To me, resilience is having an internal voice and attitude that is unwavering. It is the mindset of “I WILL overcome any obstacle in my way and thrive! That’s it, period!” For example, when I initially failed at multiple attempts of business, I didn’t see that as failure. I took it as feedback that my skills were not sufficient to reach my goal, but I’d be damned if I quit! So I continued learning while getting myself out of the debt I had gotten myself into, re-strategized and try again. You only fail when you give up and resilience is that part of you that will never back down from a challenge or tough situation, it’s about not giving up.
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 Maikel Michiels.
After enduring hardships to the point of contemplating suicide, Maikel managed to turn things around through resilience and dedication. After a journey into personal development of over a decade, Maikel is now teaching the lessons he wish he had gotten as a kid. His business, The Unchained Life, is his way of giving back with the ultimate goal of impacting the lives of millions of people.
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 for having me. So for those who may not know me, my name is Maikel and I am the founder of The Unchained Life, where I teach people the lessons I wish someone would have taught me when I was a kid. To get to the core turning point in my life we have to go back about 15 years. At the time, I was in high school. The school work came easy and I was getting good grades, but socially I was quite the outcast. Having a form of autism didn’t exactly help either. And so, I was bullied pretty much every day for years. At the time I had no resilience to speak of and would often break down crying, even at some mild provocations. The constant bullying has gotten me to the point of having little social skills, having 0 confidence, feeling useless and feeling terrible all together. Leading to me contemplating suicide, although very briefly. This was when I found a spark of my true self. While thinking of killing myself, there was a small part of me that stood up to tell me: “You are not a problem, you can do so many more wonderful things! Do not kill yourself!! If anything, they should be the ones that deserve to die.” And so that was the night in which I went from contemplating suicide to contemplating murder. Luckily I didn’t go through with either. This was the start of my journey into personal development. A journey I know won’t end until the day I die, because there is always something new to learn and some way to improve. Since then I’ve become way more resilient and started to care less about what they would say. Fast forward a bit, I have been through many articles, videos, podcasts, books and anything I could get my hands on to learn. Ultimately leading me to start The Unchained Life to share the lessons that I have learned so that others can improve themselves too.
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 wouldn’t say it’s an interesting story, but there are some interesting lessons that I took from it. For context, at the time I had just dropped out of college. In high school I got by easily, but I never learned the discipline required to handle the freedom of college. And thus that year went horribly wrong. Not knowing what to do, I took on the only job that I could find and get accepted for, which was at a local brewery. It was all manual labor and honestly, way below my capabilities. I remember coming to work one day at 6 am to take over from the night shift. The guy I took over from looked exhausted, way more so than someone working night shift would usually be. He told me that the cans of beer would fall over constantly and that he had to constantly put them upright again. I just smiled, wished him a good night and sent him back home. Immediately after my shift started, I called someone over to watch it for 5 minutes. In the meanwhile I walked to another machine, pressed 3 buttons and walked back. After that, I had 3 cans that had fallen over during my entire 8 hour shift. There are a few takeaways from this experience. For starters, while working hard is a virtue, working smarter will often lead to better results. Many people, just like my colleague, are working hard all the time, but there are often ways to be way more effective even when working less. The second lesson is even more important, which is to tackle the root of the problem, rather than deal with the consequences. Unfortunately, I see this all the time. People will ask things like “How to stop being a perfectionist?” or “How to stop procrastinating?” What most people don’t realize is that these are often not the problem, but rather they are caused by the problem. To give you an example, perfectionism is often just a socially accepted term for being afraid of judgement. People want all their work to be “perfect”, because they think it will lead to less judgement.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes The Unchained Life stand out first and foremost is understanding. I like to compare the way most people go through life with driving a car. People are driving around, but they have no clue what is going on underneath the hood. People simply do not understand how their own mind works. So when something doesn’t go according to plan, they often don’t know what is causing the problem, let alone how to fix it. So in all of the content I write and the videos I create, I aim to establish an understanding first. If you don’t understand what’s wrong, how could you possibly fix the issue? I think that’s one of the biggest issues with much of the personal development content out there. In addition to that, the way in which I try to go above and beyond is by making things practical and actionable. Firstly, that means giving people the exact steps to take, including examples. Additionally, I help the reader to understand why these steps work and how they contribute to their goals.
