Look for the learning in every difficult situation — Finding a way to learn can bring a positive to even the hardest circumstances. Although experiencing unhealthy work environments was very difficult for me at the time, I looked at my own reactions in those workplaces and it taught me about others. I now appreciate those challenging experiences because they have made me a better leader and a more empathetic person. Understanding that learning comes from the hardest times will make you more resilient.

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 Melanie Pump.

Melanie Pump grew up in a family that went bankrupt shortly after she was born. By fifteen, she was a high school dropout. Today, Melanie is an accomplished financial executive and business leader. She is the CFO of Brane Inc. and the author of Detox: Managing Insecurity in the Workplace. Melanie is also a powerful advocate for the power of positive healthy work environments.

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’m happy to. I’ve now been in the corporate world for nearly twenty -five years, leading me to my current role as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Brane Inc. However, my trajectory to the C-suite didn’t follow the standard route.

My formative years were filled with drama. Not long after I was born, my family lost all our assets to bankruptcy, and we were forced to leave our home. Already unstable, my parents’ marriage was unable to recover from this shock. They divorced.

The crises continued throughout my childhood. By my fifteenth birthday, I had left my family home and escaped into drugs. I spent many nights sleeping on the streets. A young person out on their own doesn’t often make the best decisions and I was no different. I dropped out of high school before completing grade ten.

However, my natural intelligence and resilience was eventually shaken awake. I was physically harmed by an unstable person in my social group and was fearful of what else might happen given the dangerous situations that drugs tend to encourage. At eighteen, I committed to creating change and building a new life.

This change started with a few years of working in hospitality until I landed my first corporate job as a receptionist at an engineering firm. Although I wasn’t aware of the ultimate destination at that time, this was the start of my path to becoming a CFO.

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?

So many interesting stories from my career! It’s hard to pick just one. I’ll share the one that planted the seed that has grown into my advocacy for positive, supportive corporate cultures.

I was working for a start-up. The company had raised a lot of money, so there was significant pressure to succeed. As a result, the business’ top leaders had no patience for what they perceived as under-performance. They gave employees very little time to achieve success in their roles. People were being let go weekly and the workforce became highly insecure.

I was a finance leader in this company. Despite the pressure, I was managing reasonably well, and successfully shielding my team from the stress of the environment. Then, tragedy struck in my personal life. My life partner unexpectedly died before the age of forty. After this loss, the toxicity in the workplace made it extremely difficult for me to manage my anguish and mental health. It felt impossible to heal while surrounded by negativity every day. I felt my ability to support and protect my team diminish.

Unfortunately, the corporate culture became so detrimental to my mental health that I could not stay. I prioritized myself and resigned. I was empowered to do this because I’d had earlier positive workplace experiences, so I knew that better environments existed. I’d also already faced challenging experiences in my life, so I knew that I could recover if I gave myself the space to do so.

Through that difficult time, I learned how hard it is to manage the challenges of daily life when we are also burdened by toxicity at work. I was not able to perform at my best, nor was I able to heal. This has driven my work to promote the power of a healthy workplace.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The company that I work for today, Brane Inc., stands out because the leaders understand the importance of mental health and work/life balance. We understand that for employees to have the mental agility and resilience to handle the demands of a growing organization, they must be rested and given space to recharge and manage the needs of their personal lives.

This priority was exemplified when one of our team members realized that they were near burn-out and shared it with their leader. They were immediately given leave to take as much time away to recharge as they needed. Their peers stepped in and took over their responsibilities so that they could take time off without worrying about what might fall through the cracks. The fact that this employee felt safe raising their hand and saying that they needed help is a testament to the healthy corporate culture that has been created at our company.

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 completely agree that none of us can do it alone. I’ve had the support of many people through my journey, but one person at the very beginning really shifted the direction of my life.

As I mentioned earlier, I landed my first corporate job as receptionist. Not long after joining that company, I was offered my first promotion (from receptionist to administrative assistant). However, I was deeply insecure, since at that point I hadn’t progressed my education, and I genuinely felt that I “wasn’t good enough” for the promotion. I felt safe in my current role and was nervous about risking that feeling of safety.

Fortunately, I had a boss who saw what I was capable of and pushed me to stretch my abilities. If it hadn’t been for her, I might never have taken that critical step. Unfortunately, many people aren’t as lucky as I was and don’t have a mentor to help them overcome their fears.

I was so fortunate to have someone who saw what I could do. I took the promotion and succeeded. I was later promoted two more times at that company. Had I not accepted that first promotion, I may not be a CFO today.

