Spring-Summer 2017 - Resiliency Reader Index

Featured articles include:  • Molly's Corner  • A Resiliency Journey: Choosing Resiliency as a Life Lesson (article by Glen Fahs) • My Resilient Life Journey (article by Michelle Atlas) • New Feature! Resiliency in the News • Resiliency Quote of the Quarter • Research Question of the Quarter • Worthwhile Read: A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink  •   Read the emailed version of the Newsletter

A Resiliency Journey

by Glen Fahs, PhD

Glen Fahs, PhD, ASRC Lead Resiliency Facilitator
Glen Fahs, PhD
Lead Resiliency Facilitator

Choosing Resiliency as a Life Lesson

Not all of us are tested by trauma and crisis. But all of us are faced with major life hurdles.

As a boy, I felt loved and successful in my first dozen years, but getting glasses, moving, gaining weight and losing athletic status made me more of a nerd than I had been.

There was a lot of tension around being an adolescent. More challenging was the growing visibility of my mother's alcoholism and fear of my grandmother (who once held a knife to my mom's throat). This was disturbing in ways I could only cope with by withdrawing. My friendly bully of a brother was five years older. He didn't seem to let it bother him, but I was the more sensitive soul. When my mother was leaving for alcohol in-patient treatment, she hugged me and said, "You are too much like me." My back stiffened. I thought, "No, I am not! I will not run from my problems or be a victim." I never did.

My public speaking skills were evident from elementary school when I was the lead actor in plays which led to competitive speech tournaments in middle school, high school and college. My first high school speech early in the 60s required me to break free from the attitude of my police lieutenant father. My topic was Civil Rights. After winning first place in a San Francisco city-wide tournament, I learned that my shyness could be overcome with passion and a way to express it.

My mother died of internal bleeding related to alcoholism when I was still a teenager. Her condition and death weren't openly discussed but it was no longer a secret. The only girl with whom I shared my pain was the girl I was planning to marry.

After meeting a different girl, who had lived near me for six years without me noticing her, I set a goal to meet someone my own type. Within a week, getting off the streetcar I said, "Hi neighbor" and talked with yet another girl who two months later I started dating. But she tested me, dating others for several years until I won her over. That endurance test reinforced my belief in the power of setting a goal and being determined to achieve it. She shared that none of her other beaus had my optimism, determination or sense of humor. Our marriage has stood the test of time.

Bringing Life Lessons Forward

How have I handled the five levels of resiliency?

5 Levels of Resiliency
  • Level One: Health. Despite getting most of the common childhood diseases (measles, German measles, chicken pox, mumps, etc.), my health has been good and became better the older I've gotten. Exercise - especially sports, nutrition and a good night's sleep were always priorities.

  • Level Two: Problem solving came naturally in school, work and social relationships. When Dr. Mort Gordon, the Dean of UC Berkeley Extension, gave his opening night lecture in my first graduate school class, my risk-taking style led me to say that same night, "I have decided what my career is going to be. It's Lifelong Learning. Can you help me get a job?" He tried to deflect me, but was a high achiever, and couldn't let me down. He arranged a student assistant job for me at his San Francisco Center. That job led to another at San Francisco State University with a wild lady who was a recovering Skid Row alcoholic (and by coincidence, later Dr. Gordon's protogé). She trained me and then delegated much of the responsibility for planning ten conferences in 14 weeks. Despite being paid only $2.90 an hour, I rose to the occasion, got hired on as Assistant Director, replaced her a year later and my career thrived. Creative risk taking appealed to me, leading to teaching community college classes for 18 years on "Problem Solving and Decision Making."

  • Level Three: Self-concept. Achieving measurable goals in ethical ways always kept my self-esteem in tact. I took on the role of campaign manager for an inexperienced parole officer who was the first black Republican in SF to run for state office. It appealed to me. I didn't have to worry about failure since running against a popular incumbent ensured we would lose. We surprised everyone by making it a close race, but the dirty side of politics became shockingly evident. Dealing with people who thought you should do anything to win was too negative for my blood. That was one war I couldn't win.

    I went into Continuing Education, a very positive field. My bosses were often the kind who complained about others, tearing down our confidence. I learned to: 1) give reinforcement even to people I resented, 2) find humor even during tough times, and 3) turn "enemies" into allies. My commitment was to being principled and courageous even when it led to my losing two jobs. One involved a massive layoff, a ruse by the new provost to replace 15 of the 18 administrators before she arrived. Despite my anger and anxiety about being pushed out despite a great track record of success, my focus was on new career opportunities. After the energizing strain of a semester of teaching five courses for the first time at five different colleges, my successor at a previos job told me about the opening for the State of Oregon's chief training officer, a wonderful job for a networker like me. (Helping others is good for the karma.) Still, a full-time job on top of five classes was a killer. But I survived. And then thrived because I gave and asked for help from a robust network.

