Create. Spend time with your inner creative genius. Remember what you loved to do when you were a child. Did you draw? Tell stories? Build forts? Bang on pots with a wooden spoon? Adapt that activity to today. Bring it back and explore it. It will open doors to inner strength and wisdom that are two of the building blocks of resilience.
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 Izolda Trakhtenberg.
Izolda Trakhtenberg speaks, coaches, and educates at companies, organizations, and universities on mindful creativity and innovation through compassion and collaboration. For years, Izolda traveled the world as a NASA Master Trainer transforming people’s perspectives on our planet through creative and innovative techniques. She’s released four books on communication, collaboration, and self-improvement and is the host of the hit podcast, The Innovative Mindset.
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?
Born in the former Soviet Union, my family immigrated to the USA when I was seven. The process took over a year, and I survived seven months of living in a literal war zone. To survive these challenges, plus an abusive father, I learned many lessons about resilience, communication, compassion, and empathy at a young age. After graduating from the University of Michigan, I moved to the Washington DC area and became involved in causes and work for those who have no voice. I volunteered on behalf of animals, and I spent many years working and traveling worldwide as an environmental educator in Earth Science education at NASA.
I began speaking on mindful innovation via my 4 Cs (creativity, curiosity, compassion, and collaboration) at schools and universities and then transitioned to companies and organizations. I help people and organizations develop group cultures that support creative thinking and innovation. That starts with fostering a supportive culture, to begin with. Without it, the rest will disintegrate or will never get off the ground.
In my spare time, I sing. I lead and manage, The Philosopher’s Tones, one of the premier holiday caroling groups in the USA. My husband and I make our home base in Brooklyn, New York, USA.
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 was hired to speak on at an international workshop on Earth Science education in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Many of the 80 participants were from outside the USA. Several of them were from countries in the Middle East.
I had the most challenging subject matter to train. It required more experimentation and training than any other subject areas. However, as I went through the material, it started raining. Several participants stared out the window, pointed to each other, and whispered. When I asked what was going on, they told me they had never seen rain in person before. They marveled at it.
I could have diverted their attention back to the science we were studying. Instead, I let the entire room go outside to dance in the rain. The women from the Middle East (desert countries) splashed in puddles like they were toddlers. We all watched and celebrated their joy.
They live challenging lives. They have almost no fresh water and had never even seen rain in real life before. Yes, I could have continued with the material, but I realized that this was a far better Earth Science experience than any data or experiment they could learn.
My takeaway from this experience is that first and foremost, we are people, and we can learn from each other and celebrate together. We can encourage each other to stop and be still to appreciate something that seems commonplace to us but might be a miracle to someone else. And sometimes the best lesson is to remember to dance in the rain.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My company stands out because I help people remember that we each have a creative genius inside us. We just need to remember that and nurture it. With that knowledge, we can make incredible things happen.
In one of the workshops, I teach, Work in Harmony, I work with companies to team build through breath, mindfulness, and singing together. In one such workshop, a married couple sat next to one another. When I asked them to introduce themselves, the man spoke in a gorgeous, deep voice, “I can’t carry a tune in a paper bag. I don’t sing. I lip-synch Christmas Carols.” His wife agreed.
In the next two hours, I realized that his issue wasn’t pitch. It was that he was a true bass, and he was singing a full octave below everyone else. That made him think he was off-key, and he had no confidence to sing and be part of any singing group. Once I helped him see that, his confidence soared, and he sang with the rest of his teammates. By the end of the workshop, he had sung multiple songs in multiple languages and in three-part harmony. The last I heard he had joined an opera company (they are always looking for true basses).
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?
Mary Alice Powell was an amazing educator. She was my choir director. When I was a sophomore in high school, we were learning Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes. One waltz had a tricky beginning. We were required to come in at beat two and three quarters. It meant counting like crazy and coming in perfectly. She had taken a chance on me as a sophomore (This choir was generally reserved from juniors and seniors). I was the youngest and least experienced singer in the group, but I was determined to earn my keep.
As the accompanist played the introduction, I counted and came in strong at what I thought was the correct place. I was the only one who sang! No one else in the 40-person group had uttered a note. I wanted to crawl into a hole.
Ms. Powell stopped the music, gazed at all of us, and walked over to me.
“Why did you start singing?” she asked.
“Because I thought it was the right place,” I whispered terrified.
“Well, at least you came in bright and strong,” she said. She turned to the rest of the class. “Let this be a lesson for you. Always come in strong when you sing or do anything because if you’re wrong, we can fix it. Izolda came in strong on that note,” she turned to me and smiled. “So, we could fix it if it was wrong. But it wasn’t wrong. She was the only one who came in right! So let’s try it again, and this time, let’s all come in together.”
