I recently had the opportunity to speak with two different groups of male inmates at a prison. They, along with a group of university students, were enrolled in a criminology course taking place inside the prison in which they'd been required to read my memoir. It was an amazing experience to see these "hardened criminals" sharing their feelings, dreams and drive to understand what had led them to the life mistakes they were now trying to turn around.
Time and again I heard details of harrowing childhoods, and many of them related closely to the little girl in my book. And what they all wanted to know most was why I've been so resilient when they were still struggling.
This is the question I've had more than not other from my readers, and one I've pondered at great length over the past few years. I'm certainly no expert on the matter, but here's what I've come up with speaking from my own personal experience: It is not actually resiliency that keeps our chin above water when we are sinking, but the determination not to give up on our core dreams while knowing when to let go of our superficial desires.
Let me explain. Resiliency is the ability to recover -- in other words, to return to a prior state of health. That's great, but what if you start life at such a deficit that you never had that state of wellness to begin with? If your life then slides even further downhill as an adult, the best you can hope for under the terms of resiliency is to return to your previous condition.
So for many of us it's about more than resilience -- it's about recreating who we are, redefining our values, and understanding what we need to feel fulfilled. This may sound daunting, but it's really quite simple. It comes down to our dreams, which everyone has. I think that most suffering happens because we give up before we achieve our goals -- or we actually do, but then dismiss our achievement because it's not exactly the picture we had in mind.
I'm willing to bet all of those men on the inside had big dreams as children, dreams that were slowly eroded by dysfunctional family dynamics and their resulting inability to make good choices. But when you peel back the layers of the shattered illusions of higher education, fancy houses, big-money careers or what have you, you find a basic desire to create a life that's better than the wandering, wondering, struggling one their parents set them up for by failing to provide boundaries or support or love. And this elevated sense of self, in its many shapes and forms, is something I believe we can all achieve.
I first started pondering the idea of core dreams vs superficial desires when I was modelling. With teeth that just weren't straight enough and thighs that weren't quite skinny enough, I was continually passed over for the jobs I really craved -- the editorials for the top magazines. My desire to land these jobs was based in ego, while my longing to have a career as a working model was driven by my will to survive. I eventually settled into a career as a catalogue model and enjoyed financial success -- my core dream.
Another of my dreams was to break the divorce pattern in my family by marrying once and staying that way. But with no model for choosing a partner wisely, it quickly became apparent in both my first two marriages that I'd made a mistake. Years of painful realizations and turmoil ensued before I finally got up the courage to leave each of them, but I never gave up on my core dream of finding the right man, which I now have.
When I wrote my first memoir, I received countless rejection letters over the six years I took to finally get it right. Each time another round of rejections hit me, instead of hitting delete on my manuscript, I'd rewrite the whole damn thing over again and try again. It eventually brought me an amazing agent, a deal with HarperCollins and a bestselling book. I've thought long and hard about what it was that finally made me turn the corner in my writing, and I've realized it was purpose; instead of writing to feed my egotistical ambition of creating a bestseller, I started writing to connect with people who, like myself, felt like outsiders -- and that's when I found success.
So hold fast to your core dreams. And most of all, don't give up. You've heard it before, you'll hear it again, but as someone who's been in the trenches of hopelessness several times, it's the best advice I can give. If you quit today, you may be quitting when you are an inch away from the end of a thousand-mile journey. Honour yourself and your dreams, and you will find a way to make them reality.
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