Compensatory Self-Improvement: The Hardy Way to Forging Possibility

When one door closes, another one opens, if we choose to open it.

We spend much of our lives preparing to fulfill a goal or dream. We wish to become this or that and throw our whole energy into making it come true. Then, something comes along and shuts down the life we’ve been imagining for ourselves; the life for which we have given our sweat and tears. The line of work that you have educationally prepared yourself for is no longer in existence or you find it is not what you imagined it to be. The one person whom you thought you could count on through thick and thin has said goodbye to you, forever.

When doors to goals, dreams, and ways of being shut down, what do we do? Do we passively wait for prince or princess charming to show up on our doorstep, so we can start living once again? Do we buy lottery tickets hoping that our luck will change someday? If we wait for other people or good fortune to define a new way, we may be waiting a long time. Or, if we sink into passivity, self-pity and powerlessness (the 3 P’s of Giving Up), we can harm our physical and mental health.

We can make our good fortune, by the way we cope with stressful change. We have to cope by being resilient and hardy! But, we have to believe that we are important enough to keep trying to make our life work well (HardiAttitude of Commitment), that we have what it takes to thrive (HardiAttitude of Control) and that whatever hasn’t worked out for us is grist for our learning and personal growth (HardiAttitude of Challenge). The 3C’s of personality Hardiness give us the courage, motivation and strength to forge the best life possible.

Compensatory Self-Improvement

Some stressful circumstances are easier to turn around than others. You don’t like your job, then you quit and find a new one. If you don’t like your home, you put it up for sale and wait for it to be sold. But, what do you do when the work for which you were trained is obsolete, cancer gives you or a loved one only a few months left to live, or natural disaster takes away everything you own? There may be little that you can do to better these situations. Nonetheless, if you wish to get your feet back on the ground, you have to find another area of your life that you can improve that strengthens you physically, mentally and spiritually once again. These self-improvements open up new living possibilities. What is more, the more the self-improvement highlights your true desires, talents and abilities, the more power it has of making up for the original stressor that you could not change. This is why we call them Compensatory Self-Improvements. The challenge is to identify actions we can take in the present that will help us to find new directions, improve us in talent, ability, resource, or personality, while also being able to reduce the stressfulness of the change that initially set us soul-searching.

Take for example, Miranda. Unlike many of us, she did not have to find a career by exploring her talents, as what she was meant to do found her. One of Miranda’s first playthings was a toy piano. It was love at first sight, as they say, which culminated in giving concerts at Carnegie Hall at eleven years old, an education at the renowned Julliard School of Music, and representation by one of the largest talent agencies in the world. She was traveling all around the world giving concerts and making money, by her early twenties. It’s hard to believe that the career for which she had worked toward for so long would now become a source a great stress for her.

Life on the road wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. This lovely and lively young woman was alone 90% of the time. For Miranda, the life as an artist meant a lonely existence ahead of her. After much soul-searching, she brought to a close a life-long dream and sought out to find a new one. It wasn’t an easy task to tap into desires, talents and abilities that were eclipsed by her longstanding focus on music. But, she opened herself up to hunches about what may be possible for her now, despite the uncertainty of their outcome.

Miranda did find her way. She tuned into her talent for mathematics and abstract reasoning (features of musicality) and went back to school to get a Masters in Business Administration in robotic engineering. She anticipates the uses for robotics in industries like agriculture, farming, medicine and the military and designs applications for their development. She loves the creative, project nature of her work and approaches it like she was mastering a concerto ~ seeing how everything fits and comes together into a harmonious whole. Today, Miranda does not view leaving music behind as a loss, but rather as the first stage of unfolding a meaningful life journey.

Research is very clear that compensatory self-improvement is good for our health. This concept comes out of Dr. Salvatore R. Maddi’s pioneer study on resilience and stress at the Illinois Bell Telephone Company that was undergoing government deregulation at the time (Resilience at Work: How to Survive No Matter What Life Throws at Your, Maddi & Khoshaba; He found that the energy we put into turning around our lives by self-improvement is a strong buffer against physical, mental, and spiritual breakdown. Even if we can’t bring a lover or job back, return to our home, or cure an illness, we can still compensate for the stressful loss by self-improving ourselves in whichever ways we can.

Valerie Harper, the 1970’s sitcom star of the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda is a great example of using compensatory self-improvement to forge possibility despite unchangeable circumstances (Valerie Harper speaks out on her brain cancer battle in new documentary: ‘It’s not controlling me!’). Despite having incurable brain cancer, Valerie signed up to compete on the television hit, Dancing With the Stars (2013). Her choice was a message to people to keep going no matter the challenges they are facing. Rather than sink into passivity, self-pity, and powerlessness, Valerie chose possibility; an affirmation of life while she is still living.

Valerie has got it right. It’s not that we have to keep building mountains at every stage of our lives. The idea is more that we keep finding ways to keep growing and learning, as this is what makes us feel most alive and engaged in daily living.

If you wish to find out more about the hardiness approach to stress management, resilience training, and exercises in HardiCoping, Social Support and Compensatory Self-Improvement, you can locate the HardiTraining Workbook: Managing Stressful Change, 4th Edition at or in hard copy, Kindle, Nook and eBook versions.

I hope you liked today’s post and found something useful to better your living. Let me know by selecting the Like icon that immediately follows. You can also Tweet or Google+1 today’s article to let your friends know about it. Have a Hardy day! Warmly Deborah.


