Resilience vs. Happy Horse S#$%!

Heady Stuff

Many motivational gurus insist that “optimism” is the critical attribute required to overcome adversity. A positive attitude, they proclaim, is the stuff that fuels our troubled hearts to nevertheless drive onward when faced with seemingly insurmountable crisis or personal tragedy.  The deluge of  happy-yap spewed by these positive spinsters has several common themes that appeal to the hopeful masses:

  • With the right attitude and outlook; you can overcome anything.
  • When feeling defeated, pick yourself up anyway; don’t be such a bummer
  • Fake it until you make it! Unhappy? Just smile!  The physical action of smiling will in-itself improve your mood.
  • Don’t wallow in self-pity; your cup of life is half full, not half empty.
  • Believe in yourself and keep going. Push, push, push– you can do it!

You will be amazed, they say,  at what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. Wow, that’s heady stuff!  It’s exciting just reading about it.  Well, sort of.  Although I’m still not exactly sure what to do. Except maybe smile more.

You will be amazed, they say,  at what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it

But then again… You mean smile when I’m actually infuriated?  You mean simply decide to be in a good mood when I feel horribly depressed?  You mean “look at the bright side” when I’m sinking in cold dark quicksand all alone?  Hmmm.  I have a few problems with that. It isn’t genuine; it isn’t real; and it is not my experience. Let’s take a look:

It isn’t genuine

I have always been fascinated with memory skills. For example, using association exercises to memorize other people’s names. It is good technique and good form.  Yet for many youthful years, I struggled.  I know how to to do it; I even train people on it.  But still, I wasn’t good at it.

It never dawned on me that the problem wasn’t the name-game; the problem was that I didn’t give a darn; I didn’t care. I know, youthful selfishness. Not proud of it; but it’s true. The point is,  no matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t genuine. My underlying ineptness was due to my values, not my determination, not my technique, and not my actions. I couldn’t “fake it until I make it” because, deep inside, I didn’t want to. I didn’t value it.

.It never dawned on me that the problem wasn’t the name-game; it was that I didn’t give a darn.

Eventually, I outgrew my youthful indiscretion. Little did I know that later in life, upon losing my hearing, that I would ache to hear your name.  What paradox that I have to relearn how to “listen” all over again to remember and restate other people’s names.

When greeting someone now, I look squarely into her eyes and closely study her face. I ask the person to deliberately and slowly articulate her name and, if required, to kindly write it down. Then I acknowledge the individual by repeating her name back, and, if applicable, I double check to ensure I am pronouncing it correctly.

Then I say, “Thanks Susan. It is a pleasure to meet you and to know your name.” Oddly enough, it’s not as hard as it was for me earlier in life.  Why?  Because today I really want to know your name.  It’s genuine.

It isn’t real

This idea of having a positive vision, lofty dreams  and looking at the world through rose-colored glasses seems oh-so attractive on the surface. But it isn’t real. Putting a positive spin on a negative situation smacks of denial, not resilience.

A rock-solid comprehension of staunch reality–especially negative reality– is a much healthier outlook and sets the stage for implementing real solutions.  More important, it allows for acceptance of your current stake which, in my experience, is critical to ultimate perseverance.

Putting a positive spin on a negative situation smacks of denial

.I recently happened upon a great Harvard Business Review article entitled How Resilience Works.  It hits the nail on the head about people who persevere:

“Resilient people have very sober and down-to-earth views of those parts of reality that matter for survival. That’s not to say that optimism doesn’t have its place…But for bigger challenges, a cool, almost pessimistic, sense of reality is far more important.” 

It isn’t my experience

Of course, anyone can quote articles and anecdotes about perseverance and resilience.  But it pales to what I know from experience. When I first lost my hearing, I felt destroyed.  There were many difficult milestones on the hard road to acceptance.

I’ll never forget one such moment when sitting on my porch shortly after losing most of my hearing. I was extremely sad and felt terribly defeated as I sat alone looking skyward. There was a strong breeze and the leaves were fluttering. Then I suddenly realized that I couldn’t hear the wind. It was a devastating blow.

More than ever, I understand what I am up against. Accepting it, not fighting it is the key.

I miss the sound of my children’s’ beautiful voices. I yearn again for the music of Christmas, Broadway plays, church songs and concerts. Straining to understand what people are patiently “mouthing” to me is hard work and downright exhausting.

Watching others around me happily converse as I stand by haplessly out of the loop–that’s hard.  And it’s tough sometimes to watch people laughing together and nodding their approval to one another while my heart sinks as I politely smile along wondering what’s so funny.  These things are real.  I have to deal with them every day.

And I do.  As each pain registers, I understand that much more about what I am up against. Accepting it, not fighting it is the key. 


I don’t want or need to spin things positive to heal.  I need facts.  Here are a few more data points that I have acquired since my deaf adventure began: That in the absence of sound there is new beauty. That in the perils of silence there is peaceful serenity. That in not hearing words, I am far more focused and perceptive toward other human queues.  I now have a much keener sensitivity to others’ feelings based on their gestures and expressions and what they do, not what they say.

I have made new friends, forged greater bonds, and I have been inspired by the support and love of family and strangers alike. I have learned to trust people more, allow people to help me, and to be of greater service to others in return.  I have new amazing stories to tell; and a new Blog, and a new vocation as public speaker to tell them. And I am even mastering the name game again.   

