Don’t curse the darkness when you can light one little candle. Look for the silver lining in the obstacle — what is the lesson you are supposed to be learning from the challenge? Find the goodness through the hard and difficult. Bloom wherever you find yourself — even if it isn’t remotely what you had imagined or prepared for.
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 Jill Tietjen.
Author, national speaker and electrical engineer Jill Tietjen spent 45 years in the electric utility business as a consultant and expert witness and is now an advocate for women worldwide. She has authored or co-authored ten books to date include the award-winning and bestselling books, Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America and Hollywood: Her Story, An Illustrated History of Women and the Movies. One of the books that she will publish in 2022 is Over, Under, Around and Through: How Hall of Famers Surmount Obstacles which contains fifty stories of how women overcame obstacles from the tragic to the horrific and how they succeeded in their lives in spite of those significant challenges.
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?
After graduating from the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia (in the third class of women accepted as undergraduates), I began my electric utility career at Duke Power Company in Charlotte, NC. After earning my MBA at night from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, my first husband and I moved to the Denver, Colorado area where I worked in Mobil Oil Corporation’s Mining and Coal Division before beginning my consulting career with Stone & Webster Management Consultants. In parallel to my work career, I became very active in the Society of Women Engineers, serving as National President in 1991–1992. I was elected to my first corporate board, Georgia Transmission Corporation, in 1997. I also served on the board of directors of Merrick & Company from 2010–2021. My first book, an introduction to engineering textbook titled Keys to Engineering Success, was published in 2001. I serve as the series editor for the Springer Women in Engineering and Science series. I have received many awards and have been inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame and the Colorado Authors’ Hall of Fame. My husband David and I live in Centennial, Colorado with our two cats — sisters Merle and Pearl.
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?
Serving as the only woman on the Merrick & Company board for many years as well as, at times, the only woman on the Georgia Transmission Corporation board has taught me perseverance, the value of my opinion and how to stand up for myself. It has also made me aware of the position I have as a role model — so many women in the companies looked to me to see how I behaved and how I accomplished what I accomplished. I work very hard to get more women on corporate boards as a result of my experiences.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I have been self-employed since 2001. My work ethic, follow through on commitments, and meeting of deadlines made me a valuable consultant. Those traits are serving me well as I authored three books during the pandemic and continue to work on additional books in the Her Story series and the Springer Women in Engineering and Science series.
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 been fortunate to have many people who saw value in my skills and encouraged me along the way, and, yes, because I am an electrical engineer in the electric utility industry, all of the ones I am going to mention are men. Bill Reinke, my second level boss at my first job, made sure I was trained as a speaker to be part of Duke Power’s speaker’s bureau. Gerry Murdoch and Bob Anderson at Mobil ensured I got necessary training and exposure. Jim Galambas at Stone & Webster supported me when I was on the National Board of Directors (including as National President) of the Society of Women Engineers and ensured I became involved with the professional trade association. Pat McCarter, of Public Service Company of Colorado, told me that one day I would be President of that professional trade association — RMEL. He was right. I became the first woman elected to the RMEL board of directors and the first woman RMEL President.
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 the ability to bounce back after some challenge, obstacle or difficult event in one’s life. Resilient people don’t take no for an answer, they don’t give up, and they are creative and look for ways to surmount obstacles.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage is defined as the ability to do something that frightens one and also as strength in the face of pain or grief. A resilient person might need to muster courage in order to face pain or grief or to do something that frightens them. But it won’t always take courage to be resilient and someone who is very courageous may only exhibit that characteristic in response to one certain situation. Resilient people tend to bounce back obstacle after obstacle after obstacle — which they don’t often see as obstacles in the first place — but often as learning opportunities.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Miss America 1958, Marilyn Van Derbur Atler, who wrote the foreword for Over, Under, Around and Through and whose story is contained within the book, is an incredibly resilient person. A survivor of incest that occurred from when she was five until she was eighteen, she decided that she would become the advocate for others that she didn’t have as a child, as a young adult, and as a mature woman. After going through six years of recovery, she has spent thirty years providing hope to every man or woman who has experienced sexual assault in any form. She demonstrates resilience through her presence, telling men and women that the experience was not their fault and helping them work through their shame to become a full contributing member of society. That is 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?
When I was getting ready to apply to college, my heart was set on attending the University of Virginia. My high school guidance counselor said that I shouldn’t bother to apply and that I absolutely shouldn’t apply early decision. That was clearly bad advice that I did not follow. I did apply, I did apply early decision, and I was accepted.
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 consider my divorce my greatest setback. I had this ideal that you got married one time and you lived happily ever after — regardless of how unhappy the situation actually became. Once a commitment was made, a commitment needed to be honored. I thought I could fix it, but I couldn’t. I immediately went into counseling and learned so much that I had not previously been taught through my pretty narrow engineering education. Those lessons and that information changed how I approached life. I believe the humility I learned and the willingness to accept help from others, among many others insights and behaviors that I learned through counseling, have served me well.
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 was always different as a kid — I started working jigsaw puzzles when I was two years old. My parents encouraged me telling me I didn’t have to be like the other kids (If they jumped off a cliff, I didn’t have to jump off a cliff, too) and good things come in small packages (my maximum height in my life has been 5’2”). Girl Scouts helped me develop skills of self-reliance and self-confidence. And I have two younger brothers — one of whom to this day, teases me unmercifully. Being so heavily in the minority at the University of Virginia (the third class of women admitted as undergraduates) and then being one of so very few women in engineering through most of my career has added to my resilience. I had to learn to bounce back or I was never going to survive — or thrive.
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. Never give up. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. You will figure out a way through the challenge — it might involve going over, under, around or through.
2. The only thing in life you have control over is your attitude. You can’t control anyone else and you can’t control your environment. If you see everything as impossible — it will be impossible. If you see things as challenging but something you can work through — you will work through it. Remember, everyone faces obstacles in their life. Absolutely everyone.
3. Don’t curse the darkness when you can light one little candle. Look for the silver lining in the obstacle — what is the lesson you are supposed to be learning from the challenge? Find the goodness through the hard and difficult. Bloom wherever you find yourself — even if it isn’t remotely what you had imagined or prepared for.
4. Prepare yourself for what you think is the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing almost never happens — but if it does, you will be ready. And, you will be able to handle whatever situation does occur.
5. She who laughs . . . lasts. Try and find the humor wherever you can. Learn to laugh at yourself. Learn to laugh at the situation. A sense of humor will get you through unimaginable challenges.
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 believe that the world needs to learn to value women and girls. Education of girls and women, respecting their rights, and eliminating discrimination leads to greater economic opportunities for all people in society.
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 have breakfast or lunch with Melinda Gates. I believe she and I share a determination to make the world better for women and I believe that collaboration is the way to success.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!