18 Responses to “Compensatory Self-Improvement: The Hardy Way to Forging Possibility”

  1. Hi,
    I read your article it isvery beautifully written and these are hard facts of life I think every one should read this. I am gonna share it with my all friends,and thanks a lot for writting such a useful article


    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Masi, thank you so much. Thank you for taking the time to comment and sharing it with your friends. But, mostly, it’s wonderful that you know that each of us can forge a meaningful, worthwhile life if we choose to do so. Be well. So good to see you here today. Warmly Deborah.

  2. avatar kelly keene says:

    I have suffered from depression since i was 18 yrs old, iam 48 now, and i am still suffering from depression, today i was thinking about, blowing my brains out when i ran across your article about about the three p,s i could idenify with them,ive been through alot of loses and pain the last few years, reading your article made me feel good, because i realized where the pain was coming from,if you have anything else on depression, please send the information to me i have left my address an email address, i hope to hear back from, you ,thanks!!!

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Kelly, living with depression is very hard. I often say that people who have long standing clinical depression are unsung heroes in that they do what is needed to make peace and to live with it. I wrote a post called Living With Depression and a few others on clinical depression including a post on Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’d like you to take a look at all of these as they explain many things but also I give many recommendations for living with depression. You’ll see in my Living with Depression post that I too have learned to live with depression.

      Kelly, I know clinical depression is not easy but there are strange gifts that come with it that include intuitive sensitivity, empathy for the human condition, and artistic talent often goes hand in hand with depression (read my post on the Beneficial Face of Depression).

      I don’t know if you have been treated for it. Most likely you have since you have had it for several decades. But, you may want to revisit your treatments with professionals or at the least get the emotional support you need when you feel so desperate and hopeless. Thank you for writing me and I’m so glad that my article was a light in your darkness today. Now, you take good care of yourself and remember there is always hope. If one door hasn’t given you the treatments you need–then you keep opening the doors until you find the right hope. Warm regards. Let me know how you are doing. Warmly Deborah.

      Here’s the links to some of my articles on depression for you:

  3. avatar Sharmin says:

    Dear mam, I have suffered from depression since i was teenage, iam 25 now, and i am still suffering from depression, due to some complex family matters. today i was thinking about, blowing my brains out when i ran across your article about about the three p,s i could idenify with them,ive been through alot of loses and pain the last few years, reading your article made me feel good, because i realized where the pain was coming from,if you have anything else on depression. thanx.

  4. avatar Hameer Singh says:

    I like this really it’s very good….

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Thank you so much Hameer. I’m so glad you like the ideas in this article. Thank you for letting me know. Be Well. Warmly Deborah.

  5. avatar Saif says:

    A well written article which will help people to manage their lives full of stress and anxiety..
    I think my fiance need your articles to read them thoroughly.she herself is a Clinical psychologist but sometime she start behaving like Anxiety and depression patients that i have this and that probs.and mostly she stuck to the Past.that this was my mistake and that was in the past..left my email address kindly help something for her if possible.will be a great honour

  6. avatar irfan shah says:

    Just come to know after reading your article, So I was doing it already….
    I was completely shattered and destroyed once in my career life, but then I collected my efforts, spirits and gave my life an other chance to get stable… I was did the same things as suggested in this article, and now .. I am enjoy my successful life with a high profiled career.
    There is always a hope if we don’t lose heart.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Irfan, it’s always so nice when we read something and say, “Heh, I am doing this.” I know the feeling. Thank you so much for sharing that you did not give up. I like what you say about collecting yourself in spirit and effort and then doing what was needed to give life another try. Blessings to you. Warmly Deborah.

  7. avatar Manju says:

    Hi Dr. Khoshaba,

    I really enjoyed reading this post. It is a life lesson. Your post reminded me of how important it is to have a positive outlook….the optimist’s outlook. There is a quote by Leonard Levinson, “A pessimist sees only the dark side of the clouds, and mopes; a philosopher sees both sides, and shrugs; an optimist doesn’t see the clouds at all – he’s walking on them.”

    In everything that seems bad, there is always at least one good thing we can find; perhaps that one good thing is not always easy to see when you are in the fish bowl though.

    Thanks for your posting. I will see you soon.

    Much love,

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Manju, I love that quote. Thank you for sharing it with us. Yes, we have to remember to walk on the clouds. Great wisdom Manju. We do have to try to separate ourselves from the water if we are to stay motivated and engaged in living. See you soon 🙂 Warmly Deborah.

  8. avatar polly says:

    I am in a very difficult time in my life right now, where both my career and personal lives have come to a standstill. I’ve come to feel like I’m rejected by everyone around me, potential employers, friends, the man I love, etc. I keep trying to move forwards, but nothing seems to happen. I just don’t know what else I can do.

  9. avatar Erin Quinn says:

    Great article! I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve quoted you (with linked attribution, of course) on my education blog ( Thanks, again!

  10. avatar Lynn says:

    This article has given me hope and strategies for living with depression. Your insight into living with depression and why and how those of us affected by it are spot on.
    I am 59 and have lived with depression for over 30 years. I recently made some huge changes (what I now see as mistakes) in my life and am just trying to find my way back from
    debilitating circumstances and thoughts. Seems as much as I try to be positive life just doesn’t give me a break, but I do feel better after reading this article.
    Thank you


  1. […] to Dr. Deborah Khoshaba, hardiness is important because “we have to believe that we are important enough to keep trying […]

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