There is a scene in the film Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005) in which the protagonist, Bruce Wayne, tumbles into a derelict well while attempting to hide from his best friend, Rachel. As he quickly discovers, the well connects to a vast network of caliginous caverns—and the subterranean realm happens to abound with the creatures Bruce fears most. Within seconds, a torrent of bats surrounds him, and the dread of the circumstances causes him to momentarily lose consciousness.
Fortunately, Bruce’s ordeal is short-lived; after Rachel alerts Bruce’s father to his son’s misadventure, Thomas Wayne descends into the well to rescue the youngster. Then, as he carries Bruce back to safety in the Wayne mansion, Thomas poses a rhetorical question:
“Why do we fall, Bruce? So that we can learn to pick ourselves back up again.”
The scene demonstrates two valuable principles: facing one’s fears, and recovering from adversity (i.e. resiliency). In fact, those challenges frequently go hand-in-hand—in order to depart from your comfort zone and take risks, you need to be confident in your ability to recuperate after setbacks. Part of that sense of self-assurance owes to preparedness (like ensuring you have adequate resources and alternatives in case of failure), and part of it is related to psychological and emotional strength.
Here is some advice to help you bounce back from mishaps, and overcome difficulties that may arise in the future:
• When something goes wrong, try to learn from it.
You have undoubtedly heard the aphorism “Every cloud has a silver lining.” Similarly, many misfortunes entail opportunities for self-improvement, personal growth, and learning. When a particular situation in your life doesn’t turn out the way you would have liked, ask yourself how you would handle things differently if a similar experience presented itself again.
• Acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses.
No one is perfect. By pretending to be an exception to that universal rule, you will only hinder your own personal growth. Instead, be honest with yourself and authentic with the people around you. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it and try to make up for it. When you succeed, don’t be afraid to take (a reasonable amount of) pride in your accomplishments.
• Keep your problems in perspective, and be grateful for the good stuff.
We’ve all had bad days and trying experiences. But unless the earth has just been pulverized by a storm of asteroids or consumed by the sun in its fiery death throes, things could surely be worse.
One useful way to think about hard times, is to ask yourself whether the mishap of the moment will still matter in a year, or five years. For the majority of problems we face in our daily lives, the answer is no. In fact, some of today’s debacles may become tomorrow’s humorous anecdotes.
Finally, by appreciating and seeking consolation in the positive aspects of your life—including loved ones, past triumphs, and passions unrelated to your professional career—you will improve your chances of both handling adversity and bouncing back.
• Practice generosity.
Generosity and involvement in charitable causes can increase self-esteem, and provide new and valuable perspective on life. Thus, although charity is often perceived as a sacrifice made by a giver on behalf of a recipient, in reality, the benefits of beneficence can be mutual.
More generally, by helping others in their time of need, we increase the likelihood that they will be willing to do the same for us.
• Failure is not necessarily a step back.
Sometimes it is better to have tried and failed, than never to have tried at all. If you’ve endured a mishap, it may mean you’ve taken a risk and departed from your comfort zone—a precondition for any significant achievement.
You needn’t view occasional disappointments as the culmination of your efforts; instead, try to think of them as unfortunate but necessary steps along the path to success. If nothing else, adversity offers the opportunity to prove that you can navigate through hard times and come back stronger than before.