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 define resilience as the ability to face challenges and make the most of the situations that those challenges create. The common definition is that resilience is the ability to “overcome” challenges, but the truth is that not all difficulties can be “overcome”. Sometimes we just must accept them, and resilience is the ability to do that without letting the difficulty limit our lives.

Often, we can even find a way for a challenge to expand our life. For example, I have now taken the turmoil that I faced as a child and the tragic loss of my partner to empower me to advocate for healthy work environments. I will never “overcome” losing my partner, but I can take something good from it and make a difference.

I believe that resilient people have a positive mindset and a desire to learn. This positive outlook drives us to find something good in every experience, rather than allowing us to get bogged down in the unfairness or “why me?” of our situations.

The desire to learn pushes us to find growth in every circumstance, regardless of how difficult it is. There is always something to learn, and the ability to do so can give any situation a silver lining.

Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?

When we are courageous, we are fearful but move forward anyway.

When we are resilient, we’ve experienced a challenging, and sometimes life-altering, situation, but continue to move forward despite the difficulties that have been created.

Both are about facing something hard, but not letting it limit our growth and negatively impact our lives.

They differ in that courage is about facing the unknown. We don’t know what is going to happen in the future, but if we are courageous, we accept this unknown and try anyway.

Resilience occurs when we have experienced something difficult, so we are well aware of the hardships of life. We are dealing with challenges that the experience has created, but don’t let them keep us down. We maintain a positive mindset and the belief that things can get better if we keep trying.

Being resilient takes courage. We are still facing the unknown. Courage doesn’t always mean we are resilient. However, in my mind, resilient people are also courageous people.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

When I think of resiliency, I think of my mother. When she was 26, she lost her own mother to ALS. At that time, she had two young children (my sister and I), her marriage to my father was falling apart and our family was going bankrupt. Yet, she picked herself up, took care of my sister and I, and went to school so that she could earn an income as a single parent.

My mother later remarried and had two more children, but unfortunately that marriage ended in divorce too. There was significant drama in our household, which is what pushed me out of the home. But, yet again she persevered. Despite then having a 5-year-old and a newborn, in addition to my sister and I, she continued to do her best and push through. She continued to grow her career despite the complexities of her personal life.

My mother also didn’t give up on love. She eventually met her current husband, who she’s now been with for over 25 years. She didn’t let her negative experiences keep her down. Today, they live a lovely life in retirement and have the joys of 6 children (2 from his prior marriage) to watch as they grow and experience the world.

My mother could have given up and allowed what some would perceive as unfairness bring her down, but she never did. She just kept moving forward, hoping that her life would improve, and that’s exactly what happened.

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 don’t recall someone ever telling me that I couldn’t do something. The only voice that has held me back and fed me stories that I couldn’t succeed has been my own. Or that is the only negative voice that has registered anyway.

That discouraging voice in my head was the loudest after my partner died. It told me that I should give up on my career, that all workplaces were toxic, and that I’d be better off to lead a simple life with a non-corporate job. This is the power of the psyche when it tries to protect us. I was weakened and at that point likely couldn’t handle any more drama, so I was instinctively protecting myself by telling myself to avoid an environment that had hurt me.

But I’m not meant to sit back and live in safety. I listened to that voice for a while, but eventually when I was healed enough, I re-entered the corporate world. I won’t pretend that every moment since has been easy, but I have learned, I have grown, and I have contributed. I am better and happier because I didn’t listen to that negative voice for long.

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?

My greatest setback was the sudden death of my partner. As I previously described, I was in a toxic work environment at the time, and that made the situation so much worse. The shock of his death, combined with the negativity of my workplace, sent me back into the addiction spiral that I’d been in during my teenage years. I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions other than through alcohol.

Although leaving the toxicity of my workplace was the right thing to do, I was then rudderless and uncertain of where to go next. I was lonely, weakened and susceptible to those who take advantage. I got into unhealthy relationships and really struggled for a few years. It can take a long time to come to terms with grief, and we don’t always understand just how buried under it we are.

However, I was fortunate to have a support system that stuck with me and constantly reminded me of what I’m capable of. I slowly started to heal and let go of my unhealthy coping mechanisms. I remembered what was important to me, which was helping others and making a difference. I stopped drinking completely. I began to grow my career again. I later turned my attention to writing a book to share my experiences and learnings about the impact of unhealthy workplaces on our ability to reach our full potential.

I’ve now published that book and am actively advocating for the power of positive leadership. Through this work, I also became connected with a company that lives the values I believe in. I’m working with people who understand the importance of mental health and supporting their employees through both the best and worst aspects of life.

