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Laurie Vlasak: When the going gets tough, the tough get going

Laurie Vlasak
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A friend recently shared about a mutual acquaintance who had suffered a devastating loss — one of those life events I would wonder if I could survive. My friend said, “She is resilient.”

This paused me to think. Stories of resilience and the human qualities of it inspire me.

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Webster defines resilience as the capacity to recover from difficulties and the ability to spring back into shape. Toughness, hardiness, strength, spirited and flexible are used to describe resilience. We read and hear news about acts of tragedy and despair, and we also hear about those who survive and thrive. We need that in our lives. Resilience happens all around us, every day in real life, not just in the news or in movies.

As a nurse of 42 years, I crossed paths with thousands of people — patients, families, colleagues, all types of staff. I witnessed resilience in the face of seemingly impossible situations.

I found that the most resilient maintain a positive attitude. They find opportunity to adjust their life view to the good, no matter how small, even in the face of difficulty wherever and however they could do so. People with strength keep a sense of humor and laugh even during the most demanding of times.

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Toughness means being flexible enough to believe nothing is out of reach, while also knowing you may not get what is wanted. Those who thrive in the face of difficulty tend to focus on what they can do, not on what they can’t do. They believe in their ability to figure out a problem, even if the options to solve it are limited.

My grandmother was resilient. Some people may say she had a hard life. She would have told you she had a great life, and that was her genuine truth.

She immigrated from Sweden to Minnesota as a young girl in the 1900s and married a young Welsh man. They made a life in rural MN with 12 children, moving periodically within a four-mile radius.

Life as I viewed it as a child was never presented as hard. Of course, there were hard times -- the years 1925 through the rest of the century were not easy years for rural and small-town life. There was little money, lots of worry, disappointment, trouble and grief but our legacy is of laughter, love, community, pursuing dreams and service.

After my grandpa passed at a relatively young age, my grandma’s model of strength and positivity were present until her passing at 95. She made difficult seem not that hard. That stuck.

My mom told me, “Your grandma always told us to smile at the first three people we see every day and our day will go far beyond our expectations. If you do that, you must stand tall, look others in the eye with confidence, moving forward.” This seems like a simple statement — but in fact is a foundation builder on living.

I am not an expert. There are internet sites out there about developing resilience. As for me, I am going to model features from all those good people who through my life showed me their examples of resilience in day-to-day life. And I will smile at the first three people I see every day — and probably more — keep my chin up and look to the sky (another one of Grandma’s sayings). I encourage you to find examples of resilience around you and draw strength and spirit.

Laurie Jo Vlasak is a Rochester resident who lives with her husband, and has adult children and four grandchildren. She is a lifelong learner and has more interests now than ever before.

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Highlights of events in 1997, 1972, 1947 and 1922.
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