Be aware of what is really important. A Chinese proverb says, “If there is no solution to the problem, then don’t waste time worrying about it. If there is a solution to the problem, then don’t waste time worrying about it.” My advice is to stop informing yourself about what you are worried about. You are likely overexposing yourself to information in the media, searching for similar cases on the internet, making it a mono theme when you talk to your family or colleagues. It is time to stop because this information will increase your anxiety level and make it difficult to handle.
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 Miruna Necula.
Miruna Necula was born in Romania, but by force of fate, she moved to Spain with her family at the age of ten, where she has settled her life. She has a degree in Humanities from the University of Almeria, with a Master in International Business Management and Languages. As part of the latter, she has decided to undertake a project on rural depopulation while working as a Community Manager for PhotoAiD, a Polish company dedicated to biometric photography.
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?
This is the kind of question that you, no matter how well you know yourself, never know how to begin to answer. I was born in Romania a quarter of a century ago, but my parents decided to move to Spain when I was just ten years old. I had no say in that decision. Romanian society had deteriorated to such an extent that it was tough to give two daughters a bright future, even though my parents had jobs considered valued by society. To provide us with better horizons, my parents sacrificed everything they had. Suitcase in hand in August 2006, with a small dog, and two daughters, they set out on a bus trip to what was then the “land of opportunity” in Europe.
After many ups and downs, many bumps in the road, several moves, we ended up settling in Almeria, the city that is now my home. I graduated from the University of Almeria in 2019 in Humanities, with Honors in Social Anthropology. While I was doing my studies, I did two Erasmus programs that have taken me to the land where there are more bunkers per square meter (Albania) and the land where democracy was born (Greece). To continue traveling, I decided to find my niche in the working world, and it was then that I managed to work as a teacher for a couple of years.
But when everything seemed to be going smoothly, the pandemic put a stop to any future plans I might have had. I had to stay at home for three months, and every day I wondered if it would be my last. As Anne Frank said: “I have the feeling of being a caged bird, whose wings have been violently torn off, and in absolute darkness, crashing against the bars of its narrow cage when it wants to fly.”
Then, little by little, with halos of light of limited freedom, the wings grew again. I returned to travel and to enjoy the smallest things that I had previously found dull. I went back to University, and with it, I realized that, although I had started a career in Humanities, Marketing was my thing. With a lot of passion and effort, I got the current job of Community Manager at PhotoAiD. And that’s my story!
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 am going to tell you the most challenging thing I have ever experienced in my professional life. Between September 2019 until June 2020, I did the crazy thing of working twelve hours a day, five days a week. I have always tried to be an independent person, and it is that what I earned from one job was not enough for me, even though it was a qualified job.
But I learned that you should never, ever put money before emotional well-being. The fact that I was working so many hours exhausted me not only physically but mentally as well. Spending so much time in front of a screen, trying to lead a double life, and with the constant thought of being caught, was simply unbearable. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I just wanted to be able to work for a living. However, I ended up living to work, neglecting those around me, and blaming myself for why I would put money before my health.
Of course, granted, it wasn’t my fault that wages were so low. I was simply trying to figure out how to survive in a devastating job market where conditions didn’t matter. If you didn’t want to take the job because the conditions were subhuman, then someone else would come along and take your place. Is it really the companies’ fault? Or is it up to us to change it?
The lesson? That I would never do it again. That now, I want to stop and take a deep breath and, above all, enjoy what is important — taking care of myself and being with my loved ones. Life is not eternal, and you decide how to live it, whether spending twelve hours in front of a screen or enjoying a sunset on the beach while watching your niece chase the waves.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
It’s been about eight months since I started working for PhotoAiD. I remember my first interview, in which as soon as I met the interviewer, I felt so confident that when I hung up, I said to myself: “I have to work there.”
PhotoAiD was also born out of resilience. They had to recover from a hard time and focus on the future. In the beginning, it was a physical photo booth company, which, after the pandemic, was branded as an “unsafe” place. That’s when its co-founders came up with the idea of adapting biometric photography with artificial intelligence and making it work on a smartphone. And from there, the success has been very incremental.
Every day there is a small occasion and another achievement to celebrate. I remember, in particular, the moment I had a story published on Business Insider. That, for me, on a personal level, was incredible. But on a professional level, even more so. I never expected to see my name in such a well-known digital newspaper. To which the person who recruited me said, “Wow, now I can tell that I know someone published on Insider.” It’s like those moments when your friend is an extra in a movie, and you think, “Wow! when he’s famous, I can say I know him”. Yeah, that line really empowered me.
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?
Yes, that person is my mother, Mirela. She is my rock. She is a woman who has had to face many situations in the modern world. She emigrated at a very early age, changed her life completely, went from working in a bank to agriculture, and started her own business — challenging society’s stereotypes and always, always comes ahead with a lot of patience and a smile on her lips. Imagine the stories we have after 25 years!
