Pause. Don’t attempt to immediately overcome trauma or adversity, to fast-forward to a state of resilience. We can’t bypass healing. As Bessel van der Kolk says, “the body keeps the score.” Be gentle with where you are. You’ll find yourself somewhere else when you’re ready.
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 Stubenrauch.
Anita is the Founder and Principal of Cause Effect Creative. A consummate creative, she’s an artist in whatever medium she chooses. Writing, painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, filmmaking, graphic design, interior design, conceptual framework building, getting dressed in the morning — it’s all fair, fun, and fluid play. Her playful and tenacious spirit landed her a full-tuition scholarship at her alma mater, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and helped her rise from Apple Retail store employee to visual designer of presentations given to Steve Jobs, author of Apple’s credo, and executive speechwriter to former Apple Senior Vice President, Angela Ahrendts.
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 graduated from art school in 2003 and joined Apple in 2005. When I started at the North Michigan Avenue store, I wore a blue t-shirt and a name tag and taught customers how to be creative on the computer. By the time I left thirteen years later, I was speechwriting for the highest-paid executive at Apple and had written Apple’s new credo.
Since then, I’ve been helping people powerfully see and express their visions via my agency, Cause:Effect Creative. And at the same time, I’ve been developing a 14-acre event and retreat space in Murphys, CA, called The Land of Make+Believe.
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?
I grew up in Kansas, and from about age 12 on, I was fixated on getting the hell out there. Instinctively, unconsciously, I knew I had to escape to thrive. And because I did the math, I knew escape required a full ride scholarship. (There was no way my family could pay for college.) So that’s what I worked towards all through high school.
All my good grades and extracurricular activities — AP and Honors everything, taking life drawing classes on Saturdays, being in Drama and Pep Club and Student Council, being the school mascot — all my hard work was in service of fully funding my great escape.
And then it didn’t happen.
I got into Rhode Island School of Design, but with hardly any financial aid to speak of. I got into SAIC, but I needed something like $10,000 more a year to make that work. I was in the running for a big scholarship at Kansas City Art Institute, but ultimately that went to someone else.
It was spring of my senior year, practically time to graduate, and shit was getting real. I did not have a backup plan.
My guidance counselor, who had long advocated against my aiming so high, suggested I put my talents to work painting and drawing the homes of rich people in rich neighborhoods and maybe one of them would take pity on me.
And I will tell you the day I drove out to Leawood, KS, with my sketchbook and paints was one of the lowest of my life. I sat on some stranger’s lawn drawing some fancy house that represented everything I thought I couldn’t have — freedom, options, choice. I hated that drawing. And I hated myself for doing it.
I think I stayed for 20 minutes, maybe half an hour. Long enough to know I never wanted to do anything like that again. And on the drive back home, I started to scale back my dream. I started thinking like my guidance counselor: telling myself I had been too ambitious, too unrealistic, I should have had a safe option, what was I thinking?!
And yet, when I got home, there was an envelope waiting for me…
Sender: The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Contents: “Congratulations! You’ve won the Presidential Scholarship…worth an additional $10,000 a year…”
This experience set a precedent for doing “the impossible” over and over again.
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?
I want to name so many people, but I’ll pick two who probably have no idea how their simple decisions affected my life: Musa Tariq and Angela Ahrendts. In 2016, my director at the time, Musa, stopped by my desk on his way to a big meeting for a project that had been brewing for over a year — reimagining Apple’s credo. Seemingly on a whim, Musa invited me to tag along. This was a meeting in an official executive board room at 1 Infinite Loop. Something like 20 very senior executives across Retail, the Online Store, and Apple’s marketing and communications group, Marcom, were all sitting in very fancy leather chairs. As a writer working as an individual contributor on the Retail Communications team, I was by far the lowest ranking, least influential person in that room. Hell, to my left was a Marcom writer who had teams of writers who had teams of writers.
Angela Ahrendts, then Senior Vice-President of Retail, was running about an hour behind schedule. Behind us in her queue was a large group of Marcom execs who needed her eyes and ears and creative approval. When our meeting finally kicked off, everyone around the table did a quick self-intro, eager to get into the topic at hand as quickly as possible. But when it was my turn, Angela paused. Musa had indicated that I’d been at Apple a while and that I came up through Retail. Angela wanted to know more. Thrust into the spotlight with all this urgency around me, I tried to quickly share how I started at North Michigan Avenue as a Creative after art school. How I worked at Fifth Avenue as a Lead Creative. How I was hired into Retail Design and Development as a sort of one-woman creative agency. How I’d been at Apple for 11 years, but that my love for Apple was born when my dad quit working nights at the post office, poured all the money he had into a Mac II to start his own graphic design business, and finally brought our family some financial stability.
