Look at your perspective on things. Adversity doesn’t need to be an insurmountable problem, even though it might seem that way. Most people don’t realize that they can shift their thinking to more positive thoughts, or even neutral, which is a great place to start. The thoughts you have about something create your feelings, and your feelings affect your outcomes. So, if you can work on thinking differently about your situation, it’s going to help you immensely.
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 Kortney Rivard.
Kortney Rivard is a self-love and confidence coach and host of the podcast Real, Brave, & Unstoppable. She has a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Minnesota and is a Certified Life Coach with a health and wellness focus. Her helps smart, passionate women live more authentic and joyful lives, as well as empowers them to love themselves, get unstuck, and create the life they dream of. You can learn more about her work at kortneyrivard.com.
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?
Yes, thank you. I love that you are doing this series on resilience, as it’s such an important quality to develop. So much of my story involves resilience! Growing up, I was the kid who always had to get everything perfect. I was an overachiever and had some pretty lofty standards for myself. I ended up graduating college with a degree in aerospace engineering and worked for companies like Boeing and Gulfstream. When my first child was born, I left my career to focus on my family. During that time, I also opened a photography studio, where I photographed families and kids.
As a teenager, I struggled with an eating disorder that affected me off and on until about 12 years ago. Once I finally felt like I was finding myself and getting to a place where I was happy, I discovered my husband of 17 years was having an affair with another man. We went through a divorce, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life. Not only was my marriage ending, but my family was also changing, my identity was in question, and I was having to rebuild my life from the ground up. I suffered from extreme depression and anxiety and at times wasn’t even sure how I was going to make it to the next day. My kids were what kept me going during this time.
Career-wise, I knew I didn’t want to go back to cubicle life as an engineer, so I began searching for another option that felt truer to who I am and what I wanted in life. I hired a life coach to help me figure it out and through my work with her I ended up being drawn to coaching as a career. I discovered talents and gifts I didn’t realize I had and was excited to be able to use them in a way I hadn’t before. I also love that I am able to help others find happiness and joy in their lives.
Today, I help women get unstuck, love themselves and take action toward creating the life the dream of. It’s such rewarding work to help them embrace their truest selves and guide them to find the courage to show up in the world authentically. Having this foundation truly makes space for a joyful and purpose-filled life!
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?
The most interesting story from my career is probably how I came to find it! I mentioned that growing up I always felt like I had to overachieve. Because of that, others expected a lot of me, and they were used to me setting the bar very high for myself. So, when I chose my first career, I naturally chose to a very challenging path — engineering. I ended up leaving my engineering career when my son was born, and I really struggled settling into life without a career because my identity had been wrapped up in being an engineer. People were impressed by that, which made me feel smart and worthy, but when I left that behind, I had a hard time feeling like I had value. My ex-husband is an attorney, and at social functions when I was asked what I did for a living, I really struggled to feel good about saying “I’m a mom”. I felt the pressure to have a career that signaled to people that I was smart and capable, yet I had no interest in the day-to-day grind of a 9–5 corporate cubicle job.
As I searched for a new career after my divorce, I realized that after being financially dependent on my husband for so many years, I had forgotten how capable and smart I really am on my own. I stopped believing in myself that I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to. I’m thankful that my coach at the time was so encouraging when I started to become drawn to coaching as a career. I remember saying “I don’t know if I can do that” (get certified and build a profitable coaching business). Her response was “what if you can?” Those four words had such an impact on my life. The lesson in that story is that there is always another perspective, and what we believe about ourselves can either keep us playing small or help us to spread our wings and soar.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I would say that my company stands out because I have been through a lot of the same things my audience is dealing with. By being very authentic and transparent about my own life, I’m relatable and my clients and followers know that they’re not alone. I also live what I teach. If I am working with a client on loving all the parts of who they are, I’m doing that work too. When I talk about how the secret to loving your life is really loving all of who you are and showing up authentically, I am working on being authentic and sharing that journey with my audience. And finally, while I’m an expert in what I do, I don’t pretend to have it all figured out because none of us do! I’m a coach, but I am also human and I’m having a human experience just like everyone else. My company is built on the philosophy that we are all teachers for each other. I don’t think the “guru model”, where the teacher has it all figured out, really works.
I never really understood the impact that sharing your story might have on someone’s life until I became a coach. I think when we’ve been through something, it’s easy to underestimate how our own experiences can help someone, even in the smallest of ways. I remember early on in my business, I worked with a client who had been through something similar to what I had been through with my ex-husband. She was so grateful to have found a coach who understood her on such a deep level. There are a lot of great coaches out there, of course, but we are all different. What I do really stands out to people who are wanting to build a life that is true to who they are because that’s what I have so much experience with. My story resonates with my people and that’s what makes me stand out.