I tend to be a rather impulsive person, and I have made many professional decisions that perhaps if I had thought twice, I would not have made. So she always listens to me carefully and asks me the key questions to see all points of view.
And somehow, she either sees the future, or she’s brilliant. I once decided to open my own business with my sister, and my mother warned us that it was not the time or place for the idea we had. We didn’t want to listen to her, and we indeed had to close after less than a year. The losses were not very big, but there was a lot of frustration behind it. Both my sister and I listened to her as if she were the oracle from that moment on.
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?
The dictionary meaning of resilience is the human capacity to assume with flexibility limit situations and overcome them. I would also add the nuance of emerging stronger from these limited situations. Going back to Anne Frank’s quote, once the wings have been clipped, they must grow back more robust and more empowered. Resilient people don’t just overcome the obstacles they face. They use those obstacles to grow and develop their full potential. Those with a resilient outlook can look at life in a different and more optimistic way by recognizing there is no such thing as a hard life, just hard times.
The first characteristic is that resilient people are not born with this capacity. They acquire it after fighting against adverse situations or tasting failure several times and not giving up. When they have found themselves on the edge of the abyss, they have given their best and developed the necessary skills to face the different challenges of life.
They are flexible people, in control of their emotions, and do not try to oppose or reject the situation they are facing. One of the main sources of tension and stress is the desire to control every aspect of our lives. Therefore, when something gets out of hand, we feel guilty and insecure. However, resilient people know that it is impossible to control every situation. They have learned to deal with uncertainty and feel comfortable even though they are not in control.
But the fact that resilient people are flexible does not imply that they give up their goals. On the contrary, if anything distinguishes them, it is their perseverance and their ability to fight. The difference lies in the fact that they do not fight against windmills but rather take advantage of the current and flow with it. These people have an intrinsic motivation that helps them stand firm and fight for what they set out to achieve.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage is the willpower it takes to take action, despite fear, uncertainty, and insecurity, to do what is necessary to achieve what you want and need. But being resilient has nothing to do with the ability to resist or endure difficult situations in life without end. The concept expressly applies to the ability to “overcome” difficult, adverse conditions that cause us pain and suffering, using our own resources, and that is the strengths we possess. The term “overcome” means to get out of those situations, to move forward, changing that life of suffering for a life of satisfaction. That implies doing what has to be done differently, which is complicated because it means renunciation, losing what you already had or knew, acquiring another way of doing, and even being — and thus achieving that change and different condition. And that takes time. Resilience is a process in time, while courage can have a more immediate meaning.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
The most resilient person I have ever known was my grandfather, Petru. And talking about him is still something I struggle with. My grandfather fought in both World Wars. During the first one, he was an ordinary soldier who was terrified of being in the trenches and lived for months that his life could end on the battlefield.
But things got complicated in World War II when in a matter of years, the Nazi army conquered Romania. Contrary to his principles, he had to bow his head and obey orders that marked him for the rest of his life. It was adapt or die. Just this thought does not make him the Hollywood hero, but he was a hero. In a matter of months, he was forced to switch sides again when the Russians entered the country, which, because they were considered “the good guys,” didn’t necessarily mean they did good things. During this period, he lost his then-wife to cancer.
But instead of putting his head down and letting himself be defeated by all the events in his life, he decided to build resilience. He saw the glass as half full. And although guilt may have been with him until the last moment of his life, this was not how he wanted to spend it after all the misfortunes he had to see. He started going out, took refuge in farming, built his house from the first brick, and spent time with his family. Later, in a chance meeting with friends, he met my grandmother, and together they have had three children and a vine and wine business, which, to this day, is the best I have ever tasted in my life.
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?
Yes, there was a moment like that. Well, nobody told me it was impossible, although we all knew it required a lot of willpower and being under a lot of pressure. When I was in the last year of high school, we had to prepare for the exam to enter the university. In Spain, it became especially complicated because we had very little time and a lot of syllabi ahead of us. In addition to an enormous pressure to get a very high grade to enter the careers we wanted. I really don’t know how I managed it. The truth is that I was not the best, and many professors did not have much hope for me. But I had absolute perseverance. After devouring syllabi until the wee hours of the morning, graduation day arrived. At that moment, I realized that it was worth all the effort when my heart was about to explode because I was called to pick up my Diploma of Honor. And I entered my first career choice in Madrid, with a 10.4 out of 14 points.
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?
We all had a challenging moment when we didn’t know what direction our lives would take. My situation was not significantly different from others. On Thursday afternoon two years ago, I remember how I went out with my camera to capture sunsets. I had just bought it and wanted to develop my photography skills. Then, the next day, I couldn’t leave my house, and I had the military just outside my front door. The world had stopped. And with the world, my life too.
