Embrace failures and setbacks as learning opportunities. While no one likes making mistakes, if we alter our thinking about them, those perceived failures can become some of life’s best teachers. Learn from your mistakes and avoid making the same ones again. Learning to successfully overcome and gracefully recover from setbacks and failures is a valuable skill you can apply to many areas of your life.
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 Anita Petty.
Anita Petty is an author, resilience coach, and speaker with diverse life and work experiences including service as a military officer, pilot, startup founder, corporate manager, and real estate investor. Having gained her initial work-life experiences in the U.S. Navy, she re-invented herself after a career-ending cancer diagnosis. In the private sector, she went on to form a successful, high tech start-up company — a business later acquired by a Fortune 100 corporation. She is the founder of Leading Edge Ventures, LLC where she runs her coaching, speaking, and publishing businesses, sharing her life experiences and knowledge to help others build wealth and grow their businesses.
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?
Growing up in Arizona’s rural farming and ranching communities in the 1960s and 1970s, I had dreams of going places — traveling to far-off lands filled with exotic animals and experiencing loads of adventure. But my family was poor, and the odds of escaping the mundane life ahead of me to realize these dreams were low. No one ever told me I couldn’t have my dreams, so I dreamt on! By age five, I had decided on three “major” life goals:
- Travel to Africa to visit the animals of the Serengeti
- Own a Mercedes-Benz
- Become a millionaire when I grew up
From an early age, I was a planner and saver and thought that if I just worked hard enough, I could achieve these things. Through persistence and hard work, I went on to achieve them and so much more. I got my start in the U.S. Navy but then had to re-invent myself after a cancer diagnosis. In 2005, I founded a high-tech company in the dental manufacturing space that was sold to a large corporation three years later. I transitioned from my role as an entrepreneur and worked as a corporate manufacturing manager for 11 years until my retirement from that job earlier this year.
Over the years, I have invested in real estate, the stock market, and most recently, cryptocurrencies. From these streams of income, I was able to comfortably retire early and pursue my passions: coaching, speaking, and writing.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
In my early 30s, after Congress had lifted combat restrictions on women, I was one of the first senior Navy women to attend the Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) School. This program is designed to prepare sailors and soldiers serving in combat zones in the event they are captured by the enemy and become prisoners of war. While much of this training is classified and I cannot talk about here, what I can tell you is that this program tests one’s inner strengths and abilities to handle extreme levels of stress. Many of the things I said I would never say or do during that training, well, let’s just say that my attempts to resist all went out the window when I was put to the test. I went into that training not knowing what to expect but emerged with a good understanding of my personal weaknesses, how I perform under pressure, and how to avoid certain behaviors if faced with similar situations again.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I started Leading Edge Ventures, LLC a few years ago to share my knowledge and stories with others. With a diverse business background and a wealth of life experiences, I felt compelled to start a company where I could give back to people — to let them know they are not alone when dealing with personal struggles and hardship. In one of my coaching programs, I was approached by a mid-level corporate manager who had recently been fired from her job. After working with her for several months, reframing her perceived failures as valuable learning experiences, she recovered and went on to be hired by another company in a higher-paying, upper management position. I realized that my coaching had made a difference in her life when she made a startling confession. After returning to work, she told me that prior to contacting me for help, she had kept a bottle of sleeping pills on her nightstand just in case things didn’t work out for her. That got me to thinking. Most of time, we will never know the gravity of our words and actions, but it’s good to occasionally get a glimpse into times when we have been that lifeline for someone in their time of need. That’s what my company serves to do — to be there for people.
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?
Marshall Stretton, my sixth grade homeroom teacher, was the single most important influencer regarding my career path and life choices. Looking beyond the shy, country girl who rarely talked in class but got good grades, he apparently saw something in me that I did not see in myself. His words had a huge impact on me, and I listened intently to any advice he would give me. He believed that I had the ability to achieve things well beyond my humble beginnings in Prescott, Arizona. At the time, he had a son who attended the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and he encouraged me to apply. Congress had recently approved the admission of women to the U.S. service academies, and he noted that attending Annapolis could open many doors for me. I remember his words that sold me on the idea: ‘Just think, if you get into Annapolis, you can join the Navy as an officer and see the world!’ And eventually, that’s exactly what I did.
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?
While resilience is commonly defined as the ability to bounce back from adversity or hardship, a better definition might be the ability to come back after disappointment, failures, and setbacks. The distinction of coming back rather than bouncing back is an important one: humans are not rubber balls. Bouncing back implies that we respond to adversity by following the same trajectories or patterns that we did before crisis occurs. In practice, resilience is developed and strengthened when we alter our return path during the comeback period. In taking alternate paths to recovery, we learn how to put setbacks in their proper perspectives and how to better respond the next time similar situations occur.