  • Level Four: Balance and moderation always were natural for me. I once took an androgyny assessment of my male and female characteristics and ended up right in the center. Instead of choosing one side or the other, I cultivated gentleness and toughness, pessimism (acknowledging worst case scenarios) to complement my optimism, being lazy as a break from high intensity effort. These and other contrasting attitudes made me stronger.

    When I became the head of statewide training for Oregon state government at age 40, my approach was to pull the movers and shakers together and facilitate. Countering the State's culture of agency silos, we formed a close group, shared the issues that most mattered, and committed to joint projects. Despite having no budget and a Division Director who wanted to eliminate statewide training, I found ways to design the State's first Management Core Curriculum, a five-day program that attracted our goal of 1500 participants in its first two years. My expertise was minimal, but my collaborative leadership worked. Each of us had strengths and we enjoyed using them.

  • Level Five: Serendipity - turning the worst into something valuable. Losing two great jobs led to better ones. Having an alcoholic mother led to me working on addiction education, including designing a very popular certificate program titled Counseling on Alcohol, Addictions and Related Disorders (CAARD). Having a racist policeman for a father (who was a wonderful parent and leader in most ways) led to my lifelong struggle against discrimination.

My Relationship with Al Siebert

So how did I come to this leadership role with the Al Siebert Resiliency Center?

In 1979, my first conference planning role as Director of University Extension at Portland State University was for the Oregon Fire Chiefs. They made it clear that they wanted the previous year's keynoter, Al Siebert, to return even though he was their keynote speaker the year before. What made him so special?

Hearing Al was captivating. My masters thesis 15 years before was on the topic on developing stronger confidence in internal control rather than feeling externally controlled by luck and powerful others. Al spoke to that belief as he showed our setbacks can make us bitter or better - that refusing to stay the victim leads us to see the upside of every disappointment. He spoke about the experiences and role models that led to his book, The Survivor Personality.

When I left Higher Continuing Education to head up the State of Oregon's Training and Development function, state government faced a recession and a major layoff coming the next year. Al was my choice to offer people a vision of how to cope. His training topics included "Surviving and Thriving Amid Change." His classes were always filled and highly rated. He also trained for my next employer, Cascade Employers Association, relating his expertise of resiliency and emotional intelligence. We became friends and I invited him to join my social group we simply call the Men's Group. We met monthly for over 20 years. We heard his exciting journey translating his survivor orientation to the more accessible focus described in his book, The Resiliency Advantage. Al appeared on Oprah!, developed ongoing relationships with the federal government in the US and Botswana, and was the only professional the survivors of 9-11 at the World Trade Center trusted to attend their reunions. He taught them to share their stories and work through their traumas.

A strength can become a weakness when it is out of balance. Al's optimism led him to deny the cancer growing in him until it was too late. Knowing his life was ending, he continued training and resting, hugging and struggling, until one day he couldn't get up. He called me and asked me to give his conference presentation. It went great. Just before he died, he asked his wife, Molly, to have me take over Resiliency public presentations, training, coaching certifying resiliency trainers and consultants for his Center. That work was allowed me to certify insightful coaches from Asia to Europe, and to give major conference presentations and training in the US, Canada and Botswana.

Al was an inspiration to many thousands in his books and presentations. I have been the lucky one to continue his work at the Resiliency Center, helping people make the most of life.

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If you would like a resiliency coach, speaker or trainer, call Glen at 971-570-0159. To become certified for resiliency work, please see the guidelines on the Al Siebert Resiliency Center website: ResiliencyCenter.com.


Glen Fahs, PhD, has been a coach and leader for decades in the fields of training, resiliency, continuing education, change and transition. He has high-level training experience in government, nonprofit and the private sector and has taught for 12 colleges and universities. He has served on several boards, including currently on the Al Siebert Resiliency Center board.

My Resilient Life Journey

by Michelle Atlas

Michelle Atlas, ASRC Resiliency Facilitator
Michelle Atlas
Resiliency Facilitator

I'm going to share the story of how I discovered my innate resilience and how resilience was cultivated within me through a multitude of life experiences. This is a sequence of significant life events, hardships and blessings, along with how my misfortune became great fortune. After each personal story/event I will shed light on the various resilience principles which helped me to survive and ultimately to thrive. My wish is that where you experience resonance, you will discover insight and greater access to the resilience wisdom within yourself.

I realize now that I have been fiercely resilient my entire life, although I did not fully understand the formal concept until 2007, when I first came upon Al Siebert's work.

