It was Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success. Click this link and watch the trailer. It’s short, and worth it. Go ahead, we’ll wait.
The authors define “supersurvivors” this way:
They bounce forward, and in truly remarkable ways. . . . They move beyond mere resilience. They transform the meaning of their potential tragedies by making them the basis for change.
Yes, the book was for me. I understood the people and their stories on a level where still waters run deep. They weren’t inspirational, they were satisfying in their matter-of-factness. Two stories in particular spoke to me.
Alan Lock always knew he’d be career military. A genetic eye condition made him legally blind at age 23, ending his career in the Royal Air Force.
All his life, people had been telling swimmer Maarten van der Weijden he was destined for Olympic gold, and he was proving them right until his path to the medal podium was halted by cancer with a 30% survival rate.
What happened next? Alan became the first legally blind person to row a boat across the Atlantic Ocean. After three years, Maarten’s cancer was gone. Five years later, he won Olympic gold.
Neither of them was a positive thinker. In fact, just the opposite. “No matter what people say, there were no positives in losing my sight,” Alan told the authors. His secret to success? “I always expect the worst,” he said, adding “I knew I was doomed.”
Maarten’s supporters encouraged him to use his athletic training to maintain a positive attitude. He had other thoughts. “There was a big gap between my idea of hope and their ideas of hope,” he said. “For me, hope was chemotherapy.” Of his recovery, he said “I knew the odds of success were very small. I set out simply to swim my best in small competitions.” After the Olympics, a reporter compared Maarten to Lance Armstrong. Maarten responded “Armstrong says that positive thinking and doing a lot of sports can save you. I don’t agree. I even think it’s dangerous.”
So much for maintaining a positive attitude. If that wasn’t their secret, then what was? Just this: a feeling they could do something about it — a feeling of personal power that said “It may be over for me, but I still think I can do something about it.”
Surprisingly, that attitude can co-exist with a lack of positive thinking — a fact that apparently drives some psychologists crazy. Supersurvivors cites numerous psychological articles describing this attitude as “delusional” and based on “illusions of control.” One psychologist said people like this have “distorted positive perceptions of themselves (self-aggrandizement), an exaggerated sense of personal control, and overly optimistic expectations about the future.”
Alan described his attitude this way: “I know what I can’t do now that my eyesight is gone. So now I’m going to figure out what I can do.” When he decided to row across an ocean, “People thought I was nuts. But this was my life now, and I wanted something that stretched me mentally and physically. I was shooting for a watershed moment.”
He got his watershed moment alright. Quite literally.
We would call Alan and Maarten realists, pessimists even. There was no bravado or can-do spirit, no hope for a miracle. They knew their odds were poor. They expected adversity and got it. Yet they did what they did anyway, for no one but themselves.
I find a stillness in that attitude, and a deep satisfaction when I act from it. And so I keep up with my physical training, training diet, and all the rest, and somehow I think it matters.
Call me delusional, I guess.