Angela took it all in, then started the meeting. The topic: who should we get to write Apple’s credo, and what form should it take? Everyone and anything was a possibility. Legendary authors and lyricists. Famous musicians and poets and performers. (Someone who was all of that combined: Lin-Manuel Miranda.) But somehow, by the end of that meeting, I was invited to take a shot. So I did. And I knew I was onto something when a notoriously stoic executive teared up as I read my first draft. A few weeks (and more than a few revisions) later, and I’d officially authored Apple’s new credo. All because Musa stopped by my desk and Angela asked what Apple meant to me.
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 April 22, 2017, I’d just returned home from a trip supporting Angela Ahrendts at her first public speaking engagement for Apple. And I had food poisoning.
Food poisoning shows up in three ways: upper, lower, or both. I had lower. And I had it so badly that I’d managed to lose 3 liters of fluids in about 12 hours.
On the last of many trips to the bathroom that night, I passed out. And in doing so, fell face first into a wooden stool, before falling backward to crack the back of my head on the travertine floor. When I came to, my partner was standing over me, looking understandably concerned.
I was delirious. I had no pants on. I had a deadline!
So, naturally, after I was admitted to the hospital, the first person I contacted was my manager — “Hey [name redacted], heads up… I’m pretty sick and in the ER. I won’t be able to get you those talking points.”
First I got the message you’d hope to get back: “Holy shit! That’s rough!”
Then I got this message: “Sorry to be work-y, but this particular job doesn’t care about our feelings… What do you have?”
What he meant was, “Give me your notes for Angela’s speech in Dubai on Monday.”
And what I had was a concussion, and vertigo, and x-rays for possible broken nose and neck. What I had was a completely backward set of priorities. What I had was a question — how the heck did I get here, and how the hell do I get out?
This wasn’t the only experience to make me question my future with Apple. Just the latest. And one that was impossible to ignore.
Personally, I had finally reached a point where the misery of the familiar became more uncomfortable than the mystery of the unknown.
I knew I needed to change something, but I didn’t want to start over at a new company where I’d have to prove myself all over again. At my core, I wanted to feel creative and alive again, like I did back when I was making art. I thought maybe that would be enough. So I turned to Craigslist to find a studio in the form of an airstream trailer. And that led to the ad that changed my life…
“For Sale: Artist Retreat Center with Gallery and Hot Springs — New Mexico. Ever dreamed of making a living making art? Ever wished you could live in a beautiful location, surrounded by other artists, while making a living making art?”
Ever since I was a kid I wanted a place where I could invite all my creative friends to come and stay and play. And here it was all grown up and financially viable. The business model was super simple. A place for people to stay, and a place for people to create. One of those places was an airstream trailer.
Sometimes the Universe is subtle when it sends us messages. Other times, it sends them from a place called Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. (Seriously, that’s where it was located.)
Ultimately I decided not to buy that business. But I did that search in May 2017, and within two months, I was in contract on the property I now call The Land of Make+Believe. Within another six months, I’d said goodbye to Apple. And ever since then, I have felt more aligned and alive than I ever thought possible.
Can you share with us the most interesting meaningful story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
There’s a tradition at Apple, when employees leave, where your teammates line up around the edges of the store or the office, and as you make your final exit, they clap you out. Officially, it’s a ”Fond Farewell” — a thank you, a standing ovation.
When I left Apple, I snuck out the side door. During the holiday party. While people were drinking and dancing and toasting, I was packing up my things and putting them in the car.
Mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally — I was broken, burnt. And on January 1, I knew I was going out on medical leave and I wasn’t coming back.
At first, I carried a lot of guilt and shame over the way I left Apple. I felt like I let people down. I felt like I let myself down. Like I should have been able to tough it out. And I spent the next 11 months healing from that. Then, about a week before Thanksgiving, I wrote two emails: one to an executive I used to write for, and another to my former manager — apologizing for the way I left things. For my sake.
It was something that I needed to say and send so I could move forward. Because some part of me was still stuck back there, wanting their approval, their forgiveness, and I needed my own.
Fast-forward one week, to the day before Thanksgiving, when something amazing happened: my iPad broke. I was visiting my dad in Tucson and turns out there’s an Apple Store across the street. Now, I hadn’t been into a store since before I left the company. I didn’t have an appointment, so when Martha told me the Genius Bar was booked, I started to laugh. I mean, of course it was!