Things were tough from the moment I arrived. I was born to an upper-middle-class Jewish 17-year-old who was sent to a convent to give birth to me. The pregnancy was shrouded in shame and anxiety and my birth was full of drama.

I was adopted as a newborn. My mother was an unrelenting critic, hurling daily doses of anger my way in her shrill voice. My father was infantile and emotionally dependent upon me for love and affirmation. He was never a father—more like a younger sibling and occasionally, even like a boyfriend, although thank goodness, there was never any sexual abuse. There was however, what is known as "emotional incest." I felt like a burden to my mother and as if the sole purpose of my existence was to meet the emotional needs of both of my parents. Life within my family was unrelentingly painful, disappointing and confusing. Yet from as early as I can remember, I coped by taking refuge within myself.

From early childhood, I carried within me, an inspired sense about my life—an innate knowing that happiness was my birthright and that eventually I would discover how to actualize this potential.

When I was eight years old I noticed that National Geographic frequently featured Tibetan monks in their beautiful spiritual habitat. They were always radiantly smiling. I experienced an affinity with them that was beyond words—as if they were my dear friends. As if I was one of them. I knew, intrinsically that someday I would embody the living experience of that same contentment, love, benevolence and joy. It was as if I had already been there and simply had to find my way back.

Resilience Rising #1

My aunt (my father's sister) was a well-known therapist in our community. She was an extrovert with an open door policy. She was also the mother of two of my four older first cousins. I spent a large part of every weekend at her house. My aunt and my cousins loved me unconditionally. My time with them was a haven of fun and creativity.

The moment I walked in their door I experienced a palpable relief through my entire body- mind system. I felt completely loved and embraced for myself by my aunt and my cousins, pretty much all the time! Around the time I hit adolescence my aunt and I began having deep, candid conversations about my family history, how she perceived my parents dynamic, why my father behaved the way that he did based upon how he grew up, etc. These conversations gave me precious perspective and served a multitude of other significant purposes:

  1. I knew that someone was aware of my awful circumstances, I was seen.
  2. I began to understand what was actually happening. The truth of my experience was validated.
  3. Our conversations awakened my innate curiosity about all things human, and lit the fire of commitment to healing myself and ultimately helping others to do the same.
Resilience Wisdom

Research across the board tells us that when it comes to children—even those who have lived as victims of horrible abuse—if there is even one supportive adult outside of the dysfunctional situation, the child will likely grow into an exponentially healthier adult than a child who had no additional support.

Resilience Rising #2

At age 13, my best girlfriend and I found each other. We noticed that many of our peers and family members reacted to life's challenges with anger and resentment—crystallizing in their negativity—only to remain embittered forevermore. We observed others responding to hardship confident they would find a solution, seeking meaningful lessons within even the greatest difficulties. Our curiosity about what drove these two distinctly different ways of responding to life became the topic of our favorite conversations.

As for the two of us, for reasons we did not understand back then, we got excited about using our challenges to grow. We seemed to know that meaningful lessons learned would empower us to create more of the experiences we valued and ultimately to live our best lives. We always believed our dreams were possible. And, we were perplexed by the perpetual negativity so many we knew seemed to thrive on.

Our search for answers led us to the writings of a multitude of teachers, mystics and masters. While other teenagers thrived on partying and boyfriends, we spent countless hours excitedly talking about the spiritual wisdom espoused by well-known saints, monks and psychologists and struggled to interpret our dreams.

Resilience Wisdom

Two more well-known facts:

  1. A faith base—a connection to a benevolent power that transcends the vicissitudes of day-to-day human existence, no matter how bad it gets—makes a massive positive developmental difference for someone growing up in an abusive situation.
  2. A best friend—who is aligned with your deepest values and aspirations and loves who you are—is a priceless gift on the road to self-worth / resiliency.
The hardships of my early life, and what I now see as the heroic survival skills I cultivated as a result, gave me a natural self-confidence, ultimately leading to my capacity to take risks to change my life for the better, over and over again! I learned to rely upon my strong internal guidance to direct the course of my life and this helped me make major life decisions with relative ease.

Divine Intervention

Fast forward to age 19. As I edged toward full adulthood, I found myself experiencing an irreconcilable despair. For the first time in my entire life I found myself daydreaming about suicide. It probably wasn't two weeks later that I was invited to a meditation intensive with a teacher affiliated with a very well-known spiritual master.

For years, I had attempted to meditate to no avail. I would sit in quiet boredom, never piercing the veil to the deeper levels of my being, or touching the peace I was certain existed within me. At this intensive participants received a spiritual "initiation." At the time it didn't feel like a whole lot happened. But when I returned to my college dorm room and sat down to meditate the very next day I plunged effortlessly into a place deep within that matched every dream I ever had about experiencing profound self-connection, stillness and oneness with nature. These terms may sound cliché, but there is nothing cliché about the real deal!

