Resilience needs rest and recuperation. An overtired body and mind cannot be resilient. An overtired brain cannot access the higher brain or cortex fully, and tends to function from our lower more mammalian brain. In our modern world, we are also constantly being bombarded with information and content, that can be very exhausting if it is not limited appropriately. Rest and recuperation are partially rooted in sleep, but also in daily movement, and nourishing food and in the content consumed.
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. Shideh Shafie.
Dr. Shideh Shafie is, an emergency room physician and assistant professor at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School. She also runs her own performance coaching practice, where her expertise in emergency medicine and operations give her unique perspective to help busy professionals build lives that allow them to thrive in both their professional and personal spheres. She is recipient of multiple teachings awards, as well as the national AWAEM Catalyst award.
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 live with my husband and our five-year-old twin children in our beloved favorite city of Providence, Rhode Island. I have been a practicing physician for just shy of 15 years, mainly in busy urban emergency departments. In addition to my work in the hospital, I run my own coaching practice, where I help other busy professionals rework their lives so they can actually enjoy the lives they have worked so hard to build, while still growing in their careers. My interest in coaching, resiliency and burnout is rooted in my own personal experience of learning that we are capable of making huge changes in our lives with small adjustments in our approach and thinking.
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 took care of a young patient with a pretty severe eating disorder, and ended up spending a lot of time with the patient’s mother and keeping in touch with her for many years. Her child had been in and out of hospitals for several years, and often had severe electrolyte imbalances that threatened her heart’s ability to function. They were from a very tight knit community, in which there was a culture of shame around mental health illness, but her mom did not give into the shame and was very a vocal advocate for her daughter despite the pressures from her community. Her daughter ended up making significant steps in her recovery, and I am sure this was in part due to the immense love from her mother, but also her mother rejecting the shame in her community and honoring the challenges her daughter faced, thereby setting that example for her daughter. Shame is so detrimental to progress and growing, and letting go of it can be so incredibly powerful.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What is interesting about being a coach and an emergency room doctor, is that I literally have a job that many people would consider to be one of the “most stressful” jobs imaginable, but the reality is that stress doesn’t have to be a part of it. I am often teaching my clients the difference between holding high stakes decisions in your hand and things being stressful, that they are not automatically one in the same. That in fact, one can solve for the “stress” of making those high-level decisions. When I see people across industries, healthcare, finance, law, etc.., make this shift it is pretty incredible to see them able to thrive in their work, and let go of the burden of carrying stress with them at all times like it is a badge of honor.
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 have had so many incredible mentors in my life, and one person who really gave me a great gift was my English tutor, Ms. Bonsignore. English is my second language, and when I was in middle school, I started really falling behind when it came to essay writing, and written communication in general. I came home in tears one day to my mother, who took the time to find me a tutor, a substitute teacher whom I knew and liked. For many years, we worked together in the public library, she would proofread all of my written classwork, but also teach me how to write, how to outline, how to build and support an idea in writing. With her help, I ended up testing out of the writing requirement in college, but more importantly knowing how to communicate my ideas in written form, perhaps one of the greatest gifts in my life.
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 quality of responding to the challenges, stressors, and disappointment of life in a way that allows us to keep moving forward and growing. Resilient people have learned the skill of separating their worth and value in life from the external factors around them. They know that an individual or even a series of failures does not make them a failure. They understand that life is mixed bags of ups and downs that are to be weathered and learned from.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage and resilience are certainly often linked together but I think of courage as a sprinter, and resilience more of a long-distance runner. Resilience is the quality to withstand the ups and down as you encounter them throughout life, to get back up after a fall and keep going. Courage is the muscle we exercise in short bursts when things become particularly scary, to jump over the hurdle in front of us. Both qualities definitely work together when things are challenging, we need the resilience to carry us through, but we often need to muster courage in spurts for some extra support especially when we are facing fear.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
When I think of resilience embodied, I can’t help but think of immigrants. My family moved here when I was six and our community was made up of many first-generation immigrant families. I watched those adults get knocked down by so many challenges, and then get back up and pivot with tenacity. What I witnessed as a child was not just resilience but resourcefulness. Immigrants often face so many hardships with language barriers, the lack of reciprocity in education/degrees, and yet they keep moving and growing, this resilience is the fabric of the American Dream.
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?
