. Adults can be guided similarly by spiritual leaders, life coaches, therapeutic techniques, and even trusted friends or empathetic bosses.

Avoidance may be more pleasant in any given moment, but in the long-term can contribute to additional avoidant behaviors, more chaos, less resilience, a lack of follow-through, an inability to stick with a plan, and a tendency to quit rather than persevere. A bit of struggle is a good thing so long as it doesn’t overwhelm to the point of becoming traumatic.

Boundaries are essential.

When you are capable of more, you will be asked to do more. No matter how tough you are, there is a point at which taking on more is unhealthy. Setting and enforcing boundaries is essential for keeping your load at a level that allows you to thrive.

Building fortitude can help you reframe “I can’t.” to “How can I best approach this?” That tiny shift can make all the difference in how you feel.

That can be the difference between surviving and thriving.


It’s a snowy day and I’m thinking about distillation. We’re having record cold weather – so cold my background noise is the sound of water dripping from the faucets accompanied by water boiling for tea. Today’s high may reach 14⁰ if we’re lucky. A quick review of the supplies on hand reveals several bottles of natural spring water as well as distilled water.

Distilling water was my first scientific experiment. It was eighth grade, and I was in Introductory Physical Science (IPS). I don’t know what the class was supposed to be, but in hindsight I’d describe it as the lab portion of the chemistry class I took a couple of years later.

We were thrown directly into this first experiment, learning the steps of the scientific method along the way. In groups of four, we were also learning about beakers, Bunsen burners, rubber tubing, glass tubing, and, I must confess, redoing experiments gone wrong. As we attempted to identify the distillates without resorting to tasting them, breaking down water into its basic parts seemed hard.

So much of life is like that. We get thrown into situations that require we learn on the fly, record the steps, master the tools, and learn the lingo all at the same time. It didn’t take a pandemic for this to be true, but like IPS, the pandemic has highlighted some weaknesses in our collective skillset.

By the end of the year, I had a top grade in IPS class. But that’s because I was willing to use my Study Hall to go back to the lab and try to distill water without the smell of burning rubber tubing if necessary. Mastery takes a willingness to fail, learn, and try again. Learning is the meat of that success sandwich, but there are other important ingredients.

Improving ourselves, our families, and our communities will require mastery of certain skills. Let me distill a few of them down for you:


Learning takes place not just in the understanding or retention of facts. Facts need context. Experience leads to greater levels of understanding the facts before us. Without this greater understanding, we may lack insight.

I don’t mean insight so much in the aha sense as in the ability to discern and discriminate between the subtle layers, distillates, of a situation. Without such discernment, it is difficult to find appropriate, durable solutions of consequence.


Chemistry and physics don’t change if we have no empathy, but our application of the knowledge provided by them will. Likewise, the practice of medicine may be based on an understanding of physiology, anatomy, and chemistry, but if it is not practiced with empathy, there will be less healing.

As the pandemic has shown, vulnerable populations continue to be vulnerable. Our empathy seems to primarily extend to people with whom we identify. This doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t feel empathy for those who are different, it may only mean that we tend to ride along in our comfort zone without ever thinking of those outside our realm.

Some of us have trouble looking directly at things that are painful to see. It is hard to look horror in the face. But to live empathetically, we must learn to see the holes in our vision and figure out a way to fill the gaps.


Courage enhances both insight and empathy. It is the thing that allows us to stand by our principles, look horror in the face, protect our children, go out on a limb for our friends. Courage underpins innovative solutions to problems.

Courage comes in many forms and cannot be judged by any standard measure. Any time you do something although it frightens you, you are demonstrating courage.


Some situations require swift, clearheaded decision-making. Feeling confident in your ability to choose well with or without input facilitates stepping into a role you did not anticipate.

Learning to compartmentalize without getting stuck also makes for more nimble decision making. Of course, it’s important to deliberately set aside time to process the feelings later.

Boundary Setting

No matter how much insight and empathy we show, no matter how good we are at making emergency decisions, and no matter how courageous we are, none of us can do everything. Knowing our own limits and setting boundaries that protect our physical and emotional health is critical. When we cannot, or do not, there is a price to pay.

The current pandemic will be followed by another one. While I cannot predict when or where it will begin or what form it will take, I can say with certainty that we can leave the future better prepared for it than we were.

To do so, we must develop skills that help us distill down the challenges, face those challenges, summon our courage, make swift and sound decisions, and set good boundaries. Then we must use insight and empathy to shore up the systems that support us, especially our most vulnerable.

Who Said Life Would Be Easy?

Many of us seem to be frustrated that things are hard right now, but who said life would be easy? Of course life isn’t easy! Why do we act like it should be? And why do we choose to accept that difficult is inherently bad?

Difficulty breeds innovation. It gives us an opportunity to appreciate moments of comfort and ease. Meeting a challenge brings a sense of accomplishment. These are not bad things.

