Book by: Eric Greitens
Review by: Vicki D. Fisher
College of Education and Human Sciences
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Resiliency is imperative for college students. Advisors know that students must develop strategies and skills to work through the many challenges they will face throughout college. Resilience, by Eric Greitens, contains over twenty themes related to resiliency. The most relevant to advising will be highlighted.

Resilience is written as a series of letters from one Navy Seal to another. While it is written within a military lens, the lessons shared can be applied to college students, especially those experiencing academic and/or personal struggles. Greitens contends that for individuals to become resilient, they must experience challenging situations. Struggle, he believes, builds deep reservoirs of strength. By working through painful situations, one learns to step beyond past problems. To this end, resiliency should be considered a way of being, not an achievement. While the goal is never to have students struggle, it is important to remember that significant learning can occur throughout the process.

Greitens cautions that resiliency should not be equated with “bouncing back.” Bouncing back implies one goes back to before, but this minimizes everything that hardship, pain, and suffering provide. Healthy people don’t bounce back, they integrate these occurrences into their lives. As advisors, reminding students that the goal is not to return to an earlier shape but to become a new and improved version of their previous self may help the immediate challenge seem more palatable.

Another point of contention is that students should not expect to be free from challenges. Students may anticipate that college will be the best four years of their lives, so when things fail to go smoothly they panic. Greitens urges that the expectation should never be a life free of change, struggle, or worry.  Instead, students should welcome change as catalyst for new, more successful behaviors.

Greitens also argues that resilience is not something one is born with, but rather something to be built. It can be practiced and refined and will eventually become a part of one’s identity. This process of building does not necessarily mean monumental change, small changes practiced consistently can also lead to transformation.

While it may be obvious to apply these tenets to students experiencing difficulties, they can also be applied to the excellent student working towards perfection. Advisors should encourage students that rather than looking for perfection, they should be looking for better. An orientation towards better will cause movement in a positive direction.  

The book asserts that the key to building resiliency is taking responsibility for one’s own life. This does not mean students are responsible for everything that happens to them, but they are indeed responsible for their reactions to life events. Acceptance of responsibility can enable one to both regain control and serve as a powerful cure for pain.

Another important factor in developing resiliency is managing anxiety. Telling students not to worry is actually counterproductive. Greitens, instead, encourages to “worry productively.”  Visualize the worst-case scenario, but instead of getting stuck there, focus on a positive response, practice and mentally rehearse options. Envisioning a successful response to hardship will often reduce anxiety by offering a sense of control.

While the book may not be a daily go to for advisors working with struggling students, reading it will enable advisors to see the potential for learning and growth in difficult situations. This could help propel students beyond challenges, big or small, that they are sure to encounter throughout their college years.

Resilience. (2015). Book by Eric Greitens. Review by Vicki D. Fisher. New York, NY:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing. 301pp., $26.00 (Hardback) ISBN 978-0-544-32398-8 

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