But after working at Apple for 13 years, I knew team members could make exceptions, so I tried to play the one card I had… I told Martha, “I used to work for Apple.”
Immediately this prompted her to ask me where I worked, what I did, and if she would know anything I worked on? So I said, “Cupertino, communications, and…Apple’s credo?”
I don’t know what reaction I expected, but I certainly didn’t expect this: Martha started crying. Then she told me she carries the credo around with her everywhere. That, in fact, she’d read it that very morning after a really rough night. And that reading the credo had lifted her up and given her hope.
So, naturally, I started crying.
Then Martha said, “I can’t be the only one who gets to know you’re here. Can I please introduce you to the rest of the team?”
I say yes. And one by one she brings people over to me. And one by one they say thank you. And I feel ‘thank you.’
I didn’t fix my iPad, but I did upgrade my phone. And for whatever reason, it wouldn’t activate. Which meant I spent over an hour with Martha and the team at the La Encantada Apple Store. To me, it was clear. The Universe was telling me to stay there and soak up this feeling, this impromptu Fond Farewell.
After chasing success at Apple for so long — to the detriment of my health and mental well-being — I left feeling like my work meaningless. Like I was invisible.
I didn’t work at that store. I didn’t work in that state. I didn’t know anyone on that team. But they knew me. And they knew my work better than I did. This experience taught me that when our work is honest, authentic, and real — when it deeply touches truth — it can change lives, including our own. And in ways more meaningful than we could ever imagine.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
In an economic system focused on generating Return on Investment, we suggest a way of being based on Return on Alignment. When we — as individuals or organizations — act in alignment with our vision and values, it makes waves in the world, creating a resonance that is simultaneously attractive and repellant. It attracts those we want, repels those we don’t.
At Cause:Effect Creative, we help people generate resonance through a creative process that is equal parts logical reason, deep feeling, uncanny intuition, and wild imagination. We listen to the said and unsaid. We look for the seen and unseen. We work and play to find and touch the live wire at the core of the issue, idea, or identity at stake. Then we light up the world with words that make people feel.
By way of example, Company Curators was looking to capture the emotions, spirit, and justice intrinsic to their mission to make the entrepreneurial success of Black women no longer the exception. Together we produced this manifesto:
For Black women who are told they are both too much and not enough. Those given one shot, and asked to be visible, but not.
don’t laugh, quiet down code switch, share your crown dim your light, tame your hair don’t make waves, don’t try that here
Is your yes being stolen and no being ignored? Quit following the unwritten rules and working for their authors. Turn in a defiant resignation. Reject rigged terms and conditions.
There’s a path between you and this: one that’s fully expressed and blessed. An assignment based on divine alignment. You feel it, down deep in your bones. You know it like you know like you know. A different kind of hard ain’t easy, but we’re here to help you ease in. You are exceptional. And your success will no longer be the exception.
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?
Resilience hits me visually. I see strong winds and intense rains. Fierce elemental forces battering life on Earth. Some of that life may get blown away or uprooted. Tree limbs may fall. Fields may flood. Everything is affected. Nothing is as it was before. But the life that will survive this storm and the storms to come is deeply rooted. Where I live in Murphys, CA, a patch of Pink Muhly grass got hammered in a recent snow storm. It was literally beaten down to the ground, but as the sun began to shine and the snow to melt, the grass started to stand tall again, sustained by a strong root system and mycorrhiza network working to revive and rebuild.
Resilient people are deeply rooted. Connected to systems, communities, and a sense of purpose that supports them. The purpose of my pink muhly grass is cyclical: “worship the sun, grow and blossom, decay and die, nourish the Earth.” All phases of its life have meaning. Even (and perhaps especially) those which we’re not accustomed to thinking of as positive, like decay or death. But the resilience embodied in that is greater than the grass itself. It’s about sustaining Life with a capital L. The tree limbs that fell in the storm may die, but they are part of a resilient system that makes Life possible.
I think resilience hits me visually because it’s so deeply connected to vision — having a reason for being that’s bigger than oneself. And what’s beautiful is that resilience can either be channeled into either sustaining current systems or reimagining and building new systems that align with one’s vision for Life itself.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
If resilience is about one’s ability to survive adversity, I see courage as one’s ability to act in spite of it. Courage invites adversity. (Sometimes taunts it?) Resilience necessarily follows. Though, even without obvious acts of courage, resilience is still flat-out required for survival.
