Skip to main content


A Resilient Spirit

Trading perfection for resilience, I become a person of strength.

Transformation—Erin Eppsteiner with her husband, Bobby, and daughters (l-r) Ruthie and Tess in Northhampton, Mass., November 2022. Photo by Aman Chuwan.

by Erin Eppsteiner
Northampton, Mass.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a perfectionist. In high school, for instance, dancing competitively, I expected myself to be not just good but the best, not to take home second place but a flawless victory. The same was true in academics. Of course, nothing ever is perfect. My reality and expectations were always at odds, making me an anxious person.

It was as a first-year pre-med student, taking on the most rigorous workload of my life, that my anxiety reached new heights. As one of 50 students in an intensive program, it became increasingly clear who among us were merely good students and who were resilient human beings. As the year wore on, many of us stooped beneath the weight of endless work. But there was one young man who stood out. Day in and day out, he was upbeat. More than making it through the day, he seemed to actually enjoy his day, the rigor of it, and even, it seemed, wanted us to enjoy it, too. After grimly trudging through my first year, I finally asked him what he was doing.

“Practicing Buddhism!”

I attended my first SGI meeting shortly after, feeling a deep and immediate connection with Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. I received the Gohonzon the following year, on May 3, 2003. One clear and early benefit of my practice was that it allowed me to manage my anxiety, freeing me up to experience deeper joy than I’d ever known. In June 2006, I married that upbeat pre-med student who introduced me to Buddhism, Bobby; and we had two beautiful daughters, Tess and Ruthie, now 9 and 11.

Of course, even major life events do not eradicate deep karma. My anxiety waxed and waned over the years until I recognized it for the deep-seated karmic issue that it was. 

In my work as an OB-GYN, I ensure the safe delivery of babies and the health of their mothers. Normally, the entry room of our home is where Bobby and I, back from a long day at the hospital, drop our clinical responsibilities and brace for the impact of running hugs from our daughters.

When the pandemic hit, however, it became difficult to check tension at the door. No running hugs, no easy transition to family life—Bobby and I came home haggard from augmented workloads, tired from breathing all day through thick KN95s. We first went upstairs to struggle out of our scrubs and shower. Only after could we come down and get on with family life. Even then, I found that much of what had once given me joy—mundane things like playing dress-up with the kids—simply draining. Workload aside, my energy was sapped by constant worries. How can I protect my family from the virus? What if I bring it home? What if the girls fall behind in school? My mind was full of doubts, unknowns and “what ifs.” Underlying all of them was the pressing question: Will I ever overcome this anxiety? At times I’d be struck by an almost debilitating panic.

In February 2020, one month before the declaration of a global pandemic, I accepted women’s leadership for my chapter. When the SGI responded to the pandemic by launching outreach campaigns to stay spiritually and emotionally connected amid physically isolating conditions, I dove in, knowing that supporting others is the fastest way to do my own human revolution.

Supporting one person in particular, a Many Treasures Group member battling illness, significantly shifted my perspective. Her life was not perfect and, to the realist, far more uncertain than my own. Yet her voice rang with a conviction I so rarely grasped. On the porch overlooking her flower garden, I’d read her something from the World Tribune, usually something I myself needed to hear, and she’d chime in, always: “Of course!” and go on to express her conviction that striving alongside Sensei had prolonged her life by many joyful years. Reading Ikeda Sensei’s  guidance with her never failed to rouse my fighting spirit—of course I’d overcome my anxiety. Of course I would!

I’ve come to embrace a different vision of myself, one that is imperfect but resilient.

I sought guidance from a senior in faith. In our conversation, I unburdened myself of all my doubts, namely: “How can I encourage someone when I myself am suffering?” and “If I can’t resolve the issue with prayer, doesn’t this mean my faith is lacking?” She encouraged me to consider what victory over my anxiety would look like and deeply chant to manifest it, using my wisdom to find great physicians to support me. Chanting to the Gohonzon, I imagined the person I wanted to be at work and at home, in my family and the SGI. I engraved the image of this person: someone who laughed freely, who lent strength to others, who was a resilient human being. Chanting in this way, my life opened up. I began to view every cause I made, however small or imperfect, as a cause toward kosen-rufu. For me, there was no magic bullet, no miracle cure. For me, the solution lay in many small causes based on a vow to do my human revolution alongside my mentor. Two years on, I feel happier and stronger than ever.

Recently, my daughter Tess experienced her own anxiety about entering middle school, and Ruthie encountered her first “mean” teacher, and came home discouraged for weeks. Having felt anxiety and discouragement myself, I was able to be there for them in ways I could not have had I lived a perfect life. The same can be said for all my relationships—with my family, with my colleagues, with all the SGI members of my region. I’ve come to embrace a different vision of myself, one that is imperfect but resilient. I won’t be a flawless mother, co-worker or friend. What I’ll be is a disciple who lives with her mentor in her heart, who has no need for flawless victories, because her strength flows from a vow to never give up. 

Rather than being attached to and constrained by your own idealistic standards, you should look hard at reality just as it is. Then try to discover some positive or enjoyable aspects and use them for your own benefit.

Ikeda Sensei  (The New Human Revolution, vol. 6, revised edition, p. 23)

Nov. 18: Soka Gakkai Founding Day

Why Haven’t My Prayers Been Answered? Part 1 of 2