Plan Less and Do More. Busy entrepreneurs always keep their calendars packed with virtual and in-person meetings. Spending time to do research, make a plan, find a mentor, or evaluate risks and benefits will lead to more productive avenues for your business and uncover more efficient ways to implement your ideas.
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 Liudmila Schafer.
Liudmila Schafer, MD, FACP, is an Associate Professor of Medicine and board-certified Medical Oncologist, specializing in gastrointestinal malignancies. She is a founder of The Doctor Connect movement, helping patients navigate their healthcare journey through cancer, health, and wellness. Dr. Schafer offers strategic knowledge that empowers her patients with personal enrichment, leadership, and lifestyle changes.
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?
I grew up on the border of Belarus and Poland and lived through the worst disaster, Chernobyl. This and other healthcare disparities fed a passion in me to overcome my challenges and help others overcome theirs. I was in my late 20s when I attended a medical conference in the U.S. and took a risky step by moving to the U.S. To succeed here, I had to be resilient socially, emotionally, physically, and economically. Working overseas in the hospital with very limited resources taught me to do a lot with what I had, while still managing to provide excellent care. I valued patient engagement during examinations and learned about their primary complaint by listening and focusing on their detailed histories. When I first came to the U.S. I didn’t have many resources or much support, and there was no clear path for me to follow. I was dealing with the challenges of being a young woman, a physician, and the mother of a young child while seeking new opportunities. I knew very little English at the time. To understand the lectures and readings, I translated every single phrase word by word. Now, as a top practitioner, I continue to use resilience skills. And as an entrepreneur, I understand firsthand this push and pull, so I would like to share resilience strategies for these turbulent times. On the surface, becoming “resilient” can seem like an overwhelming goal that we’re constantly trying to chase. But in my experience, having realistic steps in place can help build our resilience in a natural way.
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?
Cancer affects young people, and a lot of times they say, “It is not me.” They don’t identify with the disease. I remember when a patient of mine with testicular cancer, one of the most curative cancers, developed recurrence before going into prolonged remission and ultimately being cured. One day, he said, “I have a surprise for you!” He pulled a photo from an ultrasound and handed it to me. He was having a baby. Like many young patients, he will have a future generation. That photo is still with me and reminds me of new life. I valued patients’ resilience while undergoing treatment and living a personal life.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
With 26 years of experience as clinician, educator, clinical researcher, and teacher-scholar, I create a home for open conversations and education by sharing cancer stories through The Doctor Connect movement. As part of my community, I show others how to create their constructive strategic story, elevate their digital assets and share their expertise with others. What is fascinating is that by being able to share their story, they elevate their personal and professional success.
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?
My Dad helped me develop my resilience. He was a life-loving person, with high energy and a high stamina for work, and he shared how rest simply means changing our activity. He developed many passions, overcame challenges, and had a deep desire for self-development. I’ve always searched for a tool to help me perform my best work, thinking that this would make me happy. Moving to the States as a minority, I didn’t have a large community for support, so I sought out professionals and leaders in the field around me. But finding one was another challenge for me. Based on the leaders in the area, I created my own “wishful mentor.” I was looking up to my coworkers, reading leadership books, being inspired by individuals in the media, and doing my best in life. Early on, I understood that there is no such thing as a single mentor.
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?
Resilient people are able to bounce back from challenges, stressful situations and difficult life events. Some characteristics of resilient individuals include being flexible; not falling into negative thought spirals in a tense or overwhelming situation (such as before an exam). Resiliency also means recovering quickly after experiencing unwanted change. My book, Success Strategy, dives into this topic and shares many ways to use resiliency to create professional and personal success.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
One of the most essential qualities in life is courage. It can be difficult to face our fears and overcome them, but when we do, it makes us happier, more emotionally stable people overall. Sometimes courage is just the ability to keep going when you’re faced with difficulty. Being courageous doesn’t mean you’re not scared, however. It’s about how much pain you’ve endured before deciding it’s worth overcoming. Resilience, on the other hand, is bouncing back after a difficult situation, regardless of the circumstances.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Theodore “T.R.” Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States. I admire Roosevelt’s resilience to hardship during moments that brought challenges almost impossible to overcome. He is an inspiration to everyone who faces difficulty in their life. He had asthma, but this did not stop him from challenging himself to arduous activity as a teenager in hopes that he could escape being considered “weak.” He said, “Unless a man is master of his soul, all other kinds of mastery amount to little.” It is important to understand your mind and be strong. So, challenge yourself. Go to the Amazonian rainforest, the harshest expedition, where you can easily find over 40 species of insects living on one tree, where it’s a struggle to stay dry, discover the unmapped rivers and you’ll develop your ability to bounce back from difficult situations. Explore yourself in multiple pillars of 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 told my parents that I was moving to the United States, my dad had tears in his eyes. My parents didn’t see how I could leave everything I had grown up with to make a realistic life for myself in America. “Can you find happiness there?” they asked me. I wanted to try anyway. If the worst happened, they told me I had a secure place to come back to. I came to the United States with a small black bag and very limited money, some clothes, but I had a suitcase packed of my medical notebooks. I began to reach out to some contacts for advice and connections, and I was repeatedly told, “don’t even try” to be a physician in the United States. It was impossible, they said. I, however, was determined to make it work. As I worked my way through the English language, getting licensed in the U.S., and adjusting to a totally different culture, I often heard the phrase “it’s impossible.” People told me that my goals were impossible all the time. I’d never learn the language, I’d never have a successful practice here, I’d never be elected to committees or boards. I decided to turn that “impossible” into “I am possible.” Every time that someone told me it was impossible, I had to tell myself that I am possible. I had to be resilient.