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?
That’s a tough one. Back in the days I didn’t really have a lot of support from the people around me. Instead, I got my support and mentorship from books, blog posts, podcasts and videos. I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for being able to quickly and easily find help on the internet. There are literally dozens of people that I learned from. To single out one or two people here would be disrespectful to everyone else that I learned so many valuable lessons from.
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?
I would define resilience as a mindset. Resilient people are those who are not defined by their circumstances or where they came from. No matter what happens to a resilient person, they will always have that attitude of “I will bounce back higher than ever before”. When setbacks happen, many people would just accept the new situation as a given. They are at the effect of outside forces. Resilient people know that difficult and turbulent times are a part of life. They don’t wish for things to be easier, but rather they look inside of themselves for the power to overcome their obstacles. Moreover, I would link resilience with self worth as well. Part of being resilient, in my view, is to know that you are capable of doing so much more than you are in the present moment. To have a vision that is so compelling that you are willing to put up with the challenges and obstacles in your way. So in short, I would define resilience as the attitude of pushing through no matter the circumstances, because you know you can do so much better than this.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
I would say that they are two sides of the same coin. Resilience is the starting point, it is that line in the sand. The declaration, internally, that you will not take it anymore and will get over whatever it is that you’re facing. Deciding that in itself already requires quite a bit of courage, but the real test of courage comes after that. Courage comes in many forms. It takes courage to look at your current situation and be honest about the role that you have played in getting into this position. And it’s always a significant one. Courage is standing up to people who try to put you down. Courage is moving on from certain people in your life. Courage is taking that step forward in solving your problems, even when that step terrifies you. It is courage that will allow you to face your current situation, to face the obstacles in your way and to face life. It means to do the things that you are scared of doing, because you know deep down that they are the things you need to do the most. Resilience, in my opinion, is the overarching belief. The conviction that you will get out of the current situation way stronger than you were before. Without resilience, it will be nigh impossible to find the courage to take the right steps forward. Without resilience, you will cave in, accept defeat and seek to learn how to accept an undesirable situation, rather than fighting to create one that you do desire. And so, you really need both in order to thrive, even when times are tough.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I would say Gary Vaynerchuk, in just about every way possible. I’ve been following him since forever and I think he understands life at a level very few others do, myself included. Coming to the United States when he didn’t even speak the language properly is tough on anyone. Gary pulled through. Later, his classmates would move on to having pretty decent jobs after college. Having good salaries, nice houses and fancy cars. Meanwhile Gary was working at his dad’s liquor store, where they would come as visitors and rub it in. Again, he was unwavering in his self worth as well as his confidence and resilience. And one final example I can give is how his message has always been consistent over the years. He speaks with full authenticity and conviction, and sometimes seems to predict the future. I’ve heard him say things about the state of social media and society only to get a ton of backlash, criticism and people saying he’s crazy. However, he doesn’t just have the resilience to confidently move forward with the same message, in hindsight he has been right most of the time. I think he’s a true inspiration and someone I truly look up to.
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?
Well, here’s something that I have only been told years after it happened. In addition to being bullied in high school, I was also diagnosed with a form of autism. And so, my mother thought it would be impossible to finish high school as things were going. Note that I did the highest level of high school education we have in The Netherlands. She was in favor of openly telling the school and all my classmates about it so that I could get extra attention, more time on tests and things like that. And potentially, maybe stepping down a level would have been an option in her eyes too. The point is that she didn’t believe I would be able to finish my education without any special help or attention. My dad at the time stopped her, because he thought the world didn’t need to know. And so for years nobody except for a small group of people knew about me having autism. Some people might have thought so, but I’ve never really talked about it openly for most of my life. And so I continued my education as things were going and passed without breaking a sweat. I passed with minimal effort, which turned out to be both a blessing and a curse in retrospect.