She taught me the value of humor in presenting and teaching, and she imparted a lot of wisdom that day. Come in strong and be confident. If you’re wrong, you can fix it. If you’re right, you can help others do better next time.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage and resilience have several commonalities. They both require a certain amount of and daring bravery. However, I believe that you need courage before you attempt something. I believe resilience comes in when you need to face the results of your endeavor. Resilience becomes necessary after setbacks. It shows your ability to face the outcome and stay the course.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
When I think of resilience, I think of Greta Thunberg. For years before anyone noticed her or her mission, she remained resilient and never gave up because she believed in her cause. When people have derided her, she has stood her ground and faced them with courage and bravery. She continues to this day.
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?
In 2004, I decided to write my first book, Life Elements. I had no experience writing a book, and this was before many or even any avenues existed to help an indie author write, edit, and publish a book. Several people told me to only try the traditional publishing route. I persevered and my book has has helped people improve their lives for almost 15 years.
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 teaching my communication workshop at the graduate business school at Hood College in Maryland, one of the students invited me to come to her company and teach that same workshop at her business. It promised to be a huge step up in my speaking career, and I was thrilled to accept. But as I did my due diligence, I learned that this company tests on animals. This goes against my mission since I do not work with companies that use animals or animal products in any way. So, although, it would mean giving up many thousands of dollars, I informed the company I wouldn’t be able to work with them.
This cost me a lot of money and resources. It cost me several other speaking engagements the company wanted me to do. It set my business back a long way. But I persevered and held to my vision and beliefs. This has led me to other companies and organizations who specifically want to work with me because of my innovative approach.
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 have cultivated resilience through experience. My early childhood was challenging, and survival meant thinking quickly but also being cool in a crisis. I also expressed myself through writing, art, and music. That form of expression allows you to build your imagination, creative problem-solving skills, and the ability to stay calm when things go wrong.
When my family immigrated to the USA, the process took almost a year. During that time, we spent time living in Israel which was then at war. We lived on the fifth floor and often had to make our way down to the bomb shelter in the dead of night. One such time, my exhausted parents slept through the air raid sirens. I woke them and got them down to the shelter. I was only seven years old, but from then on it became my responsibility to make sure my family and the others on our floor made it to the bomb shelter.
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.
- Breathe. Have you ever wondered about the first thing you did when you were born? You took your first breath. This is true for almost every single one of us. It literally lets us live. And it affirms to us and to the people who helped us come into the world that we are alive. I think of it this way. You can live about three weeks without food. You can live about three days without water. But you will only live about three minutes without air. Breath is the stuff of life. So, a breathing practice will keep you brave and resilient. It engages the parasympathetic nervous system and allows you to remain calm in stressful situations. I have used it many times, but one time it was when I was mugged at gun point in front of my house. Two men approached me as I walked from my car to the front door of my mother’s house where my mom and sister slept. One had a gun and demanded my purse. I dropped into my breath and saw the entire scene clearly. I remained calm and knew my primary goal was to keep them from breaking into the house. I broke the key in the lock to ensure they couldn’t get in and handed over my purse. If I hadn’t had a breathing practice, I might not have had presence of mind to keep my mother and sister safe.
- Journal. Write your thoughts, fear, ideas, and dreams down every day. You will imagine. You will solve problems. You will also get the chance to face and work through some of your fears. I’ve had a daily journaling practice since 1997, and it has helped me immeasurably to remain calm in challenging times.
- Meditate. A daily meditation practice reminds you that you belong everywhere. It builds inner strength and wellbeing. A simple five minutes a day spent in silent contemplation of your breath or a color will benefit you and build that resilience muscle.
- Create. Spend time with your inner creative genius. Remember what you loved to do when you were a child. Did you draw? Tell stories? Build forts? Bang on pots with a wooden spoon? Adapt that activity to today. Bring it back and explore it. It will open doors to inner strength and wisdom that are two of the building blocks of resilience.
- Collaborate. I love the following saying from Africa (no known citation). “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Find your people — the ones who you can be truly yourself with — and collaborate with them as often as you can. Tell your stories and listen to theirs. Build on each other’s ideas. You will foster a sense of unity, and you can share strength and community that will help you all be and feel more resilient.
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. 🙂
If I could inspire a movement of discovering our innovative genius and compassionate hearts through creative thinking and mindfulness, it would thrill me. I would begin teaching mindfulness to students as early as possible. I would encourage art, music, writing, and other creative pursuits be made as a much bigger part of every school’s curriculum because I believe creative problem-solving and innovative ideas that we were on together can change 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 🙂
I would love to meet with Arianna Huffington. She has faced many obstacles and stayed brave, daring, and resilient. Plus, we have a great deal in common. We are both immigrants to the USA. We have both switched careers, and I believe we both feel that we are citizens of the world. Additionally, her work to slow down, create, sleep, and rest has inspired some of my own. I’d love to hear her thoughts on several issues and ideas.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!