During those two months, I experienced anguish, sadness, panic, fear, brief moments of happiness, loneliness. If I thought that someday my future would be bright, during that time, I was locked in the thought that there was no hope left. But one day, I woke up in all the daze and realized that the situation would not change — that I had to accept it and live with it. And perhaps, learn from it. That’s how I embarked on the adventure of traveling all over Europe, reconnecting with myself, finding a job that fulfills me and allows me the flexibility to do whatever I want to do. That’s how I built resilience in a tough time.
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 part of the migration process, there have been many complicated situations to adapt to — the language, a new school, new classmates, a new place. The only stable thing around me was my family. And despite not being able to communicate with the rest of the children, I still hung out with them, taking a little bit from there and there. Then we started going to the library, and they would teach me the sounds, to the point of putting words together, and we understood each other much better. After a couple of years, my teacher congratulated me for getting straight A’s in Spanish because I knew the grammar even better than the native speakers. Little by little, I realized how important the power of overcoming was.
Another critical moment that helped me build resilience was a car accident that happened to me about two years ago. The first few days were very confusing. Only painkillers could relieve some of the trauma. After that, I was sure that I never wanted to ride in a car again. Even as a co-driver, I had a hard time. I read a lot about how it affected you psychologically and how some people never got over the trauma. That even riding as a co-driver, you tended to press your foot down with the intention of braking. It was a rough couple of months. At first, I took the car back to drive around the block. The second time I drove to the supermarket. It was a trip to another city the third time. And that’s how I got used to it again, and now I have the previous driving style, and I have to say it’s a bit rough.
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.
- Adapt to situations, and don’t get carried away by emotions. In my case, with the arrival of the pandemic, I was completely blocked. I had a constant frustration with those decisions that limited my freedom so much. I began to think that there was no future beyond. All I did was get up to work remotely and then go back to bed — a vicious circle. But with family support and following the advice of my closest friends and my partner, I started to dress differently for work. To take my dinner from the terrace as the air helped me to clear my mind. When I woke up, I would look at myself in the mirror and tell myself that there was less time to get back to normal. And so it was, but I took out my frustration on the people who didn’t deserve it at first because I didn’t know how to adapt to the situation.
- Control impulsivity. As I said, I tend to be very impulsive. So as part of the resilience process, I have started exercising. Whenever I have a terrible day at work and want to throw it all away, I go for a half-hour run or go out on the terrace and practice some yoga. It helps me clear my thoughts and see things more positively. I channel the frustration of “I did this wrong” through exercise, and my mind opens up to options other than just “throwing the computer out the window” or “thinking it’s hopeless.”
- Become independent. Learning to live with yourself can be difficult, but now is more necessary than ever. Dependence on others exists, but overdependence creates more anxiety and insecurity. I’m going to try to give you a super simple example. If something is too high, don’t call your partner or family to bring it down. Find a chair and pull yourself up! To work on this aspect, you must first change your thoughts: what prevents you from being independent?
- Be aware of what is really important. A Chinese proverb says, “If there is no solution to the problem, then don’t waste time worrying about it. If there is a solution to the problem, then don’t waste time worrying about it.” My advice is to stop informing yourself about what you are worried about. You are likely overexposing yourself to information in the media, searching for similar cases on the internet, making it a mono theme when you talk to your family or colleagues. It is time to stop because this information will increase your anxiety level and make it difficult to handle.
- ALWAYS trust yourself. Think about other past situations of yours where you thought you couldn’t solve the problem, but you finally did. For example, if you face a job loss, don’t get bogged down in all the bills you have to pay. Indeed in the past, you were in the same situation and eventually managed to find it, right? We are not all born working. Only you can create the change.
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. 🙂
Nelson Mandela said that “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” I completely agree with that sentence, and I believe that we must break with the hierarchical nature of education to make it an integral one. Currently, young people are mere spectators who must adhere to specific standards. It is entirely Claudio Naranjo’s metaphor that education is more like carpentry than gardening. The carpenter follows a pre-established plan and does not deviate from it. The gardener, however, plants and does not know the results for some time. This uncertainty gives him freedom towards the being who accompanies and helps him. When educated in liberty, we produce awakened and creative minds, and those are the ones that will help to make this world a better one.
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 🙂
Without a doubt, that would be Malala Yousafzai. I think I have so many things to ask her that it would be brunch instead of lunch. I find her story absolutely breathtaking, how such a young woman can have such solid principles — and above all, after such a traumatic experience, continue to fight for the same cause, but with a much greater echo. Bravo to you, Malala! The world is a much better place with people like you in it.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can have some insights into how having two jobs affected me here. And they can also see what I am doing now at PhotoAiD through its blog. Of course, if anyone wants to get in touch with me, they can do so through LinkedIn and Twitter.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!