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’m thankful for the support of so many people! My family, my partner and my kids have been instrumental. But I would have to say that my grandpa on my mom’s side is the person that stands out most. The funny thing is that I’m pretty sure he has no idea he helped me get here!
My Grandpa passed away in December 2019, but he was always the guy who was totally positive and saw the bright side of things. He was also very resilient. He had a variety of health problems throughout his life including a couple of types of cancers and a heart aneurysm, but even as he grew older, he looked at the positive and lived his life to the fullest in gratitude for what he had.
The reason he has been so influential to me though is that he always followed his dreams and had an amazing sense of adventure, and that’s one of my values in life. He and my grandma traveled frequently, but they didn’t just vacation! When they went on a cruise, they booked a room on a freighter and had dinner with the captain and the crew. They went to Ecuador annually for years where they worked in orphanages to build cabinets and paint. They even went into the Amazonian jungle where they slept on the ground in tents when they were in their late 70s. I was always so inspired by my grandpa’s carefree, adventurous spirit, his sense of wonder for everything, and his trust that everything would always work out. He used to say “You just gotta go for it. Life’s too short not to!” That’s why he has been so influential in helping me get to where I am. His ability to believe in what’s possible, not let setbacks derail him and his tenacity are so inspiring.
I would also say, and it took me a long time to be able to say this, my ex-husband has been my greatest teacher, so in a sense has helped me get where I am. I miss my marriage and the way things were, but I was not living my best life. I have learned so much about myself through the whole experience. When I discovered that he was gay, I thought it was the worst thing that could have ever happened to me, but I probably would have still been in the same place feeling stuck in my life if things would have stayed the same. I’ve learned so much and have grown so much. Most importantly, I’ve learned to love myself and I’ve remembered that I am capable of whatever I put my mind to.
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?
To me, resilience is the ability to get back up after you’ve been knocked down. It’s the wherewithal to keep at it and know that just because you’ve fallen doesn’t mean that the game is over.
At the core of a resilient person is a sense of possibility. What I mean by that is that there is some inner knowing that it is possible to get back on track, to try again, or that things will get better. It could also be described as a feeling of hope. And let me be clear, I don’t believe that everyone realizes that they have this knowing while they are in the middle of a difficult time, but on some level, I believe a resilient person is connected to the possibility that they can bounce back.
Resilient people also seem to be able to take responsibility for their lives. When I’ve been faced with adversity in my own life, it’s been tempting to get stuck feeling like a victim, but this isn’t helpful. Once I realized that the only thing I can control is how I respond to the circumstances in my life, I felt so much more empowered to put one foot in front of the other and make progress, rather than stay stuck in “poor me” mode. Feeling empowered helps you take action!
Another characteristic of a resilient person is the ability to accept your circumstances and let go of the desire to control them. That doesn’t mean you have to like your circumstances! One of my favorite authors, Pema Chödrön, says that the reason we suffer is because we are attached to the way we want things to be, or the way we think things should be. When you can accept your circumstances, you are letting go of attachment to the way you want things to be. You can’t control your circumstances anyway, and resilient people “get” this on some level. They are able to redirect that energy to controlling what they can — themselves.
I also think a resilient person has a certain level of tenacity. Hope and optimism are important, but you also need to be able to act. Being able to tolerate failure and hardship and being determined and persistent in trying again are the key differences between someone who stays stuck feeling like a victim and someone who is resilient.
Finally, and this is true for me, I think that knowing that there is purpose in the struggle, or lessons in the struggle is so important. We don’t always know what those lessons are when we’re in the middle of it, of course, but just being open to the experience invites a more positive perspective. I can honestly say that is one of the traits I have developed that helps strengthen my resilience. There was a time when I felt like my life could come crumbling down at any moment and I lived in fear of that. But now, I feel really grounded — like I can handle anything. And I believe that’s because I know that the experiences I have in my life are happening for me, not to me. I believe that every experience has something to teach me, whether I like the outcome or not. When you think thoughts like that, it’s much easier to bounce back when something doesn’t go your way!
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage has a couple of definitions: first, the ability to do something that scares you, and second, strength in the face of pain or grief. Resilience is basically the ability of something to spring back to shape, or the capacity to recover from a struggle.
Courage is similar to resilience in the sense of strength. It requires a great deal of strength to bounce back from something difficult. Where I think they are different, however, is that you need courage to be resilient. The courage comes first. You need courage to dig deep and find the strength to bounce back after something bad has happened. That’s not an easy thing to do!
