When Katherine Prani got cancer in her first year of university, it turned her plans upsidedown. However, surviving Hodgkin’s lymphoma also cultivated skills for her to deal with challenges that would prove crucial in her later years.
Like Katherine, who is now 40 and working as a freelance copywriter in Sydney, most of us experience unexpected trials – with our health, relationships, finances or career. While most of us probably prefer a smooth-sailing life, life rarely works that way. However, we can benefit from disruption and thrive.
In 2012, scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb released a book detailing why things benefit from randomness and risk. Called Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, Nassim’s work describes anti-fragility as beyond resilience or robustness. “The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the anti-fragile gets better,” he writes.
“The anti-fragile loves randomness and uncertainty, which also means – crucially – a love of errors. Antifragility has a singular property of allowing us to deal with the unknown, to do things without understanding them – and do them well.”
The idea of “anti-fragility” has been applied to various fields, including economics and engineering. In psychology, it describes a way of thinking and living that, in an uncertain world, allows people to recover from mistakes and grow stronger because of them.
Benefit of taking risks
Taking risks is how we grow, says Sydney-based clinical psychologist Dr Heidi Heron. “If we never got outside our comfort zone, we would still be crawling around, eating baby food; we wouldn’t have the technology that we have,” she explains.
“Nobody that I know of that’s highly successful has ever stayed in their comfort zone. Even though it might be uncomfortable for a while, being outside of our comfort zone is how we create a new level of comfort.”
For Katherine, coping with discomfort continued when she purchased a property in her late twenties. Although she had learned meditation and positive thinking during her cancer recovery, she says, “I was almost naively positive to the point of not acknowledging the things that were going on for me.”
Getting a mortgage meant that her maladaptive coping tool of shopping was no longer an option. She started yoga, which “trains you to be comfortable in the uncomfortable.” This helped Katherine through a second bout of cancer and an unplanned career change.
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