After the past few years I think people would like to stop building so much resilience and just relax a bit. But resilience is important. You ask for five steps to building resilience, but I’ll give you four. In my book about how to work through setbacks, I outline the four phases of a setback: Establish, Embrace, Evaluate, and Explore. If you find yourself in a moment that feels like a setback, you need to first establish and admit that you’re in one. You can’t “it’s fine” your way out of a setback. Then you need to embrace it before you can evaluate your next move and explore new options. Curiosity, a growth mindset and the support of your community are a few things that will help you work through it.

Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Shoenthal.

Amy Shoenthal is a journalist, author and marketing executive who has spent her career working with some of the world’s largest organizations from Procter & Gamble to Google. As a top contributor to ForbesWomen, Amy shines a spotlight on those who have been historically underestimated yet are doing the work to solve society’s biggest problems. Her non-fiction leadership book, The Setback Cycle, comes out in Spring 2024.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I have been drawn to storytelling for as long as I can remember. I carried a notebook around me as a kid at day camp, and in high school a coach gave me the nickname “Lois Lane.” I went to journalism school at the University of Maryland thinking I’d graduate and become a reporter who traveled all over the world. While enrolled there, I worked a part-time public relations job at a tech incubator on campus called Hinman CEOs. I started writing press releases about some of the up and coming entrepreneurs who were building businesses out of their dorm rooms. My claim to fame is that one of the students I interviewed in his dorm room was Tony Casalena, who went on to become the founder and CEO of Squarespace.

So technically I started writing about entrepreneurship almost 20 years ago. Working in PR made me realize that I didn’t have to pursue a traditional journalism career in order to interview people and write their stories. It also paid slightly better, and I was one of the many students graduating with a mountain of student loans.

My first job was at a small public relations firm with about a dozen employees. Eventually I went on to work at larger firms. When big brands like Tide, Pantene and Olay started paying attention to social media back in 2009, I transitioned to a social media marketing role and I have been working in that field ever since.

Throughout my career, I stayed true to my journalism roots and always found ways to take on freelance writing gigs on the side. In 2018, I started writing more frequently, which led to more visibility and more opportunities, and soon I found myself interviewing some pretty high profile entrepreneurs, celebrities, senators, highly regarded experts and founders doing incredible work. Now I write regularly for ForbesWomen.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

One thing that’s helped me over the years is my unwavering curiosity and willingness to try new things. I remember pivoting from public relations to social media before most brands even set up their Facebook pages. No one I worked with at the time wanted to touch social media, it felt too small, too chaotic. Now that’s happening with Web3, a lot of people are hoping it’ll just go away so they don’t have to deal with it. But I’m still paying attention. We might be going through a tumultuous time right now, but the technology is here to stay.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My friend Ruthie Ackerman is basically my writing fairy godmother. She’s the person who originally hired me to write for ForbesWomen when she was in the role of deputy editor. We became close friends in the years since, and now she helps aspiring authors put together book proposals. I’ll never forget when I called her one day in March 2021 and told her a speckle of an idea that was just beginning to form in my head. By the end of the phone call, she said, “that’s definitely a book,” and proceeded to spend the next year encouraging me to actually write it. She helped me turn that speckle into an actual book proposal.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

It’s the beginning of 2023. I think most people are hungover from all the resilience they’ve built over the past few years and would like to take a break from it. The common misconception about resilience is that it’s only built through trauma. But resilience is a result of simply being human, and what most people don’t realize is how adaptable humans innately are.

I recently interviewed a neuroscientist, Chantel Prat, who explained that even the smallest setbacks can cause a dopamine dip in our brains. But dopamine is a plasticity inducer, meaning it contributes to the brain’s flexibility. That’s why those dips are critical to rewiring the brain. It’s like strengthening a muscle each time you exercise. You might struggle in the moment but, eventually this is what equips us to deal with setbacks — from the minor inconveniences to the big, life altering ones.

Unpleasant as they may be, it’s the setbacks that spark our biggest moments of growth. Each time we face adversity, that data set in our brain improves. We get better at dealing with those dopamine dips. That’s technically how resilience is built.

Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different from resilience?

I think courage is the result of resilience. Once you’ve failed, or lost, or worked through a setback, you become less afraid of the next one. You know you got through that, so you can get through this. When people truly take the time to reflect and understand how resilient they actually are, that’s when they draw up the courage to do the next scary thing.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Reshma Saujani is the perfect example of someone who powers through setbacks and emerges like a phoenix every time. When she experiences a setback, she figures out a way to build a solution around it, not only for herself but for society at large. And she’s not afraid to fail because of all the resilience she’s built over the years.

It was her experience visiting schools during a failed run for office over a decade ago that showed her how drastic the gender disparity was in computing, which is what led her to form the non-profit Girls Who Code. She then spent the next decade as the CEO of this high-profile organization dedicated to bridging the gender gap in STEM.

Then when the pandemic hit, she saw how the unpaid labor of moms and caregivers were essentially serving as the economy’s safety net. So she created a grassroots movement aimed at changing legislation to better support American mothers. That’s how the Marshall Plan for Moms, now called Moms First was born. The initiative looks to partner with policy makers to explore resources for rebuilding the childcare industry, offering mental health support for families, paid leave, compensation for previously unpaid labor and more.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Writing a book is no small feat. Even though people in my orbit were supportive, they also seemed confused, even concerned, as to why I’d want to do such a thing while working a fulltime job and freelancing. When I was shopping the proposal around, the number of publishers who told me they loved the book but couldn’t take me on because of my lack of social media followers was a gut punch. One fancy Hollywood book agent told me after reading my proposal, “this is not your book.” I carried those words around with me for weeks.

