Dawn
As the days get darker and winter deepens I look forward to the 21st December because I know once the winter solstice has passed we have tipped over into the journey back towards Spring and each day is one of more light and less gloom.

In our lives we don’t always have the luxury of knowing that we have passed the worst and are heading back toward the light, but it’s important that we remember that 2020, the pandemic and the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in will soon be behind us. Though this Christmas season might feel like the darkest period of the pandemic yet we must hold on to the knowledge that with the vaccine roll out we have reached a tipping point and are beginning to climb towards “after the pandemic”. Hold fast and look out for the signs of better days to come, because they are coming.

Fortitude - A baptism of fire

My first business as a self-employed person was called Fortitude Development.  The word fortitude means the ability to overcome and perform despite obstacles.  At the time, I didn’t realise that I was entering into a season of personal fortitude development, which was both painful and important.  I started it having been forced to leave a corporate position due to being bullied by my line manager to the point of breakdown. Probably not the best time to start something that required a huge amount of resilience, but perhaps a baptism of fire into reframing my mindset to one of growth and possibilities.  Diamonds are, after all, formed from pressure.

It was during this season that many hard edges were knocked off, opportunties created and life lessons learned.  Having come close to being evicted from our home and some days not knowing how we would feed the kids it fundamentally changed my views on poverty, the economy and society.  It fundamentally reshaped my thinking and my life… for the better.

In Practice - Developing fortitude

You don’t have to suffer a nervous breakdown and blow up your entire life to develop fortitude.  It is a something that can be developed through practice. I know I have become more fortitudinous as the years has passed.  I also know that I still have to remember to be mindful of practicing fortitude when the going gets tough.  There are four keys to fortitude development:

Hold fast

Sometimes we can be so fearful of what is happening right now, all we can see is the mess or the thing that is going wrong.  In doing so, we forget all the things that are going right. 

Stop, breathe and hold fast onto the things that remain true.  In simple terms it is reminding yourself that it is not a complete catastrophe.  But what if everything is going wrong?  I hear you.  But that is never true. 
For start, if you can ask that question, you are still alive and if being alive is the only thing you have to hold on to, hold on to it tight, because the worst hasn’t happen.  You are alive and with life comes possibility for things to improve.  You might not yet know how it can possibly can get better, or how you can survive the circumstance you find yourself in, but you can, because you must.
The truth is, in most circumstances we have more than just our life.  Call it counting your blessings or checking your supplies.  It is not a matter of faith to understand that you have more than you think you have to get through.  It may be your education, your experience, your friends, family, access to support or simply a safe place to lay your head at night.  Hold fast to the truth.  You have a lot more going for you, than against you.
At one point we were three weeks away from losing our house.  I didn’t know how I would feed the kids the next day, and I regularly had days without meals.  Lying in bed at night I felt the weight of the catastrophe waiting, crowding in like a weight of oppression and so I would remember.

  • Today we have a roof over our head
  • We have clothes on our back and shoes on our feet
  • I have access to the internet and can search for jobs
  • We may lose our home but we have friends and family, we will not be roofless

On and on I would list the things I could hold on to.  Over time, the list changed, I had some work, we were no longer in arrears with our mortgage, I had more than £20 a month for food.  Eventually, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t just surviving, I was thriving. 

Know that this too is true for you.

Finding out

When disaster strikes or doom looms very often we are thrust into a stiuation with which we are unfamiliar.  This will leave you in a situation where there is more that you don’t know than you do know.  This can leave us confused, unsure and flat footed. In such circumstances we must face up to the things that we don’t know.  Asking for help and advice is an important element of fortitude. Pride be damned.

Learning to accept that I had failed as a business woman was tough. Everyone always lauded me as being this person who was smart and agile and fantastic at business.  Letting go of that identity was actually harder than dealing with the practical elements of getting out the situation I had found myself in. Once I asked for help.

When I face up to what I don’t know, it is surprising how quickly illumination leads to salvation.  There is oodles of advice and practical support available when you take the time to find out.  Willing friends and family will provide support if they just know what help you need, often putting you in touch with someone who can help, even when they can’t.  Acquaintances and complete stranger such as those on LinkedIn always amaze me at their willingness to help if they can.  Finding out what practical (FREE) support is available if you know where to look for it is an important part of fortitude development because it fortifies you.  You realise you are NOT on your own and that you are part of something bigger.  You may think you are being overwhelmed by the storm until you realise that the answers are out there.

Remember

Have you ever panicked and found that information falls out of your head? The rabbit in headlights effect.  Difficult circumstances often mean that we fail to remember what we are truly capable of.

Your life that you have lived so far is testimony to your resilience.  You’ve made it to here.  Which means you can make it to there.  It’s amazing how quickly we forget things we have achieved in our lives, what we have overcome before.  By tapping into our memories we can draw upon our own capability to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

It may be that you have never faced this particular circumstance before, but it doesn’t mean you can’t transfer skills and knowledge from your past to get your through your present.  Sometimes it is enough to remember that you have faced worse and survived.

I call it putting on my “big girl pants” – yank ’em on and remember who I am.  I’ve got this. I CAN do this because I AM ME. 

What you are capable of hasn’t changed because your circumstances have.  If you have lost your job remember that the fact that you HAD a job to lose means that you are capable of GETTING a job – you’ve done it once.  Do it again. 

Don’t underestimate yourself. Remember WHO YOU ARE.

Facing your fears

This is possibly the hardest key to developing fortitude, because to succeed you need to understand what you are really scared of.  It is rarely what you think you are scared of.  If you are feeling overwhelmed by circumstances, it is likely you are slave to some fear or other that you are not even aware of.

When I thought we were going to lose our home, my fear wasn’t “being homeless”, I could deal with that.  I was actually afraid of how my parents would react and constantly being reminded of my failure.

Recently, I was involved in a road rage incident.  Long story, but the crux of anxiety with driving afterwards wasn’t meeting another angry driver, I could deal with that, it was that in the situation I felt powerless and like I couldn’t protect my kids.  It’s a different fear to “being scared to drive.”

Therefore, when the key to developing fortitude is letting go of fear driven by the things you don’t know, you need to take time to discover what you are really afraid of. This might be a personal ephipany and will likely take some time talking through things with a trusted person.  Facing your fears means unravelling the situation so you can identify the seed of your anxiety.

Once you know what you are really afraid of, you can deal with it AND choose to let go of it.

Conclusion

I’ve learned that fortitude development is a life long practice. It is an acknowledgement that we will continually face cirumstances where darkness seems to envelop us, disarm us and disable us.

We need to remember that whatever the circumstance the worse bit will eventually be behind us and our job is to navigate towards the dawn, always looking out for signs of light, until we emerge and realise that we are thriving once more.  We will be changed by the experience – but for the better.

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