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 can’t say that I’ve consciously cultivated resiliency throughout my life, but I have built it through learning that difficulties can be overcome. As I shared earlier, my mother is my model for resiliency. I’ve certainly learned from watching her, but I also learned from the outcomes that I experienced due to the challenges that she faced.

Although it was fear and insecurity that drove me to change my life when I was in dangerous situations as a teenager, I did change it. And I didn’t just change it in a small way. I earned my high school equivalency and my bachelor’s degree. I persevered and created an above average life for myself.

The fact that I completed my education successfully built a foundation of resiliency and the belief that I can overcome anything thrown at me.

Granted, I still waver, as we all do. When I lost my partner, it took a few years for the resiliency to break through my grief, but it eventually did. That deep foundation of belief in myself did win out.

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.

Look for the learning in every difficult situation — Finding a way to learn can bring a positive to even the hardest circumstances. Although experiencing unhealthy work environments was very difficult for me at the time, I looked at my own reactions in those workplaces and it taught me about others. I now appreciate those challenging experiences because they have made me a better leader and a more empathetic person. Understanding that learning comes from the hardest times will make you more resilient.

Look beyond yourself — It is human nature to be focused on ourselves, but when we do that it can make a situation seem worse than it is. We can miss context when we only focus on what’s happening in our world.

When I went through my difficult period of grief, I was living in a neighborhood where there were many services for the homeless and for those suffering with addiction issues. As I walked through those streets, I saw the challenges that others faced and the experiences beyond their control that had brought them there. This allowed me to see that “yes, I was suffering, but I was not facing anything that was insurmountable”. I felt that I owed it to those that had less opportunity than me to keep pushing and recovering. I looked beyond my personal pain and recognized that there were much harder challenges in life. If others could persevere through greater trials, I could push through my own.

Keep a list of all you’ve accomplished — Many of us accomplish something and move right on to the next thing. I am VERY guilty of this. However, remembering our accomplishments can help to build our resiliency, since they remind us of what we are capable of.

Whenever I start to feel self-doubt or insecurity about a challenge, I revisit the list of what I’ve done. I went from dropout to the executive suite. I wrote a book. I’ve helped many people grow their career. I can do hard and powerful things. We all can do hard and powerful things and keeping a list of our accomplishments can help to remind us of that.

Celebrate the accomplishment — Keeping the list can help us to remember what we’ve done. But we also need to let our successes sink in when they do happen.

When I got my bachelor’s degree, I didn’t celebrate it at all. I just moved on to the next goal, which was getting my accounting designation. But then I noticed that I still felt inferior compared to my peers. I wasn’t feeling the belief in myself that I should have upon completing that hard task. So, when I finished my accounting designation, I consciously celebrated it. I went out for a celebratory dinner. I spoke to friends and family about the hard work that went into finishing the program. I forced myself to recognize what I had done. It worked. I felt stronger and more capable of handling challenges since I had let my accomplishment sink in. I now saw what I could do.

Keep your mind and body healthy — Our health has a significant impact on our ability to be resilient. If we are tired, weak or generally unwell, we will not have the energy to maintain the positive mindset needed for resiliency. This became strikingly apparent to me when I was writing my book.

When you perform the same task consistently for hours, you come to notice the differences in your mental performance. If I was tired or hadn’t eaten well, my writing abilities were weakened. My brain was less efficient. I was also far more judgmental about my writing and my ability to finish the book. When I was in top form, completing a book seemed possible. I felt that I could overcome the challenges. So, I began taking meditation breaks whenever I felt my psyche waver. Rather than just trying to push through, I prioritized a healthy mind. Ever since I started doing this, my belief in myself and my resiliency has grown.

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 want to inspire a movement around the power of a healthy corporate culture.

My heart and my values influence my perspective on the impact of our work environments, but as a finance professional, I can also tell leaders that toxic corporate cultures reduce profitability: we are wasting resources when we accept a toxic workplace. The high levels of fear triggered in these unhealthy environments limit employees’ ability to perform at their full potential. Leaders risk underperformance and missed objectives when they don’t actively promote positive, supportive workplaces.

Even companies that appear to be doing well (and I have worked at some of them) could be performing better if harmful workplace behaviors and approaches that create fear were no longer accepted.

I’ve written my book, Detox: Managing Insecurity in the Workplace, as the foundation for the movement, but I hope to also inspire with my stories and passion on this topic.

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’d love to meet and talk to Adam Grant. My thoughts completely align with all of his work, but my learnings have come from very different experience than his. It would be very interesting to discuss my views with him.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can find me at my website www.melaniepump.com or on Linkedin under Melanie Pump.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.