Alone or what Beijing and the History Channel taught me about Resilience

“Endurance is not just the ability to bear

A hard thing, but to turn it to glory.”

-William Barclay

            This quote was shown at the beginning of the season finale of season two of the History Channel show, Alone. I am a big fan of the show, because I have always been interested in bushcraft and survival methods, but I am also drawn to the psychological aspect of the show (basically the take ten people and strand them on an island, in such a way that they are all separated by water, and then with the gear they brought they have to survive, last man standing wins $500,00.

I can relate to some of the isolation felt by the contestants on the show. I have never done anything remotely similar. However, there are feeling that I have noticed that the contestants have had that I can “I’ve been there”.

I can relate to the feeling of isolation that the contestants feel. While I am not alone in the same sense that they are alone, living in a foreign country can produce a feeling of loneliness akin to being by one’s self for long periods of time. As a male it is hard to make friend with my fellow teachers who are mostly female, and mostly married (it would be inappropriate for us to hang out outside of work, and most of the male teachers at my school speak no English and are intimidated by me because I am a foreigner (don’t get me wrong, everyone at my school is very nice, but I don’t exactly have friends at work), then I go home and am alone there too. I have friends in Beijing, but I mostly see them on the weekends, means that I am probably alone or feeling isolated, about 85% of the time. I am working to improve this, but living so far from the actual city makes this hard.

I think that the solution to loneliness and homesickness is to one, acknowledge what you feel and grieve what is lost. Then develop a routine, redirect the energy into something constructive. Nothing will make you more homesick than sitting on your butt, doing nothing. Take every opportunity you can to connect with people, this is easier said than done when you live in a place where you don’t speak the language (or you do speak the language slightly but the local dialect completely mangles the language (I’m looking at you Beijingers)). I recently was able to start going to church again at the church I regularly attended before I left Beijing, and it felt like I had returned home, it completely changed my outlook on being in Beijing (it made being here seem like something I could sustain for a while).

There was a scene in season 2 in which one of the contestants broke down, crying “God, please help me, please help”. I have been there, I distinctly remember last year, at the end of a three year run in Beijing (Beijing is a city that will eat you alive, it is constantly listed on lists of both the most unfriendliest cities and lists of the worst places to live, usually it is in the top 10), I felt so completely at the end of my rope, everything seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. It doesn’t help that I have issues with Anxiety, which just distorts everything.

Unfortunately, we all come to a point when we reach the end of our rope, and unfortunately I don’t have all the answers for to deal with that. The best relief I have is to take a step back and reevaluate your situation. This is best accomplished by taking a vacation, it doesn’t have to be a long one or even far away, just get away from your normal surroundings. During this break don’t think about what you’re dealing with back home, just relax. This time away will allow you to see things with fresh eyes. If that doesn’t work, it probably means you need to change your situation entirely.

The third thing that I have noticed that happens on the show, that can relate to, is something that we all can probably relate to, and that is the feeling of letting other people down when we fail. I experience in July of 2015, when I was forced to relocate to the U.S. due to visa issues. I felt like a failure and a poser and I felt like everyone else probably agreed with that assessment.

The reality was that nobody saw things the way I did, they were disappointed for me, not in me. The reality of the matter was that I had done everything I could do to stay in Beijing, I only booked the ticket at the last minute to skirt any possible trouble that might have arisen. Also I hadn’t been home in three years, so I highly doubt anyone was thinking “what a loser” when they saw me (to be fair I haven’t actually asked any of my friends about it, so they might have been thinking that).

When we fail, we feel like we not only failed ourselves, but everyone else who was pulling for us. Unless our actions actually caused us to fail someone, we haven’t failed anyone, including ourselves. Some failures just happen no matter what you do. It’s how handle the failure that defines us. Two quotes from the late great Mohamed Ali come to mind; “everyone has plan until they get hit” and “everyone gets hit, not everyone chooses to get back up”. I think these ring so true in my life. When things are going right, I know exactly what to do, but the minute things get shaken up, I panic. The good news is that I am one resilient SOB (South Omaha Boy), I very rarely stay down.

Developing Resilience is the key to handling failure, real or otherwise. In life you will fall, numerous times. Eventually you learn that the falls won’t kill you and eventually you just dust yourself off and keep going like nothing happened.



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