Take action on the first step necessary to overcome the obstacle in the way of achieving your vision for living a fulfilled life. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Have courage. Know that faith, without work, yields little. Then have faith while working hard to achieve what you know you need.
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 Dorchelle Spence.
Dorchelle Spence is an author and motivational speaker, lending her voice to topics ranging from self-advocacy and cancer survival to self-worth and the power of shoes. Her book, Into the Gathering Clouds, is a memoir of survival incorporating faith, friends, and finesse. The novel, No Less Worthy, tells the story of a girl fighting the cycle of abuse and poverty to become a young woman finding her worthiness through strength and perseverance. Formerly, Spence served as Vice President of the non-profit charged with managing Memphis’ riverfront, where she provided strategic direction and oversight of organizational initiatives.
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 grew up in a single parent apartment in the poorest zip code in Memphis, attending 13 schools in 12 years. Still, I graduated high school with honors and received a full scholarship to college. It took seven years and a few bumps and bruises, but I eventually earned a degree in communications. My mother dated my sister’s father on and off for 30 years before marrying him in 2002. My own father, I never knew. However, none of that stopped me from attaining success in both corporate and non-profit sectors, before retiring at 50 as vice president of the Riverfront Development Corporation.
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?
One of the most memorable projects I spearheaded was the international design competition, Shaping the New American Riverfront, for the first new construction on the Memphis riverfront in more than a half century. The board of directors thought it was overreaching to call the competition “international”, but I was certain that the draw of the Mississippi River, at its widest point, in such a storied city as Memphis would garner attention from around the world. Of course, it did. We received submissions from 20 different countries and 27 states within the U.S. Ultimately, the winning design was from an architectural firm in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This experience reminded me that there is power in having a vision and being willing to do the work it takes to bring it to fruition.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
After retiring in 2018, my focus turned to writing and public speaking. What makes my work in this area stand out is a willingness to be honest and vulnerable in sharing stories that inspire and motivate others. I strive to help readers and live audiences see the grace and mercy around them and encourage them to put in the work to become the people they aspire to be.
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?
For me, it truly took a village. Fortunately, a family living near one of my aunts took special interest in me at a young age. The Knights spent time with me, introducing me to people, places, and experiences outside my neighborhood. They provided an example of traditional family love and created an environment in which I could begin to imagine a life beyond my circumstances. They were truly heaven sent and remain an intricate part of my life today.
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?
In its essence, resilience is a refusal to accept today’s difficulties as permanent problems. Resilience, at its core, is hopefulness born of a willingness to work to bring that desire to reality. Resilient people are expectant and forward looking, exerting effort to improve their circumstance and reach their aspirations.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage is taking a necessary action despite any fear surrounding the action or its consequences. The willingness to act in the face of fear is certainly an element of resilience. But resilience is a process. It includes the ability to recognize what is wrong; identify what or where we’d rather have, be, or do; discern what it takes to achieve that; and work toward making it happen. Some processes definitely require courage, others entail perseverance, still others need resolve. All of them begin with a personal vision and a determined work ethic.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
So many people have overcome huge obstacles to become who they aspired to be: Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, Viola Davis, my mother, my daughter, you, me. While all of them provide inspiration, resilience is personal. When I think of resilience, I see me and I hope you see you.
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?
Growing up, we were the proverbial black sheep of the family. I consistently heard what I couldn’t do and what status I wouldn’t achieve. That bombardment, combined with a total lack of financial security, damaged my self-esteem and contributed to a feeling of isolation. It also fostered a sense of defiance. I was determined to become self-sufficient so that I could take care of myself, my mother, and my sister. Today, my husband and I, along with our children, have all that we need; my mother lives in our home and is happy; and my sister and her family are doing well. Everything else — as they say — is gravy.
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?
Truthfully, I’ve had many setbacks — poverty, physical assault, leaving college, starting over, missteps in step-parenting, marital failures, heartbreak, lost loved ones, and cancer. Resilience, sprinkled generously with grace and mercy, made it possible to overcome these challenges. As a result, I’ve also had a beautiful life with a daughter, my husband, three stepsons, the home we’ve built, the love we’ve shared. And I’ve accomplished so much — attending and graduating college, earning an MBA, running three half marathons, helping redevelop our city’s downtown, having my first novel, No Less Worthy, published and now releasing my new book, Into the Gathering Clouds. I’ve never felt more ready to become the person I aspire to be.
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?
Because we had so little, from an early age, my mother counted on me to be independent and assist where I could to shoulder the burden. That started with me taking care of the apartment, my sister, and helping with the neighborhood children my mother cared for. At 15, I secured my first outside job. I gave most of my paycheck to my mom, what I didn’t give to her, I spent on clothes for me and my sister. I learned the correlation between work and survival. Soon I wanted more than to survive; I wanted to thrive. That’s when it all came together. I recognized our plight; knew I wanted stability; and understood that academic achievement would yield the kind of job that would provide that financial stability. I set out to accomplish those things.
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.
1. Recognize that nothing lasts forever. Everything changes — both good and bad. Children grow older. Spouses change. Jobs come and go. We must have hope that change presents opportunities for our situations to improve.
2. Envision the life you want to live. Believe in the vision. Believe you are worthy of the vision.
3. Identify the most important thing(s) necessary for you to achieve your vision for your life.
4. Notice what is preventing you from, or circumventing your ability to, reach that place. Think. Study. Plan.
5. Take action on the first step necessary to overcome the obstacle in the way of achieving your vision for living a fulfilled life. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Have courage. Know that faith, without work, yields little. Then have faith while working hard to achieve what you know you need.
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. 🙂
Each of us seeks to be understood and appreciated for the unique individuals we are. Many of us have experienced disappointment in that area. As a result, we have learned to hide who we truly are behind masks of accepted norms of size, beauty, gender roles, communication tactics, and lifestyles. What if we returned to being our authentic selves and provided non-judgmental grace to those doing the same? What if we all sought first to understand others before seeking to be understood ourselves? Could we then heal ourselves? Could we heal one another? Could we heal the world?
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 🙂
As the wife of a smart, influential, accomplished man, I’d enjoy spending time with Michelle Obama. She seems to be the epitome of intelligence, strength, and grace — not only as a wife and mother, but as a woman and leader. Hearing how she navigates those roles and learning her perspective on finding balance and staying true to herself would be an exceptional experience.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Follow me on my social networks Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @DorchelleSpence and #DorchelleSpence. Read my book, Into the Gathering Clouds, to find out how I survived my cancer diagnosis, and keep up with me through my website, www.DorchelleSpence.com.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!