Resilient people have the following characteristics and traits:
- They have a good idea of what is truly important in life.
- They embrace failures and setbacks, reframing them as learning experiences.
- They put minor challenges in perspective, avoiding the tendency to overreact.
- They assess the gravity of their situation prior to taking action.
- They are adaptable and flexible even when faced with pressure and stressors.
- They understand the body’s physiological responses to stress and know how to manage their personal state.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage and resilience are similar in that they require people to break through the terror barrier — that mental gatekeeper that stops of us from doing things outside of our comfort zone. In our brains, powerful dissuaders such as fear, anxiety, and perceived danger do their best to stop us from taking extraordinary actions that we attribute to qualities such as courage and resilience.
Resilience differs from courage in that it relies on personal experiences — the disappointments, traumas, and shortcomings we face in life — giving the person some perspective on how to respond to similar scenarios the next time they occur. While both courage and resilience can be a qualities that a person possesses at birth, resilience is more of a “been-there-done-that” skill that can be developed, nurtured, and improved throughout life.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
As a U.S. Navy veteran, I am awed by the nearly superhuman feats of a Vietnam-era soldier who suffered numerous setbacks in battle but never gave up: Master Sergeant Raul Perez “Roy” Benavidez, United States Army. Many adjectives have been used to describe Master Sergeant Benavidez: courageous, dedicated, humble, loyal and resilient.
In 1965, Roy was serving in the Vietnam Conflict as a special forces advisor when he stepped on a land mine. Doctors told him that he would never walk again, but he was determined to recover and continue his military career. While awaiting discharge, he began a series of nightly exercises to re-develop his ability to walk. By July 1966, he had fully regained that ability and returned to combat duty in Vietnam in January 1968.
In May 1968, he volunteered to recover a 12-man special forces patrol that was pinned down by enemy forces. Armed with a knife and a medical bag, he jumped from a helicopter and ran toward the trapped patrol. Suffering over 37 separate bullet, bayonet, and shrapnel wounds during that battle, Roy’s efforts helped save fellow soldiers but, after the battle, he was placed in a body bag and presumed dead. But tell that to Roy! When a doctor came to examine him, Roy could not talk and could barely move. Just before the doctor zipped up the body bag, Roy mustered the strength to spit in the doctor’s face, letting him know he was alive. Roy eventually recovered and received the Medal of Honor for his heroic feats. Courageous and resilient, Roy Benavidez remained humble through it all. In one of his personal appearances after receiving the Medal of Honor, he noted, ‘A lot of people call me a hero, but the true heroes are those that gave their lives for this country.”
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?
In 1983, I accepted an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. I was slated to join the Class of 1987, only the eighth class in academy history to include women, so having women in attendance there was still a new concept. A shy school girl from the ranching communities of Prescott, Arizona, I was venturing into some uncharted waters as no one in my family except for a great-uncle — a World War II paratrooper — had served in the military. When I visited my maternal grandfather shortly before heading to Annapolis, he asked me with a furrowed brow, “What are you trying to prove?” A Mexican-American immigrant farmer and rancher that believed a woman’s place was in the home, he was very much against me joining the Navy. He shook his head and said his goodbyes thinking that I would quickly wash out and be back home soon enough.
Little did I know that he wasn’t the only one betting against me. Bruce, the bus driver who drove our school bus for over 20 years, had bet my father that I wouldn’t make it through Plebe Summer, the academy’s initial phase of training. On July 6, 1983, Induction Day, I recall going to bed that night after taps thinking, “Dear Lord, what have I gotten myself into this time?” But in the end, I didn’t let myself or my relatives down. I struggled greatly, not only through Plebe Summer, but through the entire curriculum at Annapolis. With the help of classmates, friends, and supporters, I survived those four years and made it through to graduation day. I’ll never forget Commissioning Day, May 20, 1987, when I walked across the stage to shake hands with President George H.W. Bush. I had earned my commission in the United States Navy! The naysayers were wrong. The impossible was indeed possible!
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
On February 24, 2019, I went from feeling fine, running on a treadmill that morning to fighting for my life in an intensive care unit early the next morning. The doctors weren’t sure what caused my condition but suspected some sort of norovirus I had possibly contracted on a recent Caribbean cruise. My underlying condition had set off a cascade of infections including pneumonia and sepsis. When the doctors CT-scanned my lungs to confirm a double-pneumonia diagnosis, they were surprised to also find a large, asymptomatic tumor in my abdomen.
