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

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.