Cultivate a habit of self-compassion. If there is one characteristic that I believe gives the biggest return for resilience, it’s self-compassion. A few months ago, I sent the wrong email to over 200 recipients. It was a big email campaign and it went terribly wrong. Pre-self-compassion, I would have berated and criticized myself, “How could I be so stupid?” “What will people think?” “I ruined the email campaign.” I would have ruminated on the error and spun myself into a complete mess of inaction. Instead, I caught myself. I told myself it was just a mistake, and many people make email mistakes! I identified my way forward, fixed the error, and moved on. No rumination. No spinning. Just learning and moving forward.
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 Jess Feldt.
Jess Feldt is a Life and Leadership Coach for Working Moms and owner of Jess Feldt Coaching. Screw the “shoulds!” She believes you can create a life you love that integrates your family and your career in the way you want. Jess is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach and provides one-on-one coaching through her own practice, as well as parental leave transition coaching for organizations looking to better support their new working parents.
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?
Absolutely! I started my career in the world of management consulting, specifically in the world of healthcare and then moving to focus on change management and talent management. My educational background is in Business Psychology, so I’ve always been fascinated with the way people work at work. When you think about it, we spend about 60–75% of our awake lives at work, so why not try to make peoples’ lives better where they’re spending their time? After about 10 years in the consulting world, I found myself wanting to make a more direct impact with people instead of organizations. I made the switch to professional coaching, and I’ve never looked back. It was during this career transition that I had my first son. This was such a profound and life changing experience for me — trying to navigate being a new mom and, also, trying to hold on to the career that had been my number one priority for so long. Personally, I felt overwhelmed, lonely, isolated, defeated, etc. I realized how little support there is out there for working parents and knew that was where I could make the biggest impact. I get so much personal fulfillment by helping other working moms feel supported, seen, and empowered in their lives.
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’ve always prided myself on my ability to “make it work,’ in the words of Tim Gunn. Throw me a situation and I will navigate whatever comes my way. That is, until I realized this perceived strength also has a dark side. When I quit my corporate job, I had a conversation with my manager where I called out that one of the reasons I was leaving was that I felt unsupported and ignored when I said I needed more resources. His response “Well, you only asked once and so I figured you didn’t really need the resources.” I was shocked. My gut instinct to “make it work” had been holding me back from really advocating for myself. Now, should that manager have listened, been more curious, and supported me when I asked the first time? Sure, but I also learned a valuable lesson that sometimes your biggest strength can also be your kryptonite if you lean on it too heavily.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My company stands out because of it’s focus on working moms. We’ve hit a point in our society where moms feel both the pressure to have a career outside the house and still show up as if they’re the housewives of the 1950s. It’s an impossible equation where all the weight falls on the mom, with little to no support from community or the government/systems that surround us — as shown by the recent failure of our government to even include federal paid leave in its recent legislation. Moms need the support to say, “yeah this is hard, but you can create a better life for yourself by focusing on what you can control.” It’s that level of support that helped me see my way forward as a business owner. I’m not sure I would have had the courage to take the path I did without the support from my coach. I am so thankful I did!
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 am most grateful for the role models I’ve had in my own family. I recognize that I am truly privileged to have grown up seeing my grandpa and my mom succeeding in their careers and showing up for their families. My grandpa was always his own boss — I saw this and the flexibility it afforded him to show up and be present when he was needed. He bought me my first book about investing when I was in high school. He instilled in me a fierce independence and desire to stand on my own two feet. There’s no way I’d be where I am today without his influence and the values he instilled in me.
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 your ability to get back up after getting knocked down and despite the fear of getting knocked back down again. I believe this last piece is the key element of resilience. If you recover from a challenge, but then think, “Hey, I don’t want to get knocked back down again so I’m going to avoid challenges in the future” — that’s not resilience. That’s living in fear. People who are resilient are courageous and they trust themselves. They’re willing to get knocked back down again, because they know they’ll be able to get back up. People who are resilient are also self-compassionate. They don’t berate or criticize themselves for getting knocked down. They accept it, learn from it, and keep going.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
I believe it goes back to fear. When we get knocked down or face a challenge, our innate fight or flight instinct wants us to avoid that fear-inducing thing to protect us. It tells us, “Stay down. Stay small. Stay safe.” It takes courage to face that internal voice, get back up, and face the challenge again. A great example of this resilience in the face of fear is searching for a new job. You interview and get rejected. Rejection hurts. Your internal voice says, “Don’t interview again. You can be rejected and get hurt.” The resilient person says, “Yes, I might get hurt, but I also might get a wonderful new job.” In the face of fear, the resilient person is courageous and faces the challenge because they believe the positive potential outcomes are worth it.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I think of all the parents who have been navigating the pandemic and parenting over the last two years. This is a group of people who have been forced to build their resilience as they’ve navigated uncertainty, work, childcare, remote schooling, health scares, COVID quarantines, and more. Talk about a challenge! And yet, they continue and persevere.
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?
Funny enough, this story is from when I was only maybe 8 or 9 years old. My elementary school used to have students play the piano as kids filed in for school assemblies. That student then received applause from the whole school. I wanted that applause. So, I signed up to play the piano for a school assembly. The problem? I didn’t play piano. I didn’t let that stop me! I found a neighbor with a piano and had her teach me just enough songs to get me through the assembly. I’m sure it was not good at all, but I did it! I share that story, because I believe there’s something inherently resilient about kids — they don’t allow the fear of failure stop them and if they do fail, they can shake it off and recover faster than adults give them credit for.
