Warning: This post will be a little more personal than most of my posts, but there is a lesson here for applicants. Please let me know by posting a comment, if occasional posts like this one are OK with you.
It’s been an interesting few weeks.
Starting with the day of the Boston Marathon a little over two weeks ago, I have seen and heard amazing stories of resilience and fortitude. And no, I was not in or even near Boston. As a city, it has demonstrated those qualities, and those injured in the bombing and grieving for lost loved ones will need even more strength in the weeks, months, and years to come.
Coincidentally that night I went to see the movie, No Place on Earth. It is a documentary narrated by the people who lived it: six elderly Holocaust survivors who hid in a cave for over a year and a half. Actors act out the scenes. The elderly people, who have since lived seemingly normal lives, raised children, and enjoyed the privilege of seeing grandchildren and in some cases great–grandchildren, relate an amazing story of fortitude and resilience brilliantly presented in this outstanding movie.
Then two weeks later, I traveled with my 83-year-old mother, herself a Holocaust survivor, and attended the 20th anniversary of the founding of the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Here we again heard stories of courage and heroism as the conference honored survivors, veterans who liberated Europe, and rescuers who saved the persecuted. We heard from Nobel laureate, Elie Wiesel, President Bill Clinton, aged veterans, survivors, and rescuers. Most of the honorees are in their 80’s and 90’s. Almost all were accompanied by their children and grandchildren. The younger generations’ attendance evidenced their elders’ resilience – their ability to move forward and rebuild their lives.
Former Buchenwald prisoner, Elie Wiesel, represented the survivors and spoke movingly of how he and 400+ orphans freed from that hell on earth and sent to a children’s home in France after World War II, should have been emotional cripples. All 400+ became doctors, lawyers, teachers, tradespeople, rabbis, leaders, businesspeople, and writers. Despite the scars, they moved on. Despite the pain, they picked up the pieces of their lives. Refusing to be victims, they became survivors.
Similarly the Stermer family from No Place on Earth emerged from their cave, literally dusted themselves off (layers of dirt), and began their lives anew. They moved to the U.S. and Canada, built businesses, and had families. They moved on.
On some level the people of Boston demonstrated that same strength after their week of horror as they resumed their lives.
From the depths of my heart I hope that none of you have been tested in the way that those whose lives were torn apart by World War II were tested, but I know that’s not true. Some of you have been persecuted. Some of you are vets. Some are heroes. Your ability to recover despite the pain or the scars defines the difference between a tragic victim and a resilient survivor.
For the rest of you — the lucky ones who haven’t endured the horrors of war or genocide, lived in a cave for a year and a half, or been under lock-down in a city in the grip of a murderous terror attack – you too can demonstrate that endurance.
What does resilience mean for applicants leading blessed lives with more pedestrian challenges, frustrations, and aggravations and having to answer questions either in an essay or interview about failure, setbacks, or mistakes? It means showing through examples that you have the ability to come back, learn, and move forward. It means that after your leg, broken in a skiing accident, heals, you return to the slopes. It means that after your first “patient” dies, you continue with your plans to be a doctor. It means that after your start-up fails, you resolve to get an MBA so that you can successfully manage your next business.
When asked about failures, setbacks, and mistakes, you just have to show that you have the strength and courage to deal with events within and beyond your control, to recover from disappointment and failure, and to pick yourself up, hopefully learn from the experience, and yes, move on. That’s resilience.
By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the new, definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.