“Pandemic” is the 2020 word of the year, not exactly a surprise. 2020 brought us a lot of negative words, including ones we had to make up, like social distancing and doomscrolling. Some words were so over-used that we now cringe. “Unprecedented” has entirely lost its impact and if we “pivot” one more time, we may all lose our lunch.

No doubt we’ll get tired of other words. But, first, it’s time to focus on some new ones. Our choice for 2021 is “resilience”.

Like crutches after a broken leg, resilience only becomes interesting when you are faced with adversity. We are faced with prolonged and compounded adversity: a new pandemic, economic depression, unmistakable racial injustice, and ever-growing national division. All this on top of the infection of long-standing social inequities, which came to a head in mass protests, and the climate crisis that refuses to be ignored, taking us down with uncontrollable forest fires and weather events.

Then came 2021. And January 6th. For anyone who was looking hopefully to the turn of the year as an arbitrary, but desperately needed, change in direction (not a pivot!), well, too bad. Unfortunately, a symbolic holiday cannot turn everything around.

The examples we need are right in front of us

So, we will need resilience. Science says that resilience comes from a combination of factors, from genetics to social and psychological factors. However, we don’t know if we have it until we face adversity. And that takes life experience.

Over the past year, we’ve been sharing stories of people who have found various kinds of success and are defying the negative stereotypes about older people. These are unique people and no story is alike. They range in age and they’ve made accomplishments at all stages of their lives. One thing that they have in common, however, is resilience. They didn’t give up, and even more, they are generous. They’ve offered what they’ve learned to their communities.

We will keep telling these Real Aging stories in 2021 because resilience is is a marker of the reality of aging. We need these teachers, these inspiring leaders. Whether it’s during a pandemic or during the best of times, we all face challenges. Then we have to either find our way back or find a new way. Resilient people learn to manage life’s pushes and shoves and even grow from them. They find their internal and external resources.

We need examples of resilience

We need these leaders by example. To build back from all that has happened, we need to find our resilience.

After the riot at the Capitol, some of us at CTN took a minute to check in with each other. We acknowledged that lately it has been hard to focus on our mission. Sometimes, the sheer size of the crises we face overwhelms our minds and hearts.

But, if we’ve learned anything from working to change minds about aging, it is that we’ve both hit a nerve and found an untapped resource. Ageism is real and we cannot afford to ignore a big segment of people who are still growing and contributing. We need everyone to do their part.

It will never stop being important to be inclusive and to work for communities where everyone of every age, ability, race, gender, and identity can thrive and contribute. Ageism sets up barriers blocking people from growing and contributing. We need those contributions very much right now. We need the examples of people who faced adversity and not only survived, but used it to achieve even more.

Stay tuned this year for more of those examples of the resilience – and other valuable traits – that can come with age.

Sara Breindel, Changing the Narrative blogger