Talk with people when it’s the right time — and don’t feel pushed to talk before you’re ready. Each person’s path is unique. When you tap into your resilience, it’s strengthened by your own awareness of what you are capable of doing. When you’re ready — AND ONLY THEN — -it’s good to talk out loud with others. We learn in many behavioral psychology studies that when someone writes something down AND says it out loud to another person, then there is a greater likelihood for it to stick. Building and strengthening the resilience muscle takes a lot of stickiness in mental attitude and fortitude.
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 Karen Hoffman of Living on Purpose.
Karen has decades of experience building and flexing her resilience muscle and helping others as well. She uses gratitude as an anchor in life and has been able to help others cultivate practices to harness the power of positive living, especially between values like gratitude and resilience. In 2021, Karen founded a company called Living on Purpose, where she introduces people to the power of words, cultivating practices and moving them into habits that contribute to living life with attention to what matters. Her card decks are called Words that Matter™ and include 52 words to focus on in different ways.
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?
Thank YOU, Savio, for this opportunity to share about resilience in my own life and how it plays such a critical role in my work as well as personal life. It is such a pleasure to share with you about the important topic of resilience in life.
Especially coming out of the pandemic and the last three years of life experiences, I feel even more strongly about the importance of building and strengthening a sense of resilience in individuals. It is through resilience that we can move through the toughest of challenges, navigate life’s circuitous paths, and contribute to making this world a better place for all of us.
For many years, I’ve practiced gratitude as an anchor in my life. Through the pandemic, I adopted other words — I call them “soul traits” and others call them values or characteristics — like resilience, patience, integrity and compassion — -in addition to gratitude.
Watching and helping people facilitate ways to experience how these values intersect, resulting in positive outcomes for living intentionally is one of my life passions.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
What a great question to begin this conversation. Thank you. One of the most interesting stories of my professional life — when I think of resilience and lessons learned — is perhaps the most recent — leaving a position with a nonprofit that I loved after almost 15 years. It was during the pandemic — a time when so many of our lives were in a constant state of pivot and adaptation. I found, toward the end of 2020, that there was no longer the same alignment between the organization and what I needed to live my best possible life.
In some ways it seemed crazy that it was in the midst of a pandemic, working remotely — sometimes even more hours than when we were in person — when I realized that I needed to start a new chapter in my life. On the other hand, I think it was precisely that particular timing, because of the backbone I already had built in living with resilience.
The pandemic was a catalyst, pushing me toward a new type of heart-centered work, even if it meant making a huge change in the middle of the pandemic and in a productive time in my career. One of the most important lessons I learned is that when you feel that tug, listen to where it’s coming from. There is no need to jump impulsively, but also, remember that everything doesn’t have to be perfect in order to make a change.
So maybe it’s not crazy at all — maybe it’s because of the deep acknowledgment and recognition of the fragility of life — and the tenuous nature of how we live — that I was propelled into doing the work I’ve now been explicitly doing for the past two years. My journey of living with resilience started long ago; it was only listening to the voice within that I could hear what path I needed to take at this juncture. Part of the beauty of LIVING life ON PURPOSE is taking the time to live intentionally, openly, resiliently, and with an embrace of “how might we…” and always through a lens of gratitude and awareness of the blessings we have around us.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Thank you for asking about Living on Purpose. Even the name was created with intention — the vision of helping others grab opportunities, navigate challenges, work on self-care and personal growth by maximizing attention to intentions — all of this was very deliberate and came together through consultation with psychologists, non-profit and faith-based leaders, human resources managers, educators and others. My company, Living on Purpose, is unique because it has only been incorporated since 2021 and already we see powerful transformation in people’s lives as a result of what we are doing. The workshops people attend have been designed with the vision of personal transformation through an introduction to — almost like a taste of — various modalities of mindful living, each with a very specific and intentional approach to living life on purpose.
The cards that were designed for adults and children are able to help people think, write, learn and act in different ways, through the lens of intentionality and positive psychology. We are also a very small, boutique company; and one of our most unique facets is how we work to create experiences that are not at all cookie-cutter explorations. Each workshop is designed with the end user in mind. That might be a group of preschoolers learning how to express gratitude or practice patience and compassion; it may be a customer service sales team trying to foster more team cohesiveness through respect and listening to one another. It can be in grief groups, substance abuse support groups, wellness centers, or individuals looking to live with a more intentional focus in life. We’ve also honed in on the value of listening — where much of our time is spent listening to what different ages, demographics and communities need and want so that we can create alignment between our offerings and what people want or need in order to grow and live their best lives — as individuals in addition to people being part of communities, groups, teams or systems.