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?
Oh yes, absolutely. Things went pretty off track right after high school when I entered “the real world”. In retrospect it’s easy to notice, but at the time I didn’t have a clue. I entered university with one of the most dangerous combinations of character traits that you can imagine. I was forced to build resilience to what people tell me, but as a protection mechanism I also shut out those who meant well with their critique. Because high school was so easy, I never learned what it is to work hard, so I had no discipline. On top of that I’ve always been pretty stubborn my entire life. I think you can see where this is going, right? Needless to say I failed university and failed pretty badly, getting only 6 out of 60 credits. At the same time, I was starting to get into online marketing and business as well. But I lacked the technical skills of marketing and the patience to get the ball rolling. And so I gave up on that. On top of that, I tried to go for 1 level of education lower, thinking that that would be easier, but I hated that study. It was at this point that I started to really doubt myself, I felt lost and didn’t know what to do. I thought I had my path with economics, but it didn’t turn out that way. Or so I thought… Not knowing what to do, I took up whatever job I could find, which happened to be some manual labor production jobs. I’ve done that for a few years, but always felt I could do way more than that. During this time I learned a lot, both actual skills and about myself. And so I quit to go back to university, but this time with the discipline to do it successfully through which I’m close to my master’s degree. I think the lesson here is that you are both your biggest problem as well as the sole solution. We should all spend time to think about who we really are, what we want to do on this planet and finally to figure out the change we need to make to become the person capable of reaching those dreams.
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?
For me it was mostly the realization of my own self worth. I was forced to find resilience and find that part inside of me that would not back down. This came in two parts: Firstly, as I have shared before, it was the resilience to stop caring about what other people say about me. To learn to laugh with myself and right in the face of any insult. The second part is to be unwavering in what you want. In those years where it seemed, even to myself, that I had given up, I was still learning about business, marketing and personal development. I wasn’t ready to move forward with anything at the time, but the burning desire was still there. That’s also a kind of resilience to me. Think of it like pulling back the string of a bow, you are storing up right now, so that you can propel yourself forward. I think it’s important to remember that we don’t need to be moving forward with guns blazing all the time. There are times when it’s useful to take a step back, refocus, work on yourself and then move forward again.
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.
This is an area on which I’ve reflected quite a bit and have reversed engineered what I have done in my life.
- The crucial first step is to find your self worth and love your potential. For me it was that little voice in my darkest hour that ignited the fire inside of me. The simple truth is that if you don’t believe that you are worth it, you’re not going to pull through. You need to know that you are worthy of not only getting through the turbulent times, but bouncing back way higher. You should also have a clear vision of the person you want to become, what does that best, boldest and happiest version of yourself look and feel like?
- Step 2 is honesty, by which I mean being honest about yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What skills do you have? What skills do you need to develop? What are your goals in life? In other words, what is that compelling vision you have for your future that drives you? And perhaps the most important question, what traits do you value most? It takes courage and humility to admit you are where you are because of you, but it is an important step to take. Personally, this was the part that fell in place pretty easily. Perhaps because I’m not highly emotional as a result of having autism, and so I tend to reason logically instead. If it doesn’t come easily to you, find a quiet spot to sit down with a pen and paper. First ask yourself these questions and then as a follow up ask yourself “why?”. Why do you care so much about the values and goals you have written down? Then repeat the process with your answers to those questions. Continue for about 5 to 7 whys until you get down to the core of your feelings and let those serve as your guiding light.
