Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life by Eric Greitens

You cannot bounce back from hardship. You can only move through it. There is a path through pain to wisdom, through suffering to strength, and through fear to courage if we have the virtue of resilience.

In 2012, Eric Greitens unexpectedly heard from a former SEAL comrade, a brother-in-arms he hadn't seen in a decade. Zach Walker had been one of the toughest of the tough. But ever since he returned home from war to his young family in a small logging town, he d been struggling. Without a sense of purpose, plagued by PTSD, and masking his pain with heavy drinking, he needed help. Zach and Eric started writing and talking nearly every day, as Eric set down his thoughts on what it takes to build resilience in our lives.

Eric's letters drawing on both his own experience and wisdom from ancient and modern thinkers are now gathered and edited into this timeless guidebook. Resilience explains how we can build purpose, confront pain, practice compassion, develop a vocation, find a mentor, create happiness, and much more. Eric s lessons are deep yet practical, and his advice leads to clear solutions.

We all face pain, difficulty, and doubt. But we also have the tools to take control of our lives. Resilience is an inspiring meditation for the warrior in each of us.


I saw Eric Greitens give an interview on The Daily Show and was intrigued by the idea of his book. I added it to my "to-read" list and it quickly got lost in the shuffle. As a commuter, I spend a significant amount of time in my car and lose valuable reading time. I have always had mixed feelings about audiobooks. While I like that it allows me to "read" while driving, I miss having a physical book in my hands. However, since I am now spending so much time in my car, I decided to give audiobooks another go. I was pleased to see that my local library had the audio version of Resilience and decided it would be the perfect test subject for determining once and for all if audiobooks were for me.

I have always had the up most respect for our military men and women. I admire their bravery and their willingness to put their lives on the line to protect others. My heart breaks when I hear how they are left unsupported and hurt after they return from the battle lines. I have made it a point to support charities that provide services and help to wounded veterans. But as much as I respect them, the truth is it is hard for me to truly understand their hardships. In our modern era, the divide between civilian and soldier is vast and ever growing. Unlike in the past, our country can be at war without the average citizen ever experiencing one inconvenience. Even though our country is "at war," for the majority of the population it's almost as if the war exists only on TV. Because of this, the men and women who risk their lives for us face little understood challenges as they try to integrate back into civilian life. I fear that in many ways, we fail to adequately support these men and women, and give them what they really need: a purpose. We fail to recognize and utilize their skills, and because of this many of veterans find themselves homeless, unemployed, addicts, or suicidal. We owe these men and women so much, much more than what they get.

In truth, I had a mixed reaction to this book. I liked the idea of the structure, a set of letters written back and forth between friends, but was disappointed how it played out in the book. The book is in fact a set of letters, but it only contains the letters that Eric wrote to his friend, Zach, a soldier suffering from PTSD. The book does not include Zach's responses to Eric, so at times, I felt like I was only getting half of the story. I wanted to know more about Zach's experiences, thoughts, and reactions. While they were at times alluded to in Eric's letters, I was disappointed that the book turned out to be more of a one-sided conversation. 

I did not find anything in this book to be ground-breaking or even mind-blowing, but I think that was the point. Eric draws on the writings of ancient philosophers and past thinkers to discuss the idea of what it means to be resilient. The "wisdom" found in these pages is nothing new, because the idea of what makes a resilient person is not anything new. I think the biggest thing that stuck me is how Greitens talks about how we perceive our suffering. When faced with pain, we (meaning humans in general) often see our situation as unique and therefore incapable of being understood by others. But the truth is, our experiences are not unique. Losing a brother in battle is no different from losing a brother to cancer. The experience or circumstance is different, but the result and the pain is not. The idea that our pain is not unique is like a slap in the face. It's an idea that is harsh, but ultimately I have to agree with Greitens. It's true. It's a liberating truth, in my opinion. If our suffering is not unique, it lifts the burden of having to carry it on our own. It frees us to connect with others and share pain, making it easier to carry.

The other point that I found interesting is that Greitens says that veterans often falter after returning home because society gives them a free pass. We allow them to indulge in their suffering by removing any responsibility or accountability in an effort to "make things easier" for them. We make excuses for them, thinking that we are helping. Greitens says that in fact what we need to be doing is holding them accountable and helping them find a purpose. Our servicemen and women go from having a clear purpose, being part of team, with every minute of every day regimented and controlled, back to a life where the objective and the routines they are accustomed to no longer exist. Greitens goes on to say that anyone who lacks purpose will find themselves in a similar position. I thought this was a very interesting point of view that makes perfect sense when you stop and think about it.

In the end, I thought the arguments that Greitens laid out in the book where not particularly revolutionary, but I surmise that was not the intent. Many of the ideas in the book came across as common sense and universal, which seemed to be the point. One cannot escape suffering, this is perhaps one truth that we can all agree on, but how we chose to deal with that suffering is our choice. I am glad that I read the book, but didn't experience anything profound enough that will have me returning to its pages again and again. It was a good audiobook and I liked listening to the author read the letters. It felt more personal that way. Overall, an intriguing read with useful insights.

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