During tough times, make time to rest and recharge, and be sure to look after yourself to help recovery. Give yourself space to relax away from frustration; be that meditation, a big slice of cake, and ten minutes to breathe or going for a run or a walk. Exercise of any type is the ideal activity if you can do it, as a heightened heart rate will release endorphins and promote a healthy mind, as well as a healthy body.
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 Carina Lawson.
Carina Lawson is an MBA-backed founder (Ponderlily Paper + Planners) and Business + Personal Efficiency Consultant, who supports clients in discovering their goals and values, finding efficiencies to make empowered decisions with their time, and making space to live full out, even when life gets full. She has been a featured on BBC Radio, contributed to Stylist magazine, and served as a panelist at Enterprise Nation UK. When she’s not working she’s playing board games with her children, wrangling her spirited dog through the park, or grabbing a cheeky sushi dinner date with her husband.
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 come from a legacy of people who answered the question ‘How do you do it all?’ with a smile — baffling interviewers and colleagues alike, with their ability to make space for so much life. Not everyone shares the story of being efficiency-obsessed from the age of 8. And while then it was about finding more sleep, the commitment to doing more in less time, with the intent of living more life, has been a theme and driving force of my personal and professional growth and pursuits.
Following a jam-packed (and strategically managed, of course!) college experience (2 majors, 3 minors), my insatiable curiosity about business, processes, and strategy led me to an MBA. I then furthered my education to become a certified Business Auditor, where my career as a Business Analyst truly took off. Since then, my 15+ years in corporate environments have been spent creating significant efficiencies in systems and processes across complex organizations and within high-functioning departments.
It was shortly after the arrival of my twin girls in 2014, that my passion and skill in optimizing time was taken to a new level, and into a new realm. I launched Ponderlily Paper + Planners, which offer productivity tools to help women make empowered decisions with their personal time and put themselves back into their life equation.
After having our goods featured in Forbes, Marie Claire, Grazia and HuffPost, what followed was a natural expansion into 1:1 consulting as a Business and Personal Efficiency Consultant for female leaders ready to find space in their schedules to live the best version of their life.
No matter the environment or client, I believe that time can be expansive. There’s room for all of the things that matter and that we can get our resources, and ultimately our lives, back.
That’s why I support clients to understand their goals and values, find efficiencies in business and in life to do more in less time, and make space for the things that really matter to them. All so they can find the space to live full out, even when life gets full.
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?
After I earned my MBA, I was hired as a business analyst. One of my colleagues asked me to attend a meeting on his behalf to represent our team. I had been given minimal background on the nature of the meeting. It turned out that it was a quality management session, and our company was given an overview of an upcoming audit engagement.
My professional trajectory changed from that day forward so that I could be a qualified quality management systems auditor and business process improvement to help create efficiencies that impacted multiple bottom lines for my clients.
As a business analyst, managing cycle time reduction projects across different departments, I learned that I can manage diverse teams both in terms of cultural and professional backgrounds. I also learned that I won’t always be liked and that I can adapt to various work environments and drive results.
The skills I learned from this experience helped me create a lean business that is not only efficient, but that brings me great joy. And I also met my future father in law! The lesson I always take with me is to be open to new possibilities, you never know what doors they may open.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Ponderlily is a family business. The day-to-day core team consists of me, Carina, and my father-in-law, Bill. Chances are, if you’re in conversation with Ponderlily on any platform or via email, you are talking to a Lawson.
As a multi-cultural family, we know we are strongest when we hear different points of view and empower diverse voices. As a family business, we apply that same belief when engaging with customers. Our business processes are designed to be streamlined. Our company is very lean (there are literally only two of us!), so that allows us to focus on what’s important: the customer. I haven’t automated or outsourced customer service for a reason, because I want our customers to actually talk to us.
We were never content with the notion that the true substance of our lives — our families, friends and goals — should be relegated to the margins of planners. By putting achievements of all sizes front and center, we aim to inspire you to pause for the meaningful moments, celebrate the everyday on purpose, and persevere with resilience.
With dates for different holidays and religious celebrations noted in our planners, we also hope to inspire the people who use our products to learn about new traditions, note when to call their friends and wish them a happy Christmas, Eid, or Hanukkah.
We care about people — near and far, living today and tomorrow — and we recognize the decisions we make have broad implications. By eliminating plastic, minimizing packaging and even hand-delivering products to local customers, we hope to make a big impression about the importance of sustainability through a small environmental impact on the world.
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’m incredibly grateful to my father in law, with whom I worked with before he retired. There would be no Ponderlily without my father in law, Bill.
We actually used to work together years before Ponderlily was ever opened, in fact, before I had even met my husband! And even then, when I was pursuing my quality management certifications — something which was a little out of my career path as a business analyst — he’d always encourage me to do things I found personally and professionally fulfilling.
So, when I ran the business plan for Ponderlily past him, I was so excited that he wanted to run the company with me! Now, he manages logistics for the company, trains me on all aspects related to shipping, and he’s my partner-in-crime at trade shows. He’d tell you that I shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the Ponderlily packaging station because I can’t work a book fold. He’s right.
He knows that one of the reasons I started the company is so that if we have to move to England, my husband who’s been born and bred in Newcastle, would be going back home, whereas I would have to start my professional career anew. There are a lot of nuances living overseas. I’m grateful he’s given me the opportunity to have something that’s mine and what would allow me to contribute to my family. I couldn’t run this company without him and he’s allowed me to make my dream of owning a business come true.
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?
To me, resilience is the competence of facing, acting, and learning from challenges. It’s a capacity that’s developed over time.
