Be Proactively Self-Compassionate: taking the time to speak to yourself with kindness and support is one of the best ways to be resilient. No matter the challenge, the only guaranteed “wingman” or “ride or die” is yourself. If we think about the self-talk that goes through our heads, we often can’t imagine saying those things to anyone else. A big a-ha for me about this was the concept of shifting from self-critic to self-coach. A critic nit-picks your flaws; a coach helps you see strengths and weaknesses and helps you be better.

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 Dr. Allessandria Polizzi.

“Dr. Al” is the CEO of Verdant Consulting, which offers programs on building resiliency skills, preventing burnout, emotional agility, and psychological health and safety. She has 30 years of experience in human development, working for big and small brands, from 7-Eleven and Pizza Hut to Intuit and Boston Beer Company. Following an intense recovery from burnout and a depression diagnosis, Allessandria rebooted her consulting practice, Verdant Consulting, with a renewed focus on implementing the latest scientific resiliency, burnout prevention and psychological safety research to help people, teams and organizations learn practical, simple skills that will help them flourish.


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?

Happy to be here! My background is in human development and helping people become the best version of themselves. I started this journey as a college English teacher, where I taught remedial writing and ESL, shifted to change management and organizational development in the corporate sector, and now blend the academic and the pragmatic to provide simple, practical programs based on the latest in scientific research.

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?

I am a strong advocate for understanding your strengths and building the awareness to honor them and monitor their potential overuse. Early in my corporate career, I found myself at a crossroads: I could head down the road of an SAP consulting, learning more and more about the system, or I could grow my educational skills and take the learning and development path. I wound up going through job postings to see what the day-to-day work would be for either job and which one would feel less like work and more like fun. Clearly, I took the human development path, and the work has been amazing. Since that time, I have used this method of exploration to guide not only my career, but the career conversations of my teams and clients. Knowing what you enjoy, what you are naturally good at, is critical in navigating a fluctuating future.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

When I realized I was in burnout, I started researching options for recovery. Nothing seemed like a good fit for me. I didn’t want a yoga retreat. I didn’t want to go someplace to be pampered. I didn’t want an app. I just wanted to have someone help me learn new, proven and tested skills to get better and approach my situation differently. The lack of strong offerings in the market was so frustrating to me that I decided, as a gift to myself, I would just create one. What stands out about our company is that we do not push the work back on the person by having them click, read, track, or exercise. Rather, we pull together insights from thousands of peer-reviewed studies in a simple model that will help teams, leaders, and organizations flourish and thrive.

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?

It’s a little cheesy, but as someone who married her “high school sweetheart,” my husband has been my closest partner on this journey. Since we basically grew up together, we know each other very well, but given that he is an artist, he doesn’t understand about 70% of what I do. This is what I love about having him by my side as I created my program. I want the work to speak to everyone, to be crisp, clear and compelling. If you can imagine a dad having a tea party with his daughter, that’s kind of the image of him sitting through the multiple iterations of my program. He sat in a seat that didn’t fit him and was greatly uncomfortable as I passed around my cookies of ideas, some of which were awful and some of which were delicious.

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?

Let’s start by discussing the concept of resiliency as a trait. I actually don’t believe that to be true. There are multiple research studies that show resilience can be taught and built and that certain factors can help or hinder that process. Resiliency is simply the ability to bounce back after experiencing a setback. There isn’t one path to doing so, but there are some skills that can make this faster and less painful. One example is mindfulness. There have been hundreds of studies on the benefits that mindfulness can provide, especially when it comes to being resilient. While some people may be better at this naturally (I, for one, am a horrible meditator), mindfulness tactics can be learned to help anyone re-center, be present, and connect with the moment in order to bounce back.

Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?

To me, courage is about proactively addressing something; resilience is about how you recover afterwards. I think of these as very different. You don’t have to be courageous to be resilient or resilient to be courageous. I am actually a good example of this. I run towards chaos and love to fix problems. Some people would see this as courageous. However, my resiliency skills did not help me manage the stress of being in that situation. Learning more about the science behind stress, emotional agility and burnout prevention gave me new approaches to improving my resilience.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

This probably isn’t what you would expect, but I think of Fred Rogers as incredibly resilient. I was a child in the 70s and grew up watching Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers believed in the importance of creating safe spaces for children, modeling kindness, curiosity, respect, and vulnerability. In the face of pushback and in a world that was becoming more and more cynical, he met it with softness instead of hardness, virtue instead of vitriol. He taught emotional agility, accepting and exploring negative emotions, and processing challenges in healthy ways. These are at the core of resilience.

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?

This is seriously my Achilles heel. I have this “hold my beer” mindset that basically believes anything is possible. If people tell me something can’t be done or we tried it before and it didn’t work, it is basically the go-pistol for me to start running to prove them wrong. Sometimes this pans out and sometimes it doesn’t. One example of when it did work out was finishing my doctorate. I left college teaching to work in the corporate sector just as I was starting to write my dissertation. I wrote it while I was working full time, had my main professor drop me, and ended up defending it when I was 9-months pregnant. But, I was hell-bent to get it finished, and I did it through tenacity, fearless optimism, stubbornness, and a bit of naivety. It just didn’t seem possible to me that it wasn’t going to happen! What might be seen as flaws to others actually helped me get over the finish line.

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?

