We can’t change what’s happened, but we can all change what happens next.
This learning came to me at two significant points in my life. The first was when I met a group of children living in a tent in the grounds of a temple at Bang Muang, in the Takua Pa region of Thailand. Each of the kids had lost their parents and extended family as a result of the Boxing Day tsunami. They had all lost their homes and many had lost their brothers and sisters.
When I first met these kids, I realized that I couldn’t change what had happened. There was nothing I, or anyone for that matter, could do to bring back the families that they had lost. But I did suspect that I could change the circumstances in which they now found themselves.
By focusing on what could be changed, rather than what had occurred and the enormity of the loss they had suffered, I wasn’t burdened by the tragedy but was instead inspired by the opportunity. The freedom of this learning set in motion the building of Hands Across the Water, the largest contributing Australian charity to Thailand that would positively change the lives of thousands.
Redefining the role of resilience
If meeting the children living in the tent taught me this valuable lesson, then several years later I would meet a Buddhist monk who completely redefined how I think about resilience.
Mae Thiew is a Thai woman who has dedicated her life to the care and support of the most vulnerable in society. During the ’80s and ’90s, she built a home to support children, the majority of whom had HIV.
The stories that led the children to Mae Thiew were tragic, but the greater tragedy was her inability to care for all of them. Limited by the resources she had, children would frequently die from preventable disease as a result of a lack of access to medicine.
Yesterday can’t define tomorrow
I have known Mae Thiew for a decade-and-a-half now, and it is her ability to continue to confront what most of us might deem insurmountable challenges that amazes me. Burying hundreds of children in her lifetime, one must ask the question, “How did she possibly continue?”
I suspect there are a number of reasons she was able to continue to wake up and confront what was likely to repeat from the previous day. The first was that she couldn’t and didn’t let yesterday define her tomorrow. This mindset of not being burdened by what had passed allowed her to believe that change was possible and tomorrow could be better than the day that was now gone.
Hopes are greater than our fears
Our hopes and fears are forward projections of what may or may not occur. We can be burdened by our fears or inspired by our hopes and dreams. We can entertain both fear and hope, but not at the same time, it is one or the other; therefore we get to choose how much time we dedicate to entertaining our hopes and fears.
Mindset alone without action won’t bring about change, but Mae Thiew wasn’t just responsible for her own hopes and fears. She passed that on, directly and indirectly, to the children she cared for. The children looked to her for guidance and direction, taking their lead from her.
As leaders, we don’t just set the strategy and direction, but we are responsible for the energy and belief that exists within the teams, communities and businesses that we lead.
As leaders, we don’t just set the strategy and direction, but we are responsible for the energy and belief that exists within the teams, communities and businesses that we lead. We shouldn’t ignore the lessons of yesterday, but we can’t be paralyzed by them either.
Resilience comes in many forms, as we face all different types of challenges that affect us in different ways. When our mindset and belief system are aligned toward a positive outcome without the burden of fear, we give ourselves the best chance of success.
Peter Baines, author of Leadership Matters: Stories and Insights for Leaders, Achievers and Visionaries, is a highly sought after international keynote speaker, author and humanitarian who helps leaders and their teams maximize their leadership potential.