Resilient people are agile — they know when to shift gears, when to give and guard their time, so they can best respond to what they’re facing. As someone who suffers from anxiety, I know that meditation, tapping, and walking are coping mechanisms that I need to proactively utilize, to cope with stress, so that I can stay on top of my fast decision-making skills when called to.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
When faced with new experiences out of our comfort zone, like the first day of classes or delivering a public speech, we may feel a little fear because the situation is unfamiliar and we don’t know how things are going to turn out.
Courage is the precursor of resilience. Braving our fears, showing up with courage builds our resilience in that when faced with an unknown situation, we know we can draw upon past courage to deal with something new. As we gain experience, through courage, we build resilience skills and it also takes courage to build resilience skills.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
My grandmother. She got divorced at a very young age in the early 40s and raised my dad on her own, while working full time as a nurse. She has a very calming presence even in the face of adversity. She knows exactly what to say to remind us in our family moments where we’ve been brave, learned from it, and how we can utilize that in new situations.
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?
Starting a company, while living overseas, when my twins were just five months old and in an industry I’m not formally trained in, dominated by people much younger than I am — was something “well-meaning” friends and family recommended I didn’t pursue.
The funny thing is that I didn’t realise the obstacles stacked against me until I had gone ahead and done it. My passion and drive to help women make empowered decisions with their time fueled every 5–10 spare minutes I had to focus and get a little closer to making my company a reality.
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?
After the pandemic, when everything in the world seemed to be going back to “normal,” after having been resilient throughout the 18 months of those “unprecedented times,” my chronic illness reminded me to slow down in a big way.
Recognizing that I had triggered something that could potentially become much worse, I recognised that I had been feeling unwell for a while. I needed to make the right calls (e.g.: call off meetings, call my doctors, ask for help at home) to help me cope. This allowed me to bounce back and I feel much stronger in that I can recognize symptoms, recognize that I need to look after myself, and recognize that rest supports my ability to be resilient.
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 10 years old, my family moved from the south of Brazil to the Persian Gulf. Not only was this a geographical change, but it was a very big cultural change for us as a family. Growing up with an autoimmune condition that made me look different wasn’t easy either. Add the fact that I also didn’t speak English at the time, so having to learn a new language while navigating a new school system (I was a straight-A student in Brazil, and I couldn’t understand school subjects in a different language), was tough.
Even at a young age, my parents taught me to look for promise in the circumstances. I realised that the situation was going to provide me with so many opportunities in the future that I looked forward to English tuition. I spoke of my autoimmune condition as something that made me different, in a good way. All the while, making life-long friends from diverse cultures and who were immensely supportive. It taught me to cultivate friendships, cultivate patience, and learn to learn in my own way.
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.
My father and grandfather are former professional goalkeepers (no pun intended!). They played for one of the largest teams in Brazil, Flamengo. Watching many of my dad’s practice sessions, I learned to approach life from a very proactive perspective. Similarly, if resilience is a muscle, it needs a warm-up, conditioning, performance, learning, and rest.
- One key step to condition resilience is acknowledging challenging situations, in order to be able to reframe them. Give yourself permission to be annoyed and frustrated (you’re human, after all, and you’re not perfect!) before asking yourself, “What can I learn from this?” Even if nothing else, it may be that you work out how you can avoid being subject to a similar situation again, or how to better manage it to lessen the burden on yourself. I constantly need to remind myself that even though I’m not a trained designer in a design-led company, I know good design. There are other areas of my company where I excel given my unique skill set as a business analyst. Remind yourself of other areas of your life where you’ve shown resilience and how that can serve you in your current situation.
- Remember the equipment, tools, or plays (if we’re in keeping with the sports metaphor here) you have at your disposal to help you have the courage to make the right decisions. Do you need to write intentions? Do you need a coach? Meditate? What will get you in the right frame of mind to make empowered decisions? I worked in banking for some time, which was very stressful to me. Writing down intentions at the start of my workday helped me center myself for the day. I responded to stressful situations from a more centered and calm perspective.
- Integrate the resilience experience, so that you can revisit what you’ve learned and celebrate how you’ve grown instead. For example, I often journal at the end of my workday to reflect on my wins for the day, and so when I need to remember a time when I acted with courage, when I was assertive, I can easily recollect that for when I’m going through a more complex situation. That way, when you can recognise and adapt when the need arises with more ease.
- Reach out to others for help. There is no shame in asking for a helping hand or just a chat when things are rough, and others can hold you to account, if you’re being overly negative, feeling helpless or indulging in unnecessary stress. You’d be there if a loved one asked you for help or advice, so it’s only right that they’re there for you, too. You will go through tense challenges again, but by dealing with each as well as you can, you shall feel more in control and more stable no matter how bad, unexpected or different your stresses are.
- During tough times, make time to rest and recharge, and be sure to look after yourself to help recovery. Give yourself space to relax away from frustration; be that meditation, a big slice of cake, and ten minutes to breathe or going for a run or a walk. Exercise of any type is the ideal activity if you can do it, as a heightened heart rate will release endorphins and promote a healthy mind, as well as a healthy body.
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 love to inspire people and communities to teach environmental conservation in schools and engaging in preservation projects. This would bring the most amount of good to protect habitats, to protect the earth, and to improve our health.
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 🙂
Yes, I would be honored to have the privilege to have breakfast with Rosalind Brewer, Walgreens COO. She’s an advocate for work-life integration and she speaks to the importance of presence. Her interview to Goldman Sachs was deeply moving and it genuinely touched me.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!