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 may sound cliche, but I am always most grateful to my family members for their support; in this particular case, they have been an extraordinary source of enthusiasm and encouragement at every juncture. Coming into a role of entrepreneurship at an age where my own sons and their wives are all professionals has been exciting because I learn from each of them. Not many entrepreneurs can say that some of their best mentoring comes from their own adult children! I can; and I am so grateful for this. Having educators, neuropsychologists, human resource managers, innovation and entrepreneurship specialists, physicians, wellness and yoga professionals, artists, as well as sales, management, and organizational professionals in my immediate family have helped me in countless ways as my business evolves.
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?
Steve Maraboli once said “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.” I really resonate with that quote and bring it into most discussions about resilience. To have the strength and courage to move forward instead of remaining stagnant is a sign of resilience. To get up when knocked down, or to maintain a sense of optimism and openness when navigating challenges — all that goes into defining resilience. It’s not a word that can simply be used through a Miriam-Webster Dictionary definition or even a high school vocabulary list. Like many characteristics or traits, as you’ve called it, resilience is something that needs cultivation and acknowledgement. And when you take that time, it’s easier to define. I remember someone asking me once about resilience and I said “I don’t know exactly how to describe it; but when someone has it and exhibits it, you definitely recognize and know it if you’re truly paying attention.”
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Great question — and honestly it’s one I pose to others in every workshop I facilitate on resilience. I ask people to imagine a person they consider resilient and instead of asking why — I ask them to use words to describe that resilience, as part of the person’s character, like 1–2 word synonyms. It’s always going to spark someone’s mind to an “A-Ha” moment of clarity around cultivating and achieving a state of mind and commitment to living resiliently. I associate courage, creativity, openness, optimism, awareness and gratitude to resilience often!
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different from resilience?
In order to be resilient, you need to tap into the courage or it won’t be manifested outwardly. To demonstrate the steps it takes to be courageous — especially if in a state of acceptance of “perfectly imperfect” — that is where courage and resilience are inextricably linked. On the other hand, if someone doesn’t also include gratitude, awareness and flexibility in that practice, then courage itself may not manifest as resilience. It’s like the old saying “I don’t know how to describe something; but when I see it, I know it.” That’s a lot of what goes into the often nebulous sense of resiliency.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Another great question with a seemingly cliche response — My middle son, Brian, is the person I see in my mind’s eye when I imagine someone with high resilience. When he was in high school, he was invited to participate in a summer program at Tulane University for people considering a career in the sciences. Not only did he enjoy that experience, but also he fell in love with Tulane and the NOLA community.
It was not at all surprising that he later selected Tulane as his “go to” college. He worked hard, earned a very nice merit scholarship and prepared for his freshman year. Within 3 days of his arrival to enjoy his freshman year experience, Hurricane Katrina thwarted his plans — as she did for thousands of others. Brian came home, spent his fall semester attending school at home and went back to NOLA as soon (and as often) as he was able, post-Katrina. He maintained a positive attitude the whole time, being picked up by the AP as a Tulane and NOLA-Strong fan at a college football game against SMU. He returned to New Orleans, with a renewed commitment, energy, and passion for cleaning up New Orleans and keeping the school — and its Greek life — active. He pledged a fraternity, committed to weekly clean-up crews in the city, and even gave up a junior year abroad opportunity to remain in New Orleans to help with ongoing recovery and rebuilding efforts. His sense of optimism was contagious. When the Katrina Kids — his graduating class — graduated, Ellen Degeneres spoke and she clearly understood the resilience badge that these young adults had earned, demonstrating their resilience in so many ways throughout their college experiences. I close my eyes and see him cheering for his school, meeting with Dr. Scott Cowan, then-president of Tulane, who championed the path of resilience for thousands of Tulanians, and all the people whose lives Brian and his friends helped during their years there.
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?
I feel fortunate to have grown up in a family, schools, and community where I seldom heard “no” and truly don’t recall hearing “impossible” as a response to my wanting to do something. Similarly, I know that my husband and I tried to encourage our own children to follow their hearts and try things, even if they seem unlikely. Honestly, I sit in a place where I think of “impossible” as an attitude, not a fact. I think that’s a healthy way of approaching life, and an especially helpful tool for building the resilience muscle. A friend recently gave me a visual that I like, saying “What if you add an apostrophe and turn IMPOSSIBLE into I’M POSSIBLE?!” I love that image and message so much!!
Did you have a time in your life when you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
In 2019, I had a traumatic bicycle accident, falling into a ditch below the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. Paramedics were not close to the lake we were biking around; so I was lying in this weedy terrain, flat on my back, with my arm dangling, in excruciating pain, unable to move because of the break and position of the humerus. The people around me kept me calm while we waited for paramedics, iv meds, and the long transport to the closest hospital. It was Day One of our visit to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Even with the break that would need surgery and several months of rehab before I could use my dominant hand and arm, I left the Wyoming hospital with a ridiculously clunky sling and lots of pain meds — and we proceeded to tour Yellowstone, Old Faithful, and other sites — — in between my pain med doses.
