Life is Messy

Photo: Nicole Pasia

Facing Challenges

Imagine yourself in the following scenarios:

You just started summer vacation. On your drive home the day after commencement, your car breaks down on Interstate 5. You manage to pull over and call a tow truck. It turns out that a mouse has chewed through the oil line and fried the engine. Your car is dead. Way beyond repair.

Then, a few weeks later, while on a backpacking trip you slip and fall on the trail – 2.5 miles from the trailhead. You hobble out, and discover that you’ve broken your ankle, which requires immediate surgery.

Then, a few weeks later, you are driving your new-to-you car to your internship and a car pulls out in front of you. You crash, and your car is totaled.

Rough summer.

Meeting Challenges

Our ultimate success depends on how we deal with life’s difficulties and messiness – what matters is how we meet challenges, how we react, and ultimately, what we learn and how we move forward.

Many studies have shown that positive psychological capital – the positive and developmental state of an individual – can impact on your attitude, behavior, performance, and well-being. It is characterized by these four components:

  • Hope – The will (agency) to reach a certain goal, and ideas (multiple paths) of how to attain it.

    How do you find hope? Find ways to break down complex, difficult goals into bite-size portions. Make sure the goals are yours and not ones that are someone else’s that you’ve adopted; you will be more motivated by your goals. Or find alternate ways of meeting your goals. Car broke down? You can bike, or take the bus, or get a ride to where you need to go.

  • Efficacy – Task-specific self-confidence, or feeling confident that you can do what you need to do to achieve a specific goal in a specific situation.

    Low self-confidence? Recognize that fatigue, resistance, and fear are natural human responses to challenges - they often will help sharpen your abilities. Also, focus on your past successes, appreciate times where you achieved something difficult (like getting into UW! ;-) )

  • Optimism – Faith in your own ability to improve a situation; the belief that failure is not innate but rather based on things external to you.

    Feeling pessimistic? Recognize that the future holds many possibilities; it is a source of opportunity for you. In the meantime, appreciate what you can about the current moment

  • Resilience – The ability to recuperate from stress, conflict, failure, or change by putting the temporary challenges in perspective and learning from the experience.

    Losing steam? Perhaps you can improvise and find a new way to reach your goal, or take time to connect to why this goal is meaningful or important for you. Finally, stay motivated by accepting reality, and having realistic expectations about how difficult things may be and how long it may be before the situation changes; but don’t worry, it will change eventually!

The UW Resilience Lab is an excellent resource for learning ways to boost your resiliency (like mindfulness and stress management) to make the most of life’s inevitable challenges.

A UW Story: The Rocky Path to Success

Even world-renowned researchers navigate unexpected difficulties. Mary-Claire King, UW professor of genome sciences and medicine who discovered the “breast cancer gene,” tells her story of perseverance in the face of enormous challenges. Read or listen to her story.

About the Husky Experience Toolkit

The Husky Experience Toolkit is designed to help you make the most of your time at UW, wherever you are in your university career. The articles address four interconnected dimensions of the Husky Experience: Know Yourself, Know the World, Make Your Way, and Weave it Together.