- Next up is not taking yourself too damn serious. One of the most important skills I have learned in my life was to be able to laugh with and about myself. By knowing who I am and where I’m heading, I have built resilience to what people say about me. Even when bullies would insult me, I learned not only how to laugh along with them but genuinely not feel broken by their remarks as I would before. I would even 1-up their jokes sometimes. They would call me a loser and I’d respond like “Oh hell yeah, the biggest loser! Wanna see my trophy?” And I would stand there with an actual smile or poke some fun back at them, just not in a way where I’m hurt and want to get payback if that makes any sense. This by the way was the turning point where the bullying got less and less until it stopped completely.
- The 4th thing you need to do is to keep on learning and improving yourself continuously. Resilience without proper skills is just wishful thinking! It’s good to be determined, not care about people’s opinions so much and have the resilience to keep on trying no matter what. However, you need the right skills. If you lose everything in a financial crisis, you need the right financial skills to get your finances back on track. If you lose your job and are about to lose your home, you better have marketable skills that employers desire to get a new job. Remember that your best intentions and skills combined have gotten you to where you are today, so you need to focus on becoming the person that can outgrow your current situation and problems. I would be nowhere if I didn’t learn marketing, business, and how the mind works.
- And above all, as step 5, you need to realize that resilience is a mindset. To me, resilience is having an internal voice and attitude that is unwavering. It is the mindset of “I WILL overcome any obstacle in my way and thrive! That’s it, period!” For example, when I initially failed at multiple attempts of business, I didn’t see that as failure. I took it as feedback that my skills were not sufficient to reach my goal, but I’d be damned if I quit! So I continued learning while getting myself out of the debt I had gotten myself into, re-strategized and try again. You only fail when you give up and resilience is that part of you that will never back down from a challenge or tough situation, it’s about not giving up.
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. 🙂
This is unrelated to the topic of resilience, but I would love to see a big change in the educational systems around the world. Right now, I think there is too much focus on skills that are becoming less and less important. Remember how teachers would tell us to learn math because we wouldn’t always have a calculator handy? I do. And guess what I got in my pocket right now? I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to teach math, biology, geography, science and subjects like that. It’s important to have some understanding of those things. However, I think our school system is lacking in 2 major areas. Firstly, there should be a focus on psychology and soft skills. Most people are going through life without really understanding how their own mind, their most important asset actually works. Teaching that in schools will prevent the suffering of millions of teens and the adults they grow up to be. Similarly, I would love school to provide practical lessons on soft skills like motivation, decision making, leadership, communication, having a positive attitude and things like that. Society is shifting from needing hard skills to needing those kinds of soft skills in order to reach a higher level in life. The second area where schools are seriously dropping the ball is personal finance. This is just not taught in school, and it’s one of the biggest reasons for income inequality in developed countries. Schools don’t teach this, so it’s up to parents to do that, leading to huge discrepancies. The rich are rich because they understand how money works and how to play the financial game better than most people. Moreover, they teach these concepts to their children. The poor and middle class don’t have this knowledge and thus their kids never learn these lessons. Teaching financial education and personal finance in all schools would greatly level the playing field for future generations.
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 🙂
There are quite a few actually, but if I had to pick one or two, I would say Tony Robbins and Gary Vaynerchuk. They are people that I have learned so much from and that I continue to learn from. On one hand to thank them for the lessons they have taught me over the years and the improvements I have made in my life because of that. On the other hand, I think both of them are brilliant people where most things coming out of their mouths are profound wisdom. So the more selfish reason there is to be able to pick their brain a bit.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The best way to follow my work would be through my website called The Unchained Life. You can actually just type that into the address bar, it’s theunchained.life. This is where I share all my articles. Additionally, I have recently started a YouTube channel as well. If you want to learn through listening and watching, be sure to subscribe to the channel. That’s The Unchained Life on YouTube.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
You are very welcome, and I would like to truly thank you for having me and letting me share my story with the readers. I sincerely hope that my story can inspire others to be more resilient as well and reach their goals.