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?
As I was struggling to breathe in the middle of the ocean in open water, diving, my instructor screamed, “If you don’t descend now, I will send you back on the boat!” How devastating, I thought, after all that I have been through, to just give up and go back on the boat? But the instructor’s threat was looming, and I had to make a fast decision. It struck me that I could not fail. I’ve come so far and done so many things to get to this point, and I’m finally here. I can’t go back now.
To become an advanced open water diver, you have to go through a lot of steps. You must pass online classes and tests; then, you have to pass the skills tests in a swimming pool. Only then do you get to try your first open water deep dive. You have to make many preparations for a dive: adjusting the regulators, cleaning the goggles, donning all of the equipment and testing it, etc.
This was my very first deep dive, and the boat we had taken was fast. I was in the middle of the ocean before I knew it. There were a lot of waves that day. I’d jumped in the water and was now bobbing up and down with the regulator in my mouth, struggling to calm my breathing with all of the equipment. The instructor’s words rang in my head, and I made my choice. I took one deep breath in and out, deflated my BCD, and went under the water.
As I slowly descended, the water got calmer. My body was no longer being tossed around by the waves, and I relaxed. I was finally able to open my eyes and really see the vast, blue ocean around me. I realized then and there that this was a beautiful metaphor for life. When you are on the surface, the water is very rough. We exhaust ourselves fighting the waves, which only makes it worse. When we finally surrender and dive deep below the surface, the water becomes calm and clear. The world seems to stop and open up around us. And under the surface, we find amazing things that we’ve never been able to observe before. Many times, in life, we are afraid to face obstacles, but once we are resilient and try, we often learn that the fear is worse than the reality.
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?
So much goes into a move overseas. What do you do with your belongings? How do things work over there? How can I make this move as smooth as possible? The process can be daunting, but if you step in the mindset of your goals, it can be very inspirational. But one of the biggest lessons came while becoming an advanced diver. During my training, there always seemed to be new challenges waiting around every corner. Even now, I never know what I’ll encounter on a dive. I had to overcome a deep fear of water, going back to when I nearly drowned. But with practice, I overcame it. I drowned my fears, and that helped me become a more confident person in a new country.
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. Discover your Macro Why and Micro Why — The Macro or “Big” Why is the reason you follow a passion, your life’s purpose. The Micro or “Little” Why represents all the day-to-day things that keep you motivated. Identifying them will help keep you focused and working toward your success in a strategic manner.
2. Prioritize backward — Start with your final goal in mind and then work backward. Cut down your big goal into smaller steps and sub-goals that you can tackle along the way.
3. Slow Down to Do More. Being a busy professional or entrepreneur always seems to put pressure on our schedule and squeeze us for time. There are always top priorities to attend to and never enough hours in the day. However, if you slow down and stop for a few minutes, or a few hours, (imagine that!) you will find yourself more productive and efficient.
4. Plan Less and Do More. Busy entrepreneurs always keep their calendars packed with virtual and in-person meetings. Spending time to do research, make a plan, find a mentor, or evaluate risks and benefits will lead to more productive avenues for your business and uncover more efficient ways to implement your ideas.
5. Act Opposite to Your Emotions. As busy entrepreneurs and business strategists, we like to act fast and command a large scope. When you put emotions on the side and accept who you are, you will find how naturally your inner self connects with your plans. If you discover you are already where you want to be, consider what you want to achieve from here. Are you striving for a promotion, a new project, a new business, or have a new initiative to launch? Make a list of your current “to-do” items and start acting on them. Reevaluating what’s important to you and committing to your goals saves you energy, money, and time.
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. 🙂
Stepping into a challenge can be both exciting and scary. According to a recent study, personal satisfaction dropped by 8% in 2021 compared to 2020, and a lot of this actually has to do with what was happening with people’s economic situations and professional lives. I strive to improve personal satisfaction by helping underrepresented populations share their story. Many people tell me that they have no time, work long hours, and experience chronic burnout. The Doctor Connect movement focuses on health and wellness by helping people use what they know, share their journey, and inspire others globally
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 🙂
Alex Mandossian is one person I would like to meet, because I would love to discuss ways to repurpose educational content throughout the world. Education is at a crossroads. The digital world, with advances, electronics, ongoing development, and marketing, helps people navigate the health care system. Likewise, digital education is achieving remarkable things that before would be considered impossible, unacceptable or an embarrassment, but now is considered a must.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!