Resilience Rising #3

I became a part of that spiritual community while I completed my undergraduate degree and within ten days of graduation went to join the master and his people as they traveled and taught throughout the US. A few years later I became a full-time staff person and lived as a member of that community for the next 12 years, until about age 34. In addition to the Eastern spiritual practices and lifestyle that I soaked up, the community afforded me a precious opportunity to re-create the family I always wanted. I held many different positions with varying levels of responsibility. I was known, cared about deeply, loved and surrounded by appreciative people. It was a lifestyle rich with opportunities to dive within, special events, special visitors and unlimited invitations to learn things that I would most definitely have never have learned if I had followed a more mainstream path.

Resilience Wisdom

Practices that foster optimal well-being, along with community and connection, fortify resilience big time. Those years gave me an unshakable internal foundation from which to ultimately emerge into the less predictable waters of mainstream adult life. As I neared 34, a little voice in the back of my head that knew there was much to be confronted on the human and psychological level grew stronger. I could no longer deny that it was time to leave both the community and my strained, painful marriage. It was time embark on the slow, deep journey of excavating the rest of me, so that I could become the fully expressed self that I always believed was my birthright.

Resilience Rising #4

Fast forward again. About seven years ago, I experienced the most painful event of my life, and it cracked me wide open. My most meaningful committed partner relationship ended in a shocking and traumatic way. After several years of love, nurturance, loyalty and devotion, one day I arrived at my partner's beautiful home (our "country home," as mine was in the city), situated on the fringe of a beautiful park, to find a "for sale" sign I knew nothing about on the lawn.

My partner had decided to enter a relationship with a woman in an open marriage and was moving to be near her and her husband. But he hadn't told me. There was no time to process this life-changing event.

Resilience Wisdom
Disruptive Change diagram, by Al Siebert, copyright Practical Psychology Press
Disruptive Change ~ developed by Al Siebert
(From The Resiliency Advantage, Chapter 1. Used with permission)

His sudden and unfathomable disappearance catalyzed within me, what Al Siebert cites in The Resiliency Advantage as "bifurcation.&quot This scientific process (put forth by Ilya Prigogine) occurs when the impact of a circumstance or event exceeds the resources of that which it is impacting. When this occurs there is a "breakdown." The resilient person will experience such a breakdown as "a beneficial accident." Because when one's mental, emotional and even physical coping/survival resources are compromised, there exists an unprecedented potential for one's essential self to emerge in its original beauty and radiance.

It becomes a process of breaking open to one's true self, to others and to life in an eyes wide open, all hands on deck, vibrant, deeply alive way. (By the same token, if one is not resilient, such a blow or "breakdown" can send one into a descent, depression or other mental health issue.)

I chose to face fully into the internal crisis that this event catalyzed. This sudden loss activated and ultimately released some trauma from very early in my life that I did not know had not yet been healed. Although this was the darkest, most devastating experience of my life, from very early on, I knew in my core, I was not a victim.

The process of disintegrating a barrier to my essential self was activated almost immediately. This experience was by far the most transformative, beneficial event of my life to date. I would not trade it for the world, as it has gifted me an exponentially more authentic, vulnerable, less defended, version myself and I'm eternally grateful.

Summary

In 2006, I left my full-time benefited position in human services and embarked on a multilayered reinvention process. All I knew was that I wanted to use the alchemy of my cumulative life experience, knowledge and wisdom to create a business that would help people align with their internal truth and become fully who they are.

When I came upon the work of Al Siebert in his book The Resiliency Advantage I recognized the answers to questions like the ones I'd been soul-searching for since I was a child. I was blessed to meet him and receive his approval to become certified as a trainer of his resilience research prior to his passing.

My certification as a resiliency facilitator has been a source of much serendipity and fulfillment. I have taught resilience to top-level US and foreign government leaders and helped countless individuals in my transformational coaching practice strengthen their capacity to use every experience as an asset. Along with Lead Resilience Facilitator Glen Fahs, I now certify other Resilience Facilitators for the Al Siebert Resiliency Center.

If you would like to learn about how our resilience training and coaching can empower you or your workforce let us know. We always love hearing from you!

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Michelle Atlas is an ICF Credentialed Coach, a Newfield Certified Coach and a Certified Resiliency Facilitator with over 20 years of experience helping people successfully navigate transition and stand in their value, so they can live lives that reflect what they care about most. With clients including the US Military, the Food & Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health and many private individuals, she is recognized for her ability to help people strengthen their innate resilience and bring their heartfelt desires to fruition in the domains of work, relationships and money. Trust-Change.com

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