Leaders as Learners: From Surviving to Thriving — The Role of Resiliency (Part II/III)
[Editor’s Note: A world-renowned speaker on organizational, business and personal resiliency, Eileen McDargh shares powerful stories and offers key insights on how we can cultivate a spirit of resiliency in our lives, moving from a mindset of survival to truly thriving. Divided into three parts, this interview is the fourth in the series, Leaders as Learners, that invites global thought leaders to take a deeper dive into the 16 principles of the Global Girls Project and their application to women and girls’ empowerment.]
(Sharon): In Part I of this series, we talked about resiliency as more than merely surviving — growing through and beyond a set-back, challenge or opportunity, and into a mindset of possibility that enables us to truly thrive. As you suggest, part of that process involves the art of reframing our circumstances; daring to ask ourselves, “What is good about me? What do I want in my life? What is no longer acceptable? Is what I’m telling myself about this (set-back/challenge/opportunity) true?” You also touched on the importance of affirmations, noting that as we affirm our value, we can begin to empower ourselves to make new choices in our life.
If research suggests there is a genetic pattern related to resiliency, but it’s only a portion of our make up, what roles do strength, courage, hope, faith, purpose, gratitude and forgiveness play in building resiliency?
(Eileen): They’re everything. Let’s talk about courage. It comes from the French word, coeur, which means heart. Courage is when you listen to your heart and you do what your heart says, even if your head tells you something different. When your heart gets closer to what you fear, you discover it’s not as terrible as you thought. You can be very afraid, but still be courageous.
When it comes to hope, Howard Zin, the philosopher, once said, “To have hope one does not need certainty; only possibility,” so the question is not am I certain of what will happen, but what could be possible? If something is possible, then how do I move ahead?
Faith says you believe you are here for a purpose; there is something greater than you that operates in the world. Some people have a name for that, whether a religious name or spiritual title, but basically it is the belief that you matter; and what allows you to have a belief that you matter is this notion of purpose. Why am I here? I think sometimes we think to ourselves, “Well, there’s no reason for me to be here,” yet when you asked your friends, “what do you see in me that I don’t see in myself?” you begin to hear things and realize that there are things that happened in your life that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t been here.
As part of my group workshops, I often ask participants, “I want you to think of something that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t been there. What exists in the world because of you?” Women in particular have a hard time owning what we’ve done. I once had one woman say to me, “I’m so glad I went last, because I couldn’t think of anything to say. I mean, I did obtain a $200,000 grant for a battered women’s shelter, but…you know…” She was going to discount her accomplishment instead of recognizing its value! I believe the more we can tell each other, “This is what you’ve done that is meaningful to me,” the better off we’ll be.
(Sharon): Most people think of faith in terms of a religious concept, but I think understanding our interconnectedness helps us see purpose, even if we don’t find it innately within ourselves or our traditions.
(Eileen): I’m reminded of a zen tale of a little bird, perched upon a branch in the dead of winter, counting snowflakes as they fall. He begins counting…one…two…etc. He gets up to 999 and the snowflakes keep falling. He gets to 1,000, and all of a sudden, the branch snaps and breaks. The point of the story is that you never know whether you were the first snowflake or the one-thousandth that makes something happen, but it is the collective effort of all that makes the difference.
There is a place of accountability for what we do. If I want to be resilient, I don’t want to hang around with people who tell me how bad I am. I don’t want to hang around with people who are saying the world is a terrible place. I think it’s really important that we think about what and who we want in our sphere. What’s the action that I’m going to take that will empower or disempower me? Who do I choose to associate with? One of the marks of maturity is to be able to say, “I deserve better than what I see here.”
(Sharon): Somewhere in that magical, invisible space between victimhood and empowerment lies possibility, though crossing that threshold is the great challenge for many. What role does resiliency play in enabling us to shift from a mindset of victimhood to empowerment?
(Eileen): One the most powerful words in the English language is ‘choose.’ I chose to have this conversation with you today, Sharon. It was my choice, which means I can both choose or un-choose. As soon as we say, “I have to do this or that,” we have just abandoned ourselves. Changing the language from ‘have to’ to ‘choose to’ says I am now accepting accountability and responsibility for my life.
(Sharon): That’s a really important distinction and one I can relate to. Following my divorce, my ex-husband and I agreed it was in our children’s’ best interest to actively co-parent, minimizing our family transition as much as possible. While I truly love living and raising my family in Davidson, at times in the past I have caught myself saying, “I have to be here…” in response to professional opportunities others have sent me in other markets. A better (and more truthful) answer is, “I choose to be here, because this choice reflects my core values and current priorities.”
I also discovered that by shifting my mindset, I could create new openings and pathways for myself. The Global Girls Project is a great example. By asking myself, “What can I do right where I am, with what I have, and what I know?” instead of focusing on where I can’t be and what I can’t do, I created an opportunity to develop something meaningful that is not only in alignment with my values and skills, but also my core passions and interests, without having to compromise my family needs.
(Eileen): I think the internet and the digital age have allowed ourselves to do things that we couldn’t do before. Are there other ways I can explore that opportunity from places? How many different ways can I look at this?
(Sharon): You also stress the importance of saying we not only have the power to choose, but just as importantly, we also have the power to un-choose. So often we get into a mindset of “Ok – I made this choice and that’s that. Even when the choice isn’t working for us anymore for whatever reason, we often go into a mindset of stuck-ness. It’s very empowering knowing that we not only can make a choice at any time, but if that choice is no longer serves us, we can make a different choice.
(Eileen): That’s it! New Years resolutions are a great example. I realized this year that I kept adding the same things to my list year after year and not fulfilling them (though still feeling burdened by their presence on my list). This year I took a look at my list and decided to cut some things out that I realized were no longer priorities. I made a decision to un-choose. It was wonderful to eliminate them and relieve myself of that burden.