Needlessly to say, I was shocked by the “additional” diagnosis. I kept thinking, “Oh, come on! With everything I’m going through right now, a tumor, too? Really???” As a 19-year cancer survivor, I knew how important attitude is to crisis survival. Admittedly, my heart sank when they told me about the tumor, but then I remembered that I had survived similar challenges in life. I knew that my attitude was the strongest thing I had at that moment to fight my illness. Soon, the doctors decided to intubate me to relieve the stress on my heart but warned me that I might not survive the shock and insult of the infection. In short, they told me I might not wake up. As I drifted off, I felt at peace believing I would somehow summon the strength to fight this illness and pull through my ordeal. After all, I still had too much living to do and wasn’t about to check out now!
Two days later, I awoke in ICU. I was still not out of the woods but continued to improve. Fixing me would eventually require 14 more days in the hospital, four months of chemotherapy, one surgery, and many months of rehabilitation. Fast-forwarding to present, I have fully recovered from that setback and in the process gained many insights into the power of attitude and resilience. Armed with these new experiences, I wrote the book, Money Switch: Flip Yourself Onto Happiness, Health and Wealth, to share my knowledge with people who struggle daily with life’s challenges. In writing this book, my goal was to educate and inspire people to follow their dreams even when their current circumstances seem dire. This journey transformed my life and allowed me to help others through my coaching and speaking programs.
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?
Yes. In November 1969, my Uncle Bo was killed in a hunting accident. I remember Bo as my playmate, someone who was like an older brother to me. He would come over and visit, playing Old Maid and hide-and-seek with me. Oh, how he made me laugh! When the news came of his untimely death at age 16, I didn’t understand what had happened, but at age four, what I could comprehend was that I would never see him again. My mother debated whether I should attend the funeral services. In the end, she left that decision to me, explaining that death was part of life but that it would be okay if I didn’t want to go. I chose to go. I wanted to see my playmate one last time and say goodbye. That was one of the saddest memories from my childhood, but it taught me that we can recover after the loss of a loved one. It also taught me the importance of family and friends — one’s emotional support system — in helping us recover during the grieving process.
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.
- Practice being present and living in the moment. If you’re a person who lives in the past, reliving your mistakes and punishing yourself for not making better ones, then you are not likely to move forward in life or grow as a person. On the other hand, if you spend your time worrying about the future — about things you can’t control — you could be using that time to be productive, doing things that will improve your life. So, be present. Be grateful for all that you have and focus on making the most of today.
- Learn to put setbacks and failures in their proper perspectives. Many of us tend to perceive bad experiences as major events when most are minor. For example, if someone cuts you off in traffic, is that truly a major event, one requiring you to retaliate and physically show your anger? If you are running late and miss your flight, do you take it in stride and focus on finding another flight? Or, do you get angry and blame the gate attendants for making you late? One of the keys to boosting your resistance requires that you put challenging situations in their proper perspective and minimize emotional responses that do not help your cause.
- Recognize that worry is wasted mental energy. If you believe that worry is a worthwhile activity because it will help you solve your problems, realize that over 90 percent of the things you worry about won’t even happen! Spending time playing out the various scenarios in your mind that could happen, robs you of valuable time that would be better spent focusing on important tasks that can actually improve your life.
- When someone criticizes you, learn not to take it personally. If you are alive and breathing on this earth, then someone with undoubtedly find fault with you or your ideas. When this happens, remember that people’s comments are more about them — not you. Kindly acknowledge their comments and thank them for bringing their issues to your attention. This will remind you not to internalize any emotions or feelings you may have attached to their feedback.
- Embrace failures and setbacks as learning opportunities. While no one likes making mistakes, if we alter our thinking about them, those perceived failures can become some of life’s best teachers. Learn from your mistakes and avoid making the same ones again. Learning to successfully overcome and gracefully recover from setbacks and failures is a valuable skill you can apply to many areas of your life.
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 would like to create a women’s empowerment forum where young ladies from disadvantaged backgrounds are paired with positive female role models from business and industry to learn skills that will help them succeed in business and life.
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 🙂
Tony Robbins is definitely my choice. One of the greatest transformational leaders of our time, he has touched countless lives with his powerful, uplifting messages. His video, “I’m Not Your Guru,” inspired me to help people find the power to reach beyond their present circumstances to achieve things they thought impossible. Tony’s ability to interrupt people’s negative behavior patterns and free them of their limiting beliefs is truly a gift. Over the years, he has shared his humble beginnings with his audiences, showing people how to not only survive the pain, disappointments, and setbacks in life, but how to thrive in spite of them.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can reach me via my website: www.theswitchcoach.com
Readers can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
My book, Money Switch: Flip Yourself Onto Happiness, Health & Wealth, is available on Amazon:
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!