I would have to say that my experience this past winter was one of the most challenging for me. I kept thinking if I just tried harder, I could make things work. What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that I was trying to stretch beyond my strengths, to be something I wasn’t, and no matter how hard I tried, it just didn’t work out. This experience, followed by a diagnosis of depression and PTSD, really pushed me to the brink. I would spend hours in bed, convinced I was the biggest piece of garbage in the world. What got me back on track was my curiosity and optimism. I knew there had to be others like me, so I started reading academic research on burnout recovery to see if I could decode what was going on, how this had happened, and, most importantly, what I needed to do differently to get better and navigate the future. This was the start of a journey that ultimately led to me taking these insights and creating a resiliency model focused on emotions, thoughts, words, and actions that weaves in neuroscience and cognitive behavior theory. I took my strengths of inquiry, love of learning, and development of others to help me heal.

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?

I had a pretty rough childhood. There was addiction, abuse, poverty, and instability. My PTSD stems from some of those experiences, but so does my sense of humor, my ability to connect with people, and my approachability. It also helped me learn that everyone has their demons, their distortions in how they see the world. Let me share an example. I had a boss once who would yell at me. I mean, he would just tear into me about everything from how I was thinking about my part of the business to how I presented information. One day, I realized I was focusing on what he was doing TO me, and I needed to focus instead on what he WANTED. I paid close attention and determined that he was struggling as much with his boss as I was with him. So, I shifted my focus to helping him show up well, to supporting him, and it made all the difference. In fact, after a while, coworkers came to me for advice on how to work with him. And, we are actually friends to this day!

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) Be Proactively Self-Compassionate: taking the time to speak to yourself with kindness and support is one of the best ways to be resilient. No matter the challenge, the only guaranteed “wingman” or “ride or die” is yourself. If we think about the self-talk that goes through our heads, we often can’t imagine saying those things to anyone else. A big a-ha for me about this was the concept of shifting from self-critic to self-coach. A critic nit-picks your flaws; a coach helps you see strengths and weaknesses and helps you be better.

2) Learn how to be Present: worry about the future and guilt or shame about the past are burdens that weigh us down. I can remember my most embarrassing moments, my failures, with stunning clarity. My successes are less accessible to me. By focusing on the present moment, checking in with my emotions and thoughts to see what is helpful and what is not, and refocusing when my emotions start to get too big to handle, I can maneuver through challenges with a little more ease. I have become in-tune with my depression and am able to feel when it starts to boil up. By focusing on the present rather than shoving it down (see also tip #3), I am better able to manage through these feelings and let them pass.

3) Practice Acceptance: given the addiction in my family, I have heard The Lord’s Prayer through some 12-step program more times than I care to think about. I am not a religious person, but the message in this prayer is pretty poignant: courage to change the things I can, accepting the things I cannot change, wisdom to know the difference. That is resiliency. In fact, a recent study I spoke about on my podcast called this “tragic optimism” and showed that accepting things as they are in the face of traumatic events correlated to a 54% increase in emotional wellbeing. Fighting back about what we are feeling and thinking, pretending that things are different than they really are, and convincing ourselves that we can control what happens, uses up energy and keeps us from bouncing back.

4) Identify your Values & Purpose: We are faced with a lot of choices every day. From how we react to an email to when we exercise, every moment is like it’s own “Choose Your Own Adventure.” Being clear about our own personal values and purpose can be transformational in how we respond to stress. What’s fascinating about how our minds work is that what is stressful to one person is completely fine for another. Take public speaking, as an example. If you hate public speaking but are being asked to do so and it is causing stress to rise at an unmanageable rate, reflecting on how this aligns with your purpose and values would help you assess if speaking is actually important. What would happen if you held a conversation, made a video, or didn’t speak at all? How would this move your purpose and values forward? The same is true with conflict. Will this issue matter in 1 week, 1 month or 1 year? If the answer is no, spend your energy on something more aligned to your goals.

5) Strive for Wholeness Instead of Happiness: This was another a-ha for me. I thought that happiness was the norm I was trying to get to. What I learned is that wholeness, the balance of positive and negative thoughts and feelings, was actually what I was looking for. We spend so much time on social media posting #blessed updates, that we don’t let our true selves shine. No one can be happy all of the time. Our brains evolved for thousands of years to identify threats. The science on this is pretty clear, as well. The expectation to not experience negative feelings is related to more negative and less positive self-descriptions. Accepting that we are works in progress, getting better every day, can help set a healthier expectation and move us off of focusing on how we should be feeling or, worse yet, feeling bad for feeling bad.

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. 🙂

Again, not to be cheesy, but if every person looked themselves in the mirror when brushing their teeth and practiced self-compassion, we would be in a very different place. Our hang ups and self-talk get in the way of our ability to help others. And most of this talk just isn’t helpful or true. There are literally hundreds of distortions humans have developed over time that skew how we see the world. From perfectionism to thinking we know what others are thinking, we carry around these misconceptions a lot. Taking 2 minutes to speak to ourselves with kindness, withhold judgement and consider how our experiences are not unique would make a huge difference.

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 🙂

Brené Brown is pretty fantastic. Her insights have been fundamental in changing the tone in the workplace about being human. I would love to have her as a guest on my podcast to discuss her perspective on what keeps holding us back from shifting our mindset about how our emotions show up at work and how to spark faster, deeper change.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I have a weekly podcast, “Be Verdant,” where I share the latest research on resiliency skills, burnout prevention, managing stress, and psychological health and safety, followed by a discussion with a guest. You can find “Be Verdant” anywhere you listen to podcasts (but here is a link, just in case)

I am also sponsoring a roundtable series on emotional wellbeing called “Verdant Conversations.” We will cover topics like the ubiquity of emotional wellbeing, HR burnout prevention, the role of race in emotional wellbeing, and leader self-care. This and other learning opportunities are posted on my website:

For those on “the socsh,” follow the hashtag #be_verdant on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.