I thought of Eve Rodsky, author of the best selling book Fair Play, which was not only a huge success but likely sparked the next wave of feminism in pointing out that equality starts in the home with the equal split of domestic duties. She told me that when she was initially shopping her book around, so many agents and publishers told her that nobody would want to read a book about housework.

Did you have a time in your life when you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

Claire Cain Miller of The New York Times famously said, “One of the worst career moves a woman can make is to have children.” I struggled so much when I returned to work after maternity leave. I was so ready after 12 weeks of being fairly isolated with an infant to dive right back in. I actually missed work while I was away. But when I came back, I walked into a complete identity crisis. The two women who had replaced me while I was out had both done amazing jobs in my absence and wanted to stay on the accounts they had been working on. I fully supported that and was easily convinced that this was what made sense for the business at the time.

But it was hard to not internalize that as feeling like I wasn’t really needed anymore. I had childcare all set up so I could come back to focus on the thing that my identity had been so wrapped up in before I added “mom” to my title. While I recognized the realities that things change when someone goes on leave for three months, it felt like there was this unspoken assumption that I would want to scale back when I returned. I feel guilty even sharing this story because a slow return is what most parents fight so hard for. In my case, that’s not what I wanted. Everyone’s situation is different, and parents should be included in the decisions made about their careers when they return from leave.

I tried to figure out where else I could demonstrate my value. I joined every internal committee, hopped into new business pitches to try to see what else I could help build. I even looked outside my agency for work that challenged me. There’s a reason my freelance writing career took off the same year I had my daughter. The more I wrote, the more great story opportunities came my way.

The ironic thing is, the more I built up a body of work outside of my day job, the more access and value I was able to bring back to that job. People started recognizing my talents outside of just running client accounts or being a manager. I started seeing a snowball effect as I built my career back up over the next few years, eventually finding my footing, balance and a new identity as a working mom.

We often find success in the most surprising ways. And it usually happens after a setback. The founders I interview tell me this all the time, but it’s different to understand a principle in theory when it happens to other people and quite another to experience it yourself.

How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

When I was 13, I was diagnosed with scoliosis, and I had to wear a bulky back brace 22 hours a day. When you’re in middle school the last thing you want to do is draw any extra attention to yourself in a way that singles you out as different. I had to sit through classes for the next two years with my entire torso being strapped into a confined hard plastic case. When I bent over, it poked through my clothes, which were already two sizes too big in order to accommodate the brace. All my shirts had holes in them. I was restricted in sports and dance classes. It was uncomfortable to sleep with.

People have to deal with things that are eons worse than this, but it was pretty inconvenient and deeply uncomfortable, and from the ages of 13–15, it felt like an enormous burden. I made the most of it, though. My friends were pretty supportive, too. I had them bounce balls off my hard plastic stomach, we tricked teachers here and there. We had fun with it. That was the only way of surviving that era — having fun and laughing about it.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

After the past few years I think people would like to stop building so much resilience and just relax a bit. But resilience is important. You ask for five steps to building resilience, but I’ll give you four. In my book about how to work through setbacks, I outline the four phases of a setback: Establish, Embrace, Evaluate, and Explore. If you find yourself in a moment that feels like a setback, you need to first establish and admit that you’re in one. You can’t “it’s fine” your way out of a setback. Then you need to embrace it before you can evaluate your next move and explore new options. Curiosity, a growth mindset and the support of your community are a few things that will help you work through it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I interview so many entrepreneurs, mostly women, who are legitimately doing the work to solve society’s biggest problems. There’s no one more resilient than a woman who has dared to show her ambition in a society that is unwelcoming of it. The women I speak to are coming up with absolutely brilliant ventures, yet they are getting less than 2% of venture capital funding so no matter how brilliant these solutions might be, they are only able to go so far.

If I could inspire a movement to get women entrepreneurs 50% of that funding, close the pay gap for marginalized groups, and get more women in leadership positions overall, I think we’d have a better society. To be fair, there are plenty of men who are great leaders and are working to help solve critical issues. But they don’t have as much of a struggle getting attention or funding. I’d like to see a more equitable division of wealth, leadership and control over decision-making across every sector.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I feel like Sara Bareilles and I would be really good friends and have a very fun night out. Joni Mitchell would be my dream interview. I guess I have a massive admiration for women who can wrap words around melodies brilliantly and those two are pretty incredible at it.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can see my writing at Forbes and through my website, I also have a monthly newsletter, “Amy’s Antidote” — you can subscribe here. And of course, there’s all the socials: Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

It was an absolute honor to do this interview. Thank you!


  • Savio Clemente

    Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Media Journalist, #1 Best-selling Author, Podcaster, and Stage 3 Cancer Survivor

    The Human Resolve LLC

    Savio P. Clemente is a Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), media journalist, #1 best-selling author, podcaster, stage 3 cancer survivor, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC.  He coaches cancer survivors to overcome obstacles, gain clarity, and attract media attention by sharing their superpower through inspiring stories that make a difference. He inspires them to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit and to cultivate resilience in their mindset. 

    Savio has interviewed notable celebrities and TV personalities and has been invited to cover numerous industry events throughout the U.S. and abroad.  His mission is to provide clients, listeners, and viewers alike with tangible takeaways on how to lead a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle.