Celebrate the small things. They are happening to you every day. I don’t like to dust; it’s the thing that goes on my to-do list for longer than I’m willing to admit in this interview. But when I do it, I feel such joy every time I walk past that clean surface. It makes me so happy that I want to throw confetti, except than I would have to clean that up too.
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 Christine Maier.
Christine Maier was born with a cleft lip and palate, classified as learning disabled, and had over 20 surgeries. She’s become an NYPD Sergeant, author, speaker, and the first female director of NYC Emergency Management Watch Command. You can learn more about Christine at: TheChristineMaier.comhttps://TheChristineMaier.com
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 was born with a cleft lip and palate and had my first surgery at four months old to repair my cleft lip. In elementary school, they classified me as learning disabled. As a child, I could be described as a short, skinny, non-athletic kid who could barely read. Other kids expected little from me, and when I achieved success, they often assumed I cheated.
A kickball game in 3rd grade and a romance novel in 10th grade changed how I thought about myself and what I could achieve.
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?
When I was a Sergeant in the 17th Precinct, we got a HAZMAT call near Bellevue Hospital. When we arrived, FDNY EMS reported that when treating their patient, Peter Parker, their radiation detectors went off. Peter insisted he had not had a Thallium Stress Test earlier in the day.
With the help of Bellevue Medical Center staff and the NYPD Emergency Service Unit, we set up a decontamination area outside the emergency department at Bellevue and continued to talk with and evaluate Mr. Parker.
It took an hour or two, but the hospital was able to track down the patient’s real name and find the medical records from that morning when he had a Thallium Stress Test at another hospital. Once we knew the truth, the patient explained that he didn’t like how they had treated him at the other hospital that morning. That’s why he went to a spot a few blocks away from Bellevue and called 9–1–1 for chest pains.
People want to be seen and heard and seen. When they aren’t, they will make themselves known in potentially destructive ways. When we slow down to look and listen, we can change the world for that person.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’ve been there and got through it; that’s how I know you can too. It’s human and hopeful.
After one of my first speaking appearances, a mother came to thank me. Her daughter had several developmental issues. I could tell she wanted to believe her daughter could have a normal life. In that brief conversation, I knew something shifted for her, and she now believed it.
None of us are able tocan 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 reading teacher in elementary school, Miss Ranaldo. Not only did she get me on track with reading, but she also assisted my mother in navigating the school district to ensure I had the best services. It was the early 80s, schools were just figuring out who to help kids with learning disabilities.
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 is the ability to overcome adversity. I often hear people say resilience is the ability to bounce back. I don’t believe that’s true. Hard times impact us, and they teach us lessons and help us grow. They can also scar us. We don’t bounce back; we move to a new place.
People aren’t born with or without resilience. There are different degrees of resilience and areas where we naturally excel. But there are traits that are more common in people who have resilience:
- They focus on positive things and things they can change.
- They have overcome adversity in the past.
- They have a strong support system.
- They understand who they are and what is important to them.
I want anyone who is reading this to know that no matter what has happened in the past, they are resilient, and they can still improve their resilience.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion, how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Resilience is when something happens to or around you, and you’re able to overcome the emotional impact of the experience. Courage is when you choose to let something happen to you without knowing the outcome.
I like to think that resilience builds courage. When you’ve been through hard times and survived, you’re willing to risk more knowing you can overcome.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
A few months ago, I went to Kenya with Smile Train. Near the town of Wote, we met Damaris, a 19-year-old woman who was born with a cleft. Her family was unaware that they could repair the cleft until hearing a commercial on the radio when Damaris was 16. After years of being bullied and ostracized, Damaris was ready for surgery. The next day, with only the information provided in the commercial, Damaris and her parents started the two-hour walk (uphill) to catch the bus to Makueni and a new life.
At 19 years old, Damaris greeted us with a smile. While her childhood is still a painful topic, she was excited about the future. She wants to meet boys, get married, and have children. If her child has a cleft, she knows where to take them to have it fixed. Her next pursuit is beauty school.
The number of children who survive to the age of 16 without cleft treatment is low. Some estimates have the survival rate at 10%. Not only did she make it, but she also transformed into a totally different person. Now, she wants to create that change for others.
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?
