Yet our societal attitudes toward resilience are tangled as can be. When crises are long past, we celebrate the ability to bounce back. Yet when life is playing out in real time, continued there’s no room for even a whisper of anxiety about setbacks along the way. Traditional résumés are set up so that resilience becomes invisible.
To find out – right away – who can cope with failure, the U.S. Army runs an ingenious test in the midst of selecting soldiers for its elite Special Forces teams. The method is known as the Log Drill. Small groups of candidates raise and lower a 1,200-pound telephone pole according to a sergeant’s shouted commands. Candidates pause periodically to attempt some pushups and leg lifts in the mud. Nobody gets it right. The strongest soldiers struggle to do mediocre work. The weaker ones perform miserably.
The keepers make it to the end anyway. They endure the pain and embarrassment of constant small failures, unwilling to give up. Afterward, I ask some soldiers how they did it. All the finishers say they recognized the
exercise as a mental challenge and found some way to bolster their spirits. “I’ve done worse than this” is a common refrain. “This sucks so bad that it’s humorous” is another.
Some soldiers talk bluntly about identifying a weaker candidate, vowing to outlast the other guy no matter how bad things get. Most candidates come to the Special Forces wanting to be surrounded by other soldiers who care as much as they do. As attrition sets in, the soldiers who survive take pride in uniting as a new group of winners. They earn the right to be in the brotherhood