Yes, we’ve been served a big dose of strong medicine all at once. But that’s not really the problem. The problem is trying to force things to go “back to normal.” That normal is gone. Adjustment is necessary.


Adjustment often comes with a sense of loss, grief, helplessness, fatigue, sadness, frustration, fear, and anger. That does not automatically spell catastrophe unless we choose to define it that way. Most of us have within us the resources to weather much more than we imagine. We just need to believe it and draw on those resources.

When our internal resources need bolstering, we can say so out loud to someone capable of holding our truth, lending assistance, and encouraging us. I promise you, there are people who will listen, feel empathy for you, and can help hold your burden. There are people who can, and will, provide you with food, clothing, or assistance with bills.

It may not be those you WANT to or believe SHOULD provide for you. But holding onto the fantasy that a dismissive parent, self-focused friend, humiliating spouse, or bureaucratic system will suddenly change prevents you from finding better resources. Now is the time for letting go!

I am not discounting the strength and courage it takes to move forward when you’re terrified. I lived with underlying fear for at least my first 55 years. I am skilled at talking myself off the ledge. But that’s just it: I feel confident I can push through my fear and shift swiftly when I need to. I am, if anything, adaptable.

At this moment, I keep hearing Jack Nicholson in my head saying, “You can’t handle the truth!” like he did in the movie “A Few Good Men.” It feels like many people currently accept that as fact and choose to avoid information that is hard to hear. That’s a choice that can put you at additional risk both health-wise and financially.

But you can handle the truth. Life is hard. That’s not devastating news.

My eldest son told his wife the other day, “I was built for this.” I feel the same way. That doesn’t mean the current state of affairs would be our first choice. It doesn’t mean we don’t value easygoing, fun times. It just means we know about ourselves that we can handle this new reality. We will find our way through the challenges and feel our way through the heartache. It will not destroy us.

You will have new challenges today that you did not anticipate a month ago, a week ago, or yesterday. It feels like that is something new, but isn’t that always true in life? Think of all of the unanticipated challenges you’ve already faced. Those allowed you to build the emotional muscle you need to meet an even bigger challenge.

Celebrate your courage, bravery, stamina, and good decisions! Flex your resilience muscle by supporting your friends, family, or a vulnerable population that moves your heart. When your hands are busy, your mind will settle. When you channel your energy into helping others, the reward is always yours.

This week, when you meet each day, see if you can feel however any new difficulties make you feel and then let those feelings go or channel them into energy to make the most of the opportunities presented. After all, the flip side of a challenge is always an opportunity.

Life is hard. You cannot control every detail. There will be uncertainty. Within that uncertainty are opportunities for greatness and excellence! I choose to embrace and celebrate those no matter how small! And I am grateful for the chance to do so. I have never believed that life will be easy. Who said that anyway?

Looking Backward, Moving Forward

Now that it’s the new year, do you find yourself looking backward, moving forward; looking backward, standing still; or looking forward, moving forward? I think the implied correct, societally acceptable answer is to smile and indicate that the past is the past – I’m looking forward and moving forward with gusto!

But is that really true or are most of us pretending when we say it? Watching many of my friends, acquaintances, customers, and colleagues, I feel like many of us are pretending and I’m wondering why? It seems more acceptable to say we’re moving forward and then behave in ways destined to keep us stuck, than it is to say we’re struggling.

When I have verbalized difficulties, the real ones below the surface that make me feel most vulnerable, some friends have encouraged me to call my doctor for happy pills or said they’re worried me. In contrast, they never said that when I was wearing myself out working too much, playing too much, and buying too much stuff. Whatever the cause, I feel saddened that the result is a culture that supports overmedicating, overworking, and overindulging rather than supporting feeling, and healing. Let’s change that!

If you find yourself at the apex of this new year feeling alone or discouraged, but determined to make positive change, we applaud you! Not for feeling alone, of course, for having the ability to envision a better future and the courage to practice positive change. And we’re here to let you know you’re not alone!

I have spent a lot of time looking backward in order to move forward. It’s kind of a tricky move because looking backward makes it tempting to stay stuck in the same place, especially when the past was painful, difficult, or felt unfair.
looking backward

Yep, that pose is exactly how it feels sometimes! Are my emotional abs strong enough to pull me up to look ahead? Most of the time, they are now (thank goodness we’re talking emotional abs), and it’s been a long process for me to get here, but the result has been freedom and an abundance of choices! Isn’t that what all of us want as we move forward?

The recipe for practicing positive change includes these key ingredients:
Good boundaries
Time to sit still
Feeling your real feelings
Trusting your body’s messages
Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude

The process will be facilitated by:
Positive emotional connections

The rest is just practice, practice, practice in a series of small shifts that lead to large change as we move forward.

Get your ingredients together. We’ll be here all year long to provide inspiration, playfulness, celebration and a safe place to share your concerns, struggles, and triumphs. Look backward, move forward, and make 2015 anything you want it to be!

Happy New Year!