Bouncing Back

Journal of Financial Planning: June 2013


Vern C. Hayden, CFP®, is president of Hayden Financial Group LLC in Westport, Connecticut, author of Getting an Investing Game Plan, and contributing editor to

You haven’t lived until you have failed or at least experienced a crisis, so says a good friend. Somewhere along the way we all have had to bounce back from something.

My cousin Phillip wouldn’t talk about it until I got him to open up a bit at a family reunion. He was an Army Ranger in charge of a five-man unit that got dropped by helicopter behind the enemy in Vietnam. As eight bullets took him down he put a full magazine in his M16 and put it on automatic fire as he passed out. That killed the three Viet Cong who were coming at him and gave rescuers time to save him and two others of his team. He spent the next two years having multiple operations and eventually had a successful recovery. The really amazing part of this story was Phil’s resilience. He moved on with his life and for more than 20 years was a highly regarded FBI agent.

Thinking about resilience taps into the fertile ground of many sources of crisis and failure. It might be a personal experience, a sports figure, an actor, past presidents, or friends. The movie The Impossible portrayed the survival and almost unbelievable resilience of a family nearly wiped out in the tsunami in Thailand.

Six-time NBA world champion Michael Jordan emphasized how failure can be an opportunity to recalculate and readjust, when in a popular 1990s Nike commercial he said, “I’ve missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”

Now along comes the authoritative book Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, co-written by Dennis Charney, M.D., and Steven Southwick, M.D. Charney is dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. He also is a professor in the departments of psychiatry, neuroscience, pharmacology, and systems therapeutics. (Full disclosure: Charney is a client of mine). Southwick is a professor of psychiatry, post-traumatic stress disorder and resilience at Yale University School of Medicine and Yale Child Study Center. Their book discusses 10 key ways to bounce back from stress and trauma.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson, another great NBA star, endorses the book by saying, “It teaches you how to become stronger, how to bend but not break, and how to make the best out of a bad situation.”

Help for You and Your Clients

If you are reading this column, chances are you are a successful financial planner who has suffered trauma or stress at some point in your career. You have somehow met the challenge and have continued with a purposeful life and career. Perhaps even more important, many clients have gone through tough times, if not financially, then physically or with family and friends. This book can be a tremendous help to us and them.

The authors state, “In people, resilience refers to the ability to ‘bounce back’ after encountering difficulty.” Bouncing back, of course, is not a simple matter. The authors continue, “… anyone who has spent time studying human behavior, or investigating the nervous system and brain, understands that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are complex products of genetics, biological, psychological, social, and spiritual forces. Resilience is far more than a simple psychological trait or biological phenomenon.”

In examining what makes people resilient, the authors focused on three categories of people. First, they interviewed former Vietnam prisoners of war. The second group was made up of Special Forces instructors. The final group was resilient civilians from many walks of life. After conducting a detailed analysis of the interviews, the authors identified 10 coping mechanisms that proved to be effective for dealing with stress and trauma. The coping mechanisms are called resilience factors.

The authors provide information relating to each factor with many real-life examples, and the book offers significant insights. For instance, I found the in-depth discussion of pessimists and optimists to be extremely useful. “… [R]ealistic optimists pay close attention to negative information that is relevant to the problems they face. However, unlike pessimists, they do not remain focused on the negative. They tend to disengage rapidly from problems that appear to be unsolvable, that is they know when to cut their losses and turn their attention to problems that they believe they can solve.”
Chapter four, “Moral Compass, Ethics, and Altruism: Doing What Is Right,” is as close to a “must-read” as anything I have read. The first paragraph whets your appetite: “In an age of moral relativism, situational ethics, and social Darwinism, it may seem irrelevant to talk about ‘moral compass.’ Some believe that over the past century, psychology with its focus on the unconscious has transformed what once were moral judgments into non-judgmental assessments of behavior, sometimes to the point where individuals are absolved of personal responsibility for the choices they make.”

Overcome a Life Crisis

There is powerful stuff here. The authors cite a guy by the name of Jerry White who progressed from victim to survivor when a landmine blew his leg off. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Here are his five steps to overcoming a life crisis:

  • Face facts: accept what has happened
  • Choose life: live for the future, not in the past
  • Reach out: connect with other survivors
  • Get moving: set goals and take action
  • Give back: service and acts of kindness empower the survivor to be an asset rather than a victim

The 10 resilience factors discussed in detail in the book are as follows:

  • Fostering optimism
  • Facing fear
  • Solidifying moral compass
  • Practicing religion and spirituality
  • Attracting and giving social support
  • Imitating resilient role models
  • Physical training
  • Mental and emotional training
  • Enhancing cognitive and emotional flexibility
  • Finding meaning, purpose, and growth

Ours is a unique profession. We need to help each other and clients to be resilient in the face of inevitable stress and traumas. 


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