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
A very dear friend of mine comes to mind. We’ve been friends since our boys were little (they’re now 19 and 17!), and I’ve always admired her because she’s a single mom in the truest sense of the word. She has never had a partner to help her raise her son and she is a phenomenal mother. She has the most amazing support network to lean on that is more like an extended family. She knows that she can’t do it all by herself, so she knows how to ask for help when she needs it, which is so hard for so many people. She’s been in situations where she’s lost jobs, had to work long hours at a job she hated, and had to juggle the finances to send her son to private school because the public schools where she lives aren’t great. All with no help from her son’s father. She’s worked hard to be able to give her son some amazing opportunities that a lot of people may have felt weren’t possible. When I look at what an amazing young man she has raised, I’m in awe. She’s such a resilient and beautiful person.
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?
Ha. I think most people know better than to tell me something is impossible! Sometimes we’re our own worst critic though, and there are plenty of times that I’ve told myself that something wasn’t possible, and I’ve had to work through that and show myself that it is! Last year, I wanted desperately to quit my 9–5 job in sales, but I wasn’t making enough money in my business to do that, and I hadn’t accumulated enough savings to sustain me without having that income. For a long time, my plan was to replace my 9–5 income with business revenue, and then quit. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that when I was finished with work for the day, there wasn’t enough time or energy left in the day to grow my business to replace that income. My initial reaction was to feel trapped and frustrated. I had thoughts like, I’m stuck and there’s no way I can do this, and I’ve never been good at saving money so there’s no way I can save enough money to be able to quit. It felt impossible to reach that goal. But I did it. I doubted myself initially, but I came back to the four words from my coach that changed my life: What if you CAN? And guess what? I reached my savings goal and quit my 9–5 job ahead of schedule!
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’d have to say my greatest setback was discovering that my marriage was over. When I found out my husband was having an affair with another man, I felt like my life was over. Since I had been a stay-at-home mom for 12 years, I had become financially dependent on my husband, and I had no confidence in myself that I could figure life out on my own. I spent a lot of time stuck feeling like a victim to my circumstances. I suffered from severe anxiety and depression and spent many days on the couch feeling sorry for myself. I really had lost all interest in my life. My kids were the one thing that kept me going. It was a long journey to bouncing back, but I did it! There were three things that were key for me. First, is taking it a day at a time. My sister always said to take things plank by plank, meaning you don’t know when the next plank is going to appear, so you just have to be where you are and deal with what’s in front of you. You just have to make it to the end of each plank and the next right step will present itself. Second, is embracing the idea that I am not my thoughts. My thoughts are a narrative running around in my brain and they are not the real me. I can choose to believe them or not and I actually have the ability to choose different thoughts. Third was learning to respect myself as a human being with value. I got into a toxic relationship shortly after my divorce, and it was terrible for my mental health. I had no boundaries and was only focused on what I could do to get this person to treat in a way that made me feel like I had value. When I finally realized my value and my worth, I left that relationship, and everything changed. I learned who I really am, that I am enough exactly as I am, and that anything is possible if I believe it’s possible. My journey isn’t complete, but I don’t think anyone’s journey ever is. The best part is that I feel unshakeable — I know that no matter what happens, I can handle it. Life can be hard, but each of us already has what we need inside of us to get through it and learn from it.
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?
When I was growing up, I was really driven and determined. Those traits probably come from my dad! As someone who felt the need to set the bar high and accomplish a lot, I always got a lot of praise for what I had achieved. My parents were always supportive of most things I wanted to do, so I grew up knowing that with determination and hard work, I was capable of whatever I wanted to achieve. In high school, I chose aerospace engineering as my career and wanted to be an astronaut. Some parents may have dismissed that as just a lofty dream, but if my parents did, they certainly didn’t let me know it. I always believed I could do whatever I wanted to do in life. That drive and determination, along with a deep-down belief that I was capable of whatever I put my mind to was, I believe, the foundation for my ability to be resilient and how I cultivated resilience throughout my life.
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.
First, look at your perspective on things. Adversity doesn’t need to be an insurmountable problem, even though it might seem that way. Most people don’t realize that they can shift their thinking to more positive thoughts, or even neutral, which is a great place to start. The thoughts you have about something create your feelings, and your feelings affect your outcomes. So, if you can work on thinking differently about your situation, it’s going to help you immensely.
For example, there was a specific time after I quit my full-time job in sales to become a coach where everything seemed to go wrong. I had savings to carry me for a set amount of time until I could grow my business, but there were multiple unexpected expenses that came up and created a lot of stress for me! My first reaction was to let my negative thoughts take over. That storyline included things like this will never work out for me, I’m going to fail, and I AM a failure. I’m pretty self-aware to notice when this happens, so I was able to take a few deep breaths and reframe those thoughts to things like this was unexpected and hard, but I’ve figured out hard things before, or what can I learn from this?