Sky Without Sound

The reality is that the sky never looked more brilliant on that “dark day” when I couldn’t hear the wind.  I had just never noticed it before. I have read dozens of poems and scores of quotes about the beauty and wonder of God’s deep blue sky. But appreciating the sky’s true brilliance wasn’t my actual experience until that precious moment in the depths of despair when I couldn’t hear the wind.  Then I knew.

I am not an optimist; I am a realist. And that’s what makes my story so cool. I refuse to dazzle by platitudes. Passionate pleas to “be all you can be” may entertain an audience, but it will not inspire them. But sky without sound– now that inspires!

10 replies
  1. Brian Patrick Jensen says:

    You are very welcomed. Your kind remarks leave me a bit at a loss. I am not sure exactly what it was about my article that left a positive impression on Jane; but I’m glad she found it useful. I would love to see from Jane if she is keen to comment here or simply email me directly at Whether publicly on this web site, or privately, I encourage you and your girl to expand upon your views so that I can more fully appreciate your reference to the “details” and the “tough subject matter.” In any case, I am very grateful for this feedback and encourage you and Jane to stay tuned as I begin my new venture blogging, speaking and “listening” from the heart.

  2. Anne Marie says:

    It’s so wonderful reading this about you, I’m really happy to hear everything is getting on a positive note! I really enjoyed taking the sign classes with you and see everyone progress during each lesson! You are truly an inspiration! Keep up with all the hard work, great “seeing” from you! Keep the ASL class up to date on how everything is going!

  3. Sumerlyn says:

    I’m so happy you can find your own silver lining, or sun shine on your face, or what ever clever saying may work. The moral is I’m really glad your taking the good out of your situation. I wish you the best, and if you need help, or wanna practice let me know!

  4. Janet Brook says:

    Brian – wow! I enjoyed reading your blog and wish you the best. I didn’t continue with the sign class because the winter was so bad after being out all day I didn’t want to go back out late at night. I enjoyed the class and I think our meetings in the library with Carolyn were extremely helpful to me.

    I didn’t know you were a motivational speaker – perhaps you could give a short talk at one of our sales meetings here in Blue Bell. I can put you in touch with our broker and see if something can work out. There are a lot of Realtors out there who could use some motivation in this market!


    • Brian Patrick Jensen says:

      Hey Janet. Thanks so much for your positive comments. I have done a lot of speaking in my day (motivational and otherwise), but did not formalize my shtick and market myself a motivational speaker until now. I am definitely interested in speaking and sales meetings are great forums for that. Please by all means, get me in touch with your contact. That will be awesome. Hope you and your family are well, and looking forward to seeing from you again! Let me know about that broker– short talks are my specialty!

  5. Susan Conboy says:

    Love you, Brian. When you write, I hear your voice – it’s so genuine. What a great article…. but when you talk (write) about accepting what you are up against, well, can a person do that without understanding the obstacle fully? I find myself wanting to know WHY bad things happen, and HOW, and I don’t always get those answers. Do I need to keep searching for them? Or let it go?

    • Brian Patrick Jensen says:

      Hey Cousin! I love you too. You ask some heavy questions there Pal! The questions of “How” and “Why” are not usually relevant to comprehending the stark reality of a given situation. In that context, you should let those philosophical questions go. However, I think it is very important to understand the obstacles fully in terms of how the problem impacts day-to-day living–what has the problem taken from you and how does it now impact your life. And it’s very important to acknowledge without rationalization the magnitude of the problem–how much it really, really, really sucks! However, asking “HOW?” and “WHY?” is not part of that formula. I always think of my daughter Sarah’s diabetes. When she was first diagnosed at not even three years old, me and my wife were devastated. And I kept asking, HOW? How did this happen to my daughter? What caused it? And then I would agonize over WHY? Why did she get this chronic illness. Why her? And guess what, Cuz? How she contracted diabetes wasn’t going to cure her. And WHY Sarah?– even if God Himself gave me the answer, it wouldn’t be good enough for me. So there was no purpose to the question. It didn’t matter how and it didn’t matter why, because there was nothing I could do about the answers even if I had them. There was no action to take. But THAT she had diabetes and comprehending fully its potential dangers and treatments and affects on her life and my family– it was essential that I understand the fine details and not deny the reality of it. And that reality included its practical, physical and emotional impact on Sarah and my family at large. It also included grasping how strong and capable Sarah proved to be about handling it; how graceful and courageous she is to this very day. How happy-go-lucky she is, despite her diabetes and maybe even because of it. How she gets straight A’s in school, is an avid tennis player, has a host of wonderful friends, laughs her head off, and spends special time each year with other diabetic children. She plays with them, relates with them and teaches them how to use her insulin pump. Sarah shares her own experience, strength and hope with other diabetics, so that they may benefit from her plight. All this and she is only 13 years old! Damn, that’s impressive. More important it is REAL. It is not exaggeration or looking at the “bright side.” The positive stuff is simply part of the whole package. So understand it; dig into the details– you bet. The good, the bad and the ugly should be faced head-on. But WHY? and HOW? are not part of that. Let those questions go. The answers offer no more insight to addressing the problem than you have now. Good question Cuz. Keep them coming. Love, Brian.


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