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 second son was born in 2020 during the height of the pandemic. It was scary and isolating to go through that newborn phase and feel confined to the house. In addition, my newborn suffered from reflux and was severely colicky. It was non-stop crying for almost the first three months of his life. There were so many times I wanted to throw in the towel. I felt like a failure as a mom. Why couldn’t I make him feel better or stop crying? Was this really my child? What was wrong with him? With me? I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. If one more doctor told me there was nothing I could do and he would just grow out of it with time, I was going to lose it. What got me through was an internal voice that said, “you have to be strong for your son, because he doesn’t have the strength on his own yet.” I had to trust that even though it was hard and scary, we would get through it. I also called on all my support systems — my husband, my family, my in-laws, and my friends. Even if they couldn’t show up physically because of the pandemic, I leaned on them for moral and emotional support. I had to acknowledge that I could not do this on my own. And, eventually, we did get through it. He’s a happy, healthy boy now and I have even more faith in myself to know I can do hard things, because I did do a very hard thing.
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 believe most people gain resilience out of necessity, but there is a mindset that allows someone to really flourish through challenges. I was very supported by my family growing up and I fully believe this environment gave me the opportunity to see challenges in a positive light. I grew up as a competitive dancer and experienced losing and winning. I was able to see that I could push myself, fall down, and get back up in a very safe, supported way. I think this helped prime me for adulthood where, obviously, the stakes are higher but I have a general “I can do this” mentality. As I’ve grown, this has evolved into an “I can do hard things” mentality. There is no better example of putting this mentality to the test like when my second son was born and was extremely colicky. There were so many times it felt like it would have been easier to just throw in the towel, but when it’s your child you don’t have that choice. I had to lean on that “I can do hard things” mentality and just keep going.
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.
- Cultivate a habit of self-compassion. If there is one characteristic that I believe gives the biggest return for resilience, it’s self-compassion. A few months ago, I sent the wrong email to over 200 recipients. It was a big email campaign and it went terribly wrong. Pre-self-compassion, I would have berated and criticized myself, “How could I be so stupid?” “What will people think?” “I ruined the email campaign.” I would have ruminated on the error and spun myself into a complete mess of inaction. Instead, I caught myself. I told myself it was just a mistake, and many people make email mistakes! I identified my way forward, fixed the error, and moved on. No rumination. No spinning. Just learning and moving forward.
- Make a proactive plan. When you feel the fear of failure or challenge, identify how you will recover IF all the bad things happen. This is a great way to proactively build your resilience. This exercise will help you see that your catastrophizing is probably not likely at all to happen, and if it does, you’ll have a plan or way forward. Sometimes the Scary is because we don’t play out the worst-case scenario and the unknown makes it even scarier. Shine the light on the scary and see that, yes, you can get back up. I used this technique when thinking about quitting my corporate job to start my own business. It was really scary to think about losing the safety net of a stable paycheck! What helped me make the leap was knowing that even if my business completely flopped, I could go back to corporate life.
- Remember you are not alone. When we face challenges, fail, etc. it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking we are all alone. This is often where perfectionists tend to fall victim to their own pride. (Recovering perfectionist right here!) Isolation is a wonderful way to spin yourself into an unstoppable frenzy. Swallow your pride. Admit when you need help. Lean on others around you. Get some perspective through others. The weight does not have to be yours to carry on your own. Allow others to help pick you up.
- Embrace a growth mindset. Newsflash — you are going to fail at some point. If you approach situations with a “succeed or else” mindset, then you will evaluate each situation as success or failure — no in-between. If you go into situations knowing you are going to try your best and learn from what goes wrong, then there is no such thing as failure, because learning and growing is a “win” in and of itself.
- Trust yourself. “If I were more confident, I’d be able to get back up and try again.” Sound familiar? Getting knocked down rocks our confidence. What’s confidence? Simply our ability to trust ourselves. The most confident person in the room doesn’t necessarily have more skills, more resources, or more knowledge than you. Usually, the most confident person in the room just has more trust for what they’re bringing to the table. Confidence isn’t something you get externally — it must come from yourself. If you’re trying to build resilience for something really big, start small. Start with small experiments that allow you to build the trust in yourself so that all the trust is saved up in a big piggy bank for when you really need to cash it in for the big things — the things that really require us to be 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. 🙂
Let’s value the unpaid work of women and caregivers! As a society we have a responsibility to create the space for this work to be done in a way that doesn’t financially bankrupt a family. We shouldn’t be asking families to make the choice between caring for their loved ones or going to work to provide food/housing. If we want to see ourselves as a leading influence in the world, we need to do better here.
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 🙂
Here’s my shoutout to Brene Brown! I love her relatable approach to human behavior. She’s taking topics that have been historically limited to academics and making them available to people who can actually benefit from the research in a way that is approachable and easy to understand. Her work on vulnerability, shame, trust, and empathy is something we all need more of.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can learn more about me by visiting my website at www.JessFeldtCoaching.com. I have tons of insights and articles on my site. You can also follow me on Instagram (@jessfeldtcoaching).
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!