Counselling Resource

Psychology, Philosophy & Real Life

Sarah Luczaj

Tragedy as a Motivator

Sometimes tragedies, losses, or terminal illnesses really galvanise us into action, make our priorities crystal clear, and give us a strength we did not know we had…

We are used to thinking of people who undergo sudden tragic loss, of their own health or of loved ones, as in need of support, as having the right, and even maybe the duty (thinking of the media response to the McCanns) to fall apart. We immediately think of debilitating grief, depression and anxiety that can last for years.

Of course the mourning process goes on for years — the stages of disbelief, anger, sadness and reintegration circling for years, mixing up their order, stabbing at us when we least expect it, just when we think we are free. But sometimes tragedies, losses, or terminal illnesses really galvanise us into action, make our priorities crystal clear, and give us a strength we did not know we had.

In this article from The Guardian, Suzy Walton, a “high flying civil servant” tells her story, of the death of her husband, leaving her as sole parent to two little boys, and her subsequent astonishing career success. “A death-inspired survival instinct is a great incentive to smash glass ceilings”, Walker says, explaining how she motivated herself into the senior civil service (the top 4%), both to gain financial security for her family, and to stop herself “going under” emotionally as she saw happen to some in the young bereaved community.

It’s an inspiring tale, and Walker puts her smashing of the glass ceiling down to a survival instinct to work as hard as possible in her extreme circumstances. She stresses that other women and especially mothers, do come across ever-present discrimination, and that there is plenty of work to be done changing attitudes before working mothers are seen as an asset rather than a liability.

The most inspiring part for me remains the alternative vision of grieving, that sometimes you can use the energy of grief for other ends, to make the most of your life, professionally, creatively, personally or all three; that sometimes it is time to leave the caring and sharing support which is necessary just to keep you on your feet at the start, and to strike out again into the one life you have.

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