Opening the door to my waiting room I found Tamara standing on crutches, streaked greying blond hair offset by deep brown eyes and a big smile. Next to her was husband Len, a small older man with piercing eyes and balding head, holding an empty wheel chair. Surprised by the greeting, I waited for an explanation.
“We got halfway here, but the bumpy sidewalk popped the wheel off. It was too hard to hobble the five blocks back home, so we kept walking to keep the appointment.“ Tamara looked wiped out. "I’ll stay and Len will get me and the chair in an hour. “
“How is the aftermath of the accident?” Tamara had smashed her ankle pedaling down a steep Hawaiian mountain, and had been flown in to Penn. Surgery successful, she was trying to maneuver the sudden changes required in a complex life.
“I can’t get into my tiny office with my leg and the wheel chair, so I am working from home but I need administrative support.” A highly respected accountant, Tamara’s clients need her assistance year round. “It is weird to have a full time nurse giving me a shower but I pretend I am at a spa so I somehow make that work. Len finds me hard to live with these days because I am so devoid of things to do that I chatter and nibble incessantly. But all in all we are coping just like we always have.”
Tamara and Len sought help for a comfortable 38 year marriage that needed an infusion of passion and fun. Part of the “fix” was an exotic vacation, different from their customary weekend in museum-filled London. The biking adventure was a stretch for them: Len had been worried about safety, but Tamara cajoled him into going by extolling the virtues of new activities. “I have to give Len credit: he has not even insinuated that this is my own d--- fault, though I bet he thinks just that.”
“How have you adapted to this”, I asked, knowing she depended on her considerable income to support Len’s unexpected retirement from corporate executive status.
“Adaptability is my middle name. You know that. I can’t afford to let details get me down. I’d never be where I am if Len and I hadn’t bounced with a ton of punches.” I recalled aloud that they had rebuilt their center city town home after a surprise fire spread the smell of smoke throughout the 120 year old building. And how they had helped their rebellious adolescent daughter cope with scoliosis. And I commended Tamara again for her creativity in handling Len’s prostate cancer, which left impairment in their love life. Tamara had good naturedly learned a special technique which enabled them to spice up this lifelong marriage despite his illness. “It is a nuisance but he is so relieved to feel normal that it is worth it.
"Tamara, do you know that adaptability is one of the key factors in people who show resilience and strength during their lives?” I wanted her to hear well-deserved acknowledgement of their coping skills. ”You and Len have clearly achieved your place of honor in the adaptability Hall of Fame. “
“Thanks." She smiled. "It is actually fun for me to figure out things that seem to stump other people. I just don’t know why they let this stuff get them down.”
I caught her eye, and smiled. “Your adaptive problem solving has insured you optimal life resilience. You deserve the fruits of your labors.” And I meant it.
This is the final in a series on key factors creating resilience, one of the secrets to optimal life development. Tamara illustrates what we, at The Coche Center, refer to as The Adaptability Tool Box. Some individuals and couples have personalities with a built-in, at-the-ready tool box to adapt to what life inevitably dishes out. The Adaptability Tool Box includes motivation, humor, cognitive flexibility and creativity. When things do not go well, some people use their imagination and courage to do something different, creating a solution where none existed. They manage to laugh at what life brings rather than giving in, finding humor and strength especially during hardship. They are actually proud of their ability to outwit challenges. This confidence about their own capacity allows them to muster creativity where others give up. Their resilience and problem solving ability is one of their greatest gifts.
To consider: In recent months, what has stumped you in your life? Might there be a more adaptable way to handle this? How might that be an advantage?