We got on a plane back home when it was safe to fly; I got an appointment with my surgeon-to-be; and after a consultation with three of his own colleagues, he decided that because of the way I had already responded to the injury and situation, he could tell I was a super committed and resilient patient. He told me that he would NOT recommend this procedure for some people and that his surgical team needed to do a mental-emotional-psychosocial assessment in addition to the physical assessment before committing to the surgery, due to the rigorous and painful long term rehab. I passed his test!
I learned to do so much with my left hand and arm; I didn’t take the 6-weeks off work — -I learned to adapt, work remotely (and this was BEFORE the pandemic, so it wasn’t as common), used Zoom and Teams and audio-dictation — all kinds of technology I hadn’t relied on previously. I excelled at my physical therapy, always embracing an attitude of gratitude, a commitment to being resilient, optimistic and also acknowledging that the road to recovery would be circuitous and tangled — never a straight line. I believe that all of that put together helped even more when it was the pandemic and I had to stop going for outpatient physical therapy. I had built up the momentum — flexed that resilience muscle — and continued with TeleHealth exercises, YouTube demonstrations, and strength-building in home-based ways. It was this entire ordeal that boosted my awareness and confidence that with a grateful heart and an acknowledgement of resilience, a person can navigate any challenges.
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?
As I said earlier, my childhood is recalled as a time of positivity for the most part and I don’t have specific childhood memories of actively building resilience.
I would say that the earliest lessons were when I was a young adult and my brother died suddenly and unexpectedly. As tragic and devastating as that was, it was foundational in knowing that even in the worst, unimaginable of situations, a family that is circled by friends and their other family members — where people care, support, and hold space for one another — we can keep going. Grief is an incredible teacher for resiliency. Whether I’ve been the person grieving, supporting family or friends through their grief, or now helping others through their grief journeys, coming back to lessons learned from the experience is a huge part of exercising the resilience muscles we can access within us.
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.
Yes — I totally agree with you that resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. I have definitely used that metaphor and I like both the imagery of what it represents and the use of that metaphor as practice for living with resilience. My five steps for building resilience are:
- Start with gratitude. I love the quote “There is always, always, always something to be grateful for.” The author is always listed as “unknown” but I know the original speaker was someone who not only practiced gratitude but also resilience.
- Acknowledge that life’s journey is circuitous. Even when you think you’ve got the roadmap from “here” to “there,” being prepared for the unexpected by considering the “what if…” options you may encounter will help build resilience.
- Listen and hold quiet space for others. It is often in the times we hold space quietly and gently for others that we can see our own resilience for what it is. It’s not always about giving advice, but sometimes our own actions speak louder than our words — and being patient and compassionate are good backbones for strengthening the resilience muscle.
- Take time to pause, breathe and reflect on your situation. When life hands you challenges, opportunities to practice resilience, take a moment to pause — breathe in a few deep breaths where the exhale is extended for more counts than the inhale. This helps you release what you’re holding onto and it can clear your head to reflect on the situation, thus building your resilience muscles. You know that saying “You’ve got this!” Say it to yourself as you breathe your way through challenging times.
- Talk with people when it’s the right time — and don’t feel pushed to talk before you’re ready. Each person’s path is unique. When you tap into your resilience, it’s strengthened by your own awareness of what you are capable of doing. When you’re ready — AND ONLY THEN — -it’s good to talk out loud with others. We learn in many behavioral psychology studies that when someone writes something down AND says it out loud to another person, then there is a greater likelihood for it to stick. Building and strengthening the resilience muscle takes a lot of stickiness in mental attitude and fortitude.
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. 🙂
(Laughing!) — I laugh at your referring to me as a person of great influence — and yet, I appreciate the idea behind it because I honestly feel like at this point in my life, my collective experience, research, and observations have given me unique insights that I am grateful to share with others. I would love more people to practice mindfulness techniques. A really good and easy practice is using that example I shared earlier about Pause-Breathe-Reflect, commonly referred to as PBR by people who practice it. Michael O’Brien created a fabulous and expansive app that can help with taking a PBR break. His app has several factors you can program for particular situations — brief, one-minute PBR meditations, breathing techniques, guided meditations leading into (or following) challenging situations, meditations lasting anywhere from 1–20+ minutes. I highly recommend this app and know that Michael’s been an extraordinary leader from the earliest days of the pandemic through now — helping thousands of people cultivate these practices, through an audio app (Clubhouse) and now his own app, helping to strengthen resilience as mindful living becomes a habit.
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 don’t have anyone in mind for this; I am very comfortable in my circle of family, friends, colleagues and teachers who guide me.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
For more information, you can follow my work on Instagram, Facebook under my company name of Living on Purpose or my own name. Additionally, I write often through the Medium platform and many of its publications. And my website, www.livingonpurpose.us has many ways you can reach me, learn more about what I do, how I do my work, and tools I have created to help other people live at the intersection of gratitude and resilience, through awareness and giving attention to intention. Thank you so much for asking me to participate in this interesting and compelling story.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!