Second, accept your circumstances and let go of the need to control. You can’t control what’s happening outside of you anyway, so it’s best to look at what you can control — your own interpretations and responses. My mom always used to say, “Give it to God”. I think the practice of surrendering to whatever higher power you believe in is important in building resilience. I mentioned earlier that one of my favorite authors, Pema Chödrön, says that the reason we suffer is because we cling to the way we want things to be or the way we think things should be. When I was going through my divorce, I was hung up on the idea of a “normal” family, which I grew up to believe was two married parents and kids. When my husband and I divorced, I was in so much pain because it seemed that everywhere I looked I saw “normal” families. I’m also a photographer and I couldn’t even photograph families at that time it was so painful. A friend introduced me to a new perspective — that there is no such thing as normal — and once I was able to stop clinging to that idea, my pain was much easier to manage.
Third, it’s important to work on your relationship with yourself. How do you feel about yourself? Do you love who you are? Most of us have a much easier time looking at our flaws and shortcomings, and when you’re in the middle of a difficult time, that’s not helpful. It’s important to look at your strengths and accomplishments too. I like to say that it’s important to give “equal airtime” to both the negative and positive sides. The negative side is usually what comes up automatically, so be sure to give the positive side it’s fair share of time too! When you can get in touch with who you really are, accept your flaws (we all have them!) and celebrate your strengths, you’ll have the strength and courage to show up in the world in a way that’s true to who you are. And that will help you stay on track toward bouncing back from a difficult time.
Fourth, is to make strong connections with others. You don’t have to go it alone. It’s much easier to build resilience when you surround yourself with others who will lift you up when you’re feeling down. Also, know that it’s ok to reach out for help! There have been times in my own life where I’ve been afraid to let people know that I’m struggling. I felt like I had to look perfect, or like I had it all together, all the time. But that was a lonely and miserable place to be when I was struggling. There was a point where I realized that when I was showing up and just simply being myself without worrying about any of those things, I started to build rich, authentic connections. I’ve found that when you have the courage to do that, other people feel more comfortable being themselves too. It’s contagious! It’s so beautiful because having these connections to others will really help you power through when the going gets tough.
Last, is to take good care of yourself. When you’re feeling run-down, overwhelmed, or burnt out, it’s much harder to have a positive perspective on your challenging circumstances. For example, when I don’t get enough sleep or exercise, and abandon my healthy eating habits, I have a harder time getting out of negative thinking. During the hardest times of my life, not taking care of myself would lead to depression. So it’s really important to make sure you get enough sleep, eat healthy, move your body in ways that feel good to you, manage your to-do list, set boundaries and take time for yourself. These things should be non-negotiable in your life — the cost of not having this self-care in place is too high!
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. 🙂
Such a great question. My mission in life is to help women love their lives by loving all of who they are — even the parts that are hard to love. When I talk to different women, it’s so common for them to feel like they’re not enough. They don’t think they’re a good enough parent, friend, or partner, they don’t think they’re thin enough, pretty enough or smart enough, they feel like they should be making more money, they feel like they’re too old or too young, they don’t have enough time, and the list goes on.
The movement that I want to inspire actually has a name. It’s called Project Real. I dreamt it up many years ago when I was in eating disorder treatment and I never really got it off the ground, but it’s my dream to demonstrate that real — meaning true and authentic — is beautiful. My vision is to photograph women in a way that shows their true beauty without Photoshop manipulation. To create soulful images that are raw and real. It’s my dream to publish a book with these images along with interviews about why we are enough, despite our flaws. It’s really because of our flaws that we are enough because both our flaws and strengths make us who we are.
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 🙂
That’s a tough question! There are a lot of people I’d love to meet, but the person that comes to mind is Chellsie Memmel, the American gymnast who made a comeback to the sport at the age of 32 after having two children! I started watching her YouTube series, Chellsie’s Adult Gymnastics Journey from the beginning and have followed her entire journey to competing at the US Championships and now being part of the Gold Over America Tour. I admire Chellsie for so many reasons! First, gymnastics isn’t easy and is incredibly hard on your body. It’s amazing that she was able to return to the level she did after being away from the sport for so long, and especially after having babies! Her journey is also so inspiring to young girls, and anyone really, that they can do whatever they put their mind to if it’s something they are passionate about. And I’m not a gymnast, but I think it’s completely amazing that she’s shattered the paradigm that there are age limitations, or that you can’t compete at an elite level after a certain age, after having kids, or while raising kids. It’s all so inspiring to me. She’s shattered another glass ceiling and inspired so many people to let go of what they think their limitations are. She also seems really genuine and authentic, which is something that I am all about!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can visit my website, www.kortneyrivard.com or find me on Instagram or Facebook as @kortneyrivardlifecoach. I also host the podcast Real, Brave, & Unstoppable, available on your favorite streaming platform!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!