When I applied to be the Deputy Director of Watch Command at New York City Emergency Management, my friends told me I would never get the job because I was a woman. There had never been a female deputy director, and there was a tight group of men who were deciding.
I knew I was by far the strongest candidate, and I couldn’t let my friend’s assumptions get inside my head. I pushed through their concerns and acted like I was the best candidate for the job. I got the job.
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?
At one point in my career, I had a contentious relationship with a boss. I had to work with him for a year. Every day was a struggle and required me to remind myself I would be okay.
The relationship made me question my abilities at my job and my relationships with colleagues. It taught me what a leader is and how manipulation affects its victims. Most importantly, it taught me to be kind to others. I wouldn’t have become the advocate I am today if it wasn’t for that experience.
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?
Being born with a cleft lip and palate tested my resilience frequently, even from a young age. I have a lot of practice. There is one moment in elementary school that sticks out.
In 3rd grade, I was short and not very athletic. I was the kid hoping I wouldn’t be the last one picked for a kickball team in gym class. On this day, I was the second to last kid picked. When my turn came, I had a failed bunt that went directly to the pitcher. I ran for first base but didn’t believe I would make it. The pitcher scooped up the ball and threw it at me. It went over my head and into a fence. I ran as fast as I could and made it to first base. The entire class cheered. As I stood on first base, I knew the reason I was there was because I was short and too hard to hit.
I have lived every day of my life leveraging the fact that I’m too hard to hit.
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.
- Find what energizes you and find a simple way to integrate it into your life. You need to be able to do this do this when adversity strikes. I like to walk; it frees my mind and helps me work through problems. I can step outside my door and go for a walk. But if the weather is bad, I know where the nearest mall is too. If you like to crochet, make sure you have yarn and needles handy. If you like to mountain climb and don’t have a mountain outside your door, find the biggest hill in your neighborhood.
- Figure out what is important to you. There are a lot of things to get upset about in this world. Don’t spend time being upset about things that aren’t important to you. As an author, piracy hurts. However, my goal is to get my books into the hands of the people who need them. If piracy allows that to happen, I can’t allow it to slow down the work I’m doing. Having said that, if you’re reading this and you can’t afford a book, try your local library, a used bookstore, or enter giveaways for free books.
- Try new things. It builds new skills, teaches you about yourself, and keeps the brain active. Having struggled with reading my whole life, I was never interested in reading, certainly not for pleasure. In 10th grade, my friend insisted I had to read this romance novel she had read. I said no for days. She convinced another friend to read that same book. Now I had two people bugging me to read the book. They wore me down and I read the book, then the next book, and have been reading ever since. Suddenly, I found out I loved reading. That led to me starting to write, and now I’m an author. If you had asked me in 9th grade if I would become an author, I would have laughed at the idea.
- Repeat after me… “There is a lesson at this moment. I don’t know what it is now, but one day in the future, it will reveal itself.” When I worked with the boss with whom I had a contentious relationship, I said that every day for a year. It didn’t always make me feel better, but it gave me a little bit of hope. Years later, I still benefit from the lessons I learned. That sentence created the filter to learn those lessons. It also gave me hope that there would be more than pain from the experience.
- Celebrate the small things. They are happening to you every day. I don’t like to dust; it’s the thing that goes on my to-do list for longer than I’m willing to admit in this interview. But when I do it, I feel such joy every time I walk past that clean surface. It makes me so happy that I want to throw confetti, except than I would have to clean that up too.
Side note: I keep confetti in my desk because you never know when you’ll need to celebrate the small things.
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 was born with a cleft lip and palate. It’s the most common birth defect in the world, occurring in 1 in 700 live births. Yet so many people know so little about it. People need to know because…
- A mom from New York shouldn’t have to explain to an insurance company that repairing a cleft lip is medically necessary.
- No child should be asked, “Why is your nose crooked?” and then have to explain what a cleft lip and/or palate is.
- A woman from Florida shouldn’t have to pay over $100,000 to have functional teeth.
- A girl from Wote, Kenya shouldn’t have to wait 16 years to have her cleft repaired.
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 🙂
P!nk. She once said, “I need to know my pain is helping your pain.” I want her to know that her pain not only helps me with my pain, but it inspires me to use my pain to help others.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can head over to TheChristineMaier.com
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!