As a freshman in college my pre-med counselor told me I wouldn’t be able to handle my course load that I initially wanted to take, I listened to him and as a result ended up not being able to take advantage of some study abroad opportunities without having to delay my graduation. When it came time to apply to medical school, and I wanted to apply to some top schools, he told me that was too much a reach. I had learned my lesson and doubled down on myself. I ended up getting dual acceptance for the Dartmouth-Brown program. From that time on, I have learned when people doubt you, do it anyway; and when you doubt yourself know that is a sign that you are growing and learning new skills and keep on forging ahead.
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?
My husband and I got married on Valentine’s Day 2010 in New Delhi, India. Like many Indian weddings it was a large, multiday festive affair. We had decided that the day after the actual wedding ceremony, we would travel to the Taj Mahal with some of our out of country guests. After a five-hour bus ride, we arrived at the Taj Mahal with about 20 or so of our guests, and within the first 15 minutes there I lost my footing on a ledge and fell about 10 feet down breaking my fall with my skull, sustaining a severe head injury, which ultimately required a prolonged hospitalization and stay in India until it was safe for me to fly back to Brooklyn where I was a resident in training. Not only did I have to physically recover, but I also had to learn to overcome the frustration and sense of defeat. That is when I started working with a coach, and learned about the concept of neuroplasticity- this idea that we have brain patterns that are well trodden and well-worn so they are the ones we tend to take, but that this was a choice and that we could change those patterns. With coaching not only did I overcome the challenges from the head injury, but I learned how powerful our brains could be, and how to optimize the ways we live.
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?
Resiliency for me is rooted in the way I speak to myself. I am constantly telling myself I can figure anything out, and that really is a lesson ingrained in me by my childhood. My mother, a chemistry teacher by training, and my father, an agronomist, moved to the United States in their 30s and 40s respectively. They worked alongside each other, with my uncle and aunt to open a printing business, something out of their wheelhouse of knowledge. Yet with persistence and resilience they grew that business and created a life and community for themselves far away from their native home. That was a very powerful lesson for me, that despite all of the setbacks, and challenges if you just keep walking forward you will create and reap the rewards of your hard work, and that doesn’t just apply to the material work, but also the emotional work.
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.
- Take stock of how you are speaking to yourself. We often speak to ourselves in unkind ways. We need to use empowering and compassionate language when we are speaking to ourselves. So instead of “I don’t know how to do this,” or “I am such a failure” take on “I don’t know how to do this yet, but I can figure out how to do this” or “I made an error, how can I learn from this?”
- Honor where you have been resilient, and this will allow your resilience to grow. We tend to focus on where we fall short and forget to celebrate where we are meeting our goals. But focusing on your already existing resilience can help to foster growth. I once learned from an acupuncturist that the difference between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine was that in Traditional Chinese Medicine the focus is on growing health, so a person with multiple medical problems still has some health that is why they continue to live and the goal is to grow that remaining health, where in Western Medicine we focus on getting rid of the disease. Both are necessary, but we shouldn’t neglect the health or the resilience we already have.
- Know that your worth is not tied to external factors. This practice of learning how to untangle your self-worth from external factors is exactly that — a practice. Learning to separate your results, your successes and failures, from your value as a human being allows you the space and perspective to examine and change those outcomes. When we see all our outcomes as personal it is very hard to examine them analytically and make room for innovation and growth.
- Don’t make comfort the goal of your life, make growth the goal. When comfort is the goal, anytime anything feels challenging we think something has gone wrong. But growth inherently has a lot of obstacles. It is facing these obstacles that grows your resilience. Take on challenges that will push you to use your resilience muscle. This is synonymous to lifting weights, the bigger the challenges the bigger your resilience will grow. We have to push ourselves to take on these challenges.
- Resilience needs rest and recuperation. An overtired body and mind cannot be resilient. An overtired brain cannot access the higher brain or cortex fully, and tends to function from our lower more mammalian brain. In our modern world, we are also constantly being bombarded with information and content, that can be very exhausting if it is not limited appropriately. Rest and recuperation are partially rooted in sleep, but also in daily movement, and nourishing food and in the content consumed.
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 see a movement where fresh healthy fruits, and vegetables are subsidized so they are readily available for all families and children, and that daily movement is incorporated into schools and workplaces.
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 🙂
I would love to meet Brené Brown. Her work is incredibly inspiring as is her forthrightness. I would love to speak to her about the culture of medicine and how to shift it so that we have healthier and happier healthcare workers who can serve their patients with compassion.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find me on instagram @shideh.shafie or on my website: www.shidehshafie.com
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!