Something else to consider is one’s perception of courage is often tied to a perception of risk. What feels risky to me might not to you and vice versa. If one’s orientation to an act is “I could never do that” then it would inherently appear to be risky and potentially courageous to them. But that same act could simply be a part of someone’s everyday life and not feel risky or courageous at all. (Think of the sure-footed climbers that maintain giant wind turbines.) Ultimately other’s perceptions don’t really matter. What matters is whether we believe we’re acting in alignment with our values and doing our best with the circumstances we’re in.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I’m reading “All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake” by Tiya Miles. It traces the history and meaning of an embroidered sack given to an enslaved girl, Ashley, by her mother, Rose, when she was sold away from her family at the age of nine.
Photo from Middleton Place Foundation
My great grandmother Rose
mother of Ashley gave her this sack when
she was sold at age 9 in South Carolina
it held a tattered dress 3 handfulls of
pecans a braid of Roses hair. Told her
It be filled with my Love always
she never saw her again
Ashley is my grandmother
While there are women featured in the book — Ashley, Rose, Ruth, and others — the words Ruth embroidered on the sack tell countless unrecorded stories of hardship and resilience experienced by Black women over more than 300 years of chattel slavery and forced labor and unspeakable horrors to emancipation and beyond. “Resilient” barely even begins to describe these women, but if that word helps us conjure up their memories so that we might bear witness to and honor their lives, it’s a start.
Fully facing our all-too-often horrific history that necessitated such indescribable resilience is one way we can honor these women. It’s also a way of understanding oppressive and exploitative conditions that persist now. We relive what we don’t learn. So let’s learn and let’s do better.
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?
Over the course of my life, my relationship with my mom has at various times been best described as “challenging” or “strained” or “nonexistent.” As an adult who has done a lot of work to heal this particular heartbreak, I can see that she did the best she could with what was going on at the time. But as a kid and young adult who just wanted to be loved and nurtured and encouraged, our interactions (or lack thereof) were exceptionally painful. Over and over I would try to prove myself worthy of her love and appreciation with good grades, with exceptional talent, with anything I thought might make her take an interest in me. When I didn’t find what I was looking for there, I’d look for it in teachers, in neighbors that would became surrogate family members, in my grandma and granny.
Opening one’s heart and arms for love again and again only to be ignored or met with indifference is special kind of torture I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But that pain spurred me on to find love and acceptance in myself, to seek out environments and communities in which I thrive, to find ways to heal and to be a healer. That seeking and finding built resilience, definitely, but it also built deep compassion — for myself, for my mom, for anyone who doesn’t feel worthy of receiving or giving love.
Perhaps the heart is resilience embodied. It knows agony and ecstasy and everything between. The heart feels and holds it all, and just keeps beating.
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.
- Pause. Don’t attempt to immediately overcome trauma or adversity, to fast-forward to a state of resilience. We can’t bypass healing. As Bessel van der Kolk says, “the body keeps the score.” Be gentle with where you are. You’ll find yourself somewhere else when you’re ready.
- Forgive yourself. Our inner critics can be quite cruel when it comes to our perceived failures or shortcomings — even when a situation has nothing to do with us or is completely out of our control. Forgive yourself for feeling downtrodden or despondent. And relish the feeling the relief that comes with self-forgiveness.
- Forgive others. Carrying resentment and anger towards someone else is like ingesting poison and expecting it to affect them. We hurt. They’re fine. Forgiving others is something powerfully healing that we can do for ourselves. But just because it’s for ourselves doesn’t mean we have to do it by ourselves. Therapists, therapeutic modalities, spiritual or religious practices and guides — all of these resources and more are available to help us heal.
- Dream beyond yourself. Nurturing dreams that extend beyond ourselves is profound. It helps us see how our actions and existence can play a meaningful role in life. And that vision provides us with a sense of purpose that can help sustain us when life gets hard.
- Speak truth. Truth tellers have deep inner strength, especially those who tell uncomfortable, inconvenient, and unwelcome truths. Some of this strength comes from being honest and true to oneself by speaking up for what matters. I suspect the rest comes from practice. Every chance we have to speak truth, we’re getting reps in and building that muscle.
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 encourage people to ask themselves if what they’re doing (or planning to do) is Helping or Hurting. When it comes to systemic oppression, environmental practices, workplace or legal policies, community resourcing — pretty much anything that involves life beyond ourselves. If each of us can tip the scales towards Helping more often than Hurting, we will see profound shifts that massively improve life on this planet.
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?
I would be ecstatic for a meeting of the minds with the genius that is Martine Rothblatt. I’m in awe of what’s she’s accomplished and what’s she’s aiming to do. I want to hug her mind and give her a high-five, in that order.
Thank you for these excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent. We wish you continued success.