Catching negative thoughts — Not freaking out unnecessarily is the first step because if you freak out, you don’t think clearly. Practicing catching negative thoughts as they are coming in can help in this. Negative emotions are going to come in because we are all humans. However, you want to be able to identify it when you are feeling or even being negative. Ask yourself why you are feeling a particular negative emotion, and if that is justified. Then determine if that helps the situation. More often than not, it doesn’t help the situation.
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 Rax Suen.
Rax is a nomadic entrepreneur and the creator behind NomadsUnveiled, a travel and remote work website. Traveling in different capacities for over a decade, he is passionate about perspectives, and hosts the travel podcast — ChatwithNomads to see the world from the eyes of other globetrotters.. Rax seeks to inspire and help other pursue freedom through his experiences in travel, business and lifestyle design.
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 am a typical, introverted neighborhood boy. Born of Asian origin, life was always about keeping to yourself and just working hard. I did the “keep to yourself” part very well; not too sure about the working hard part. That said, I still had crazy and impractical ideas in my mind. Having entrepreneurial parents — not the fancy types you see today, but the slog your guts out and build a small business version, I have always known that I want to do something on my own as my parents did.
A trip to Mexico during my University days really made me develop an appreciation for cultures and perspectives that are far different from what I was used to. That triggered the explorer in me, and I was always looking for opportunities to travel via practical means like overseas internships and exchanges.
Fast forward to after a few unsuccessful pivots with a startup, I decided that it is time to pursue my passion for traveling to different places in the world. That got me thinking about building a career that taps on remote resources.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from
In the early stages of my career within the tech startup space, there is often that desire to go super fast and skyrocket. This was back in the days when you see “overnight” success stories where the backstory wasn’t as clear. That is definitely a trap I fell into. With the transit in mindset to more traditional models, I experienced the idea that we often overestimate what we can do in 1 year but underestimate what we can do in 10.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We focus a lot on answering questions that people have or information that they are searching for. I have found that it is the easiest way to both help readers and also grow my audience. I merge that with just doing whatever I like to do and that is generally the anchor for decisions. Is it helpful? Are people looking for this information? Do I like to do it or does it challenge me?
Domain and community knowledge is always key. This was another thing learned from other failed projects. Back in the technology space, I used to focus a lot on development capabilities and skills. We had a good team and were able to create and pivot our platforms fast, yet we never really met the needs of users because we simply lacked the domain expertise.
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?
From the advice perspective, I think it is a mixture of people and sometimes from very unlikely sources. One of the reasons I like doing a podcast with guests is the exposure I get from their thoughts and mentality. Coming from different backgrounds, age groups, industries, they can sometimes offer insights that are not immediately applicable to me. However, when I think deeper, it helps me improve some of my operation models and business strategies.
From the enabling perspective, it is my family. My parents live a simple life and they have always been supportive of things I want to do even if it doesn’t really fit their lifestyle beliefs. That moral support relieves a lot of pressure about mindset issues like living up to parents’ expectations, or having a huge burden to take care of the family.
In many ways, these can be the most difficult mental barriers to break through. I am consciously aware these are huge responsibilities for many that make them hesitant in pursuing what they want to do. Therefore, this is one of the things I am most grateful about. My brother and I rely on each other that way too. We know that should either one of our businesses fail, we always have the support of the other to take care of the family while we build back up.
Even if we both fail, my parents always say “We will not be able to give you a fancy life, but know that you can always find shelter and a bowl of porridge back home”. That platform to “fail” is a big enabling factor.
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 think resilience is generally seen as the will to push through something difficult. However, I also believe an underlying principle that facilitates it, is the ability to see challenging scenarios from multiple angles and in an optimistic light.
That said, resilient people are open-minded, they think and see possibilities. They are likely also optimistic and confident in their ability to execute and pull through.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
I don’t think it is the same thing, but more of a trait that helps in building resilience.
I believe courage comes in the ability to try difficult and uncomfortable stuff, as well as the ability to accept failure as a possible outcome and not let that fear stop you. Daring to make the hard decisions is one pillar to tiding through tough times. It is that confidence in yourself that you can always start back up again regardless.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
My parents. Coming in as immigrants and in an age where entrepreneurship was neither easy, sexy nor well supported, they built a business from nothing. No funding, no Internet, no safety net, they took the leap of faith and just worked hard to make it happen in both life and business. They might not be the most business-savvy nor smart entrepreneurs, but they were certainly resilient.
Despite it being a small family business, that built a better life for their kids that enjoyed the privilege of having higher education, and more freedom to do what they want in an era where the conditions for entrepreneurs are so much better.
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?
Isn’t this a constant struggle we deal with daily? With many decisions, I find an inner voice that casts the doubts, the problems, the negatives of doing something. This is the same voice that guards us against doing something uncomfortable, risky, or even dangerous at times. It is not all bad, but that creates friction in decision-making.
Every day I catch my thoughts and decide if that is actual cautionary thoughts or just fear of discomfort. I was never comfortable in front of cameras nor like to share my opinion in front of others. However, I pushed through with podcasting and videos, knowing that it is going to create some great experiences along the way both professionally and personally. I look forward to 10 years later and thinking back about this decision.
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 think I have been lucky enough to not have any critical setback, or it is also a matter of perspective. I have certainly failed and been disappointed multiple times. From failed business projects to getting my room broken into in Peru and smashing my head on deadwood while on a trail hike in Chile, life is filled with setbacks. However, I think a practice of gratitude makes quite a lot of setbacks feel negligible in the big scheme of things. I feel lucky to not have any unfortunate incidents that have scarred me for life yet.
Looking back, all the businesses I was involved in bounced back from the recent pandemic pretty strongly. NomadsUnveiled was started from the pandemic despite travel being almost non-existent. However, we built on the boost in remote work content and also launched a podcast since it became easier to find world traveling guests who are usually harder to schedule. This is now a foray into richer media formats.
Monster Day Tours took one of the biggest hit during the pandemic as a travel agency. As the creative director, we rebranded and launched live virtual tours which now accounts for a significant portion of revenue, bringing us back to pre-pandemic levels. It has strong potential and scalability even post pandemic. We also took the opportunity to secure partnership with bigger brands that would have been harder to achieve if times were normal.
When people were retrenched and jumped into the freelancing space, my design team could have seen it as added competition in times of reduced demand. Instead we view it as a growth in talent pool and being able to engage more manpower at lower costs. We also built tighter relationships with clients as we slogged hard to help them pivot quickly during the pandemic.
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?
In hindsight, part of it might have come from my introverted nature. That, coupled with the traditional Asian belief of not drawing too much attention to yourself meant that I never voice any disagreements publicly when I was young. I shunned conflict, so I always just took the hit and did whatever was needed. I remember convincing myself inwardly that “this is just training yourself up” to tide through whatever.
That said, I think a healthier form of practicing resilience today is really practicing good mindset and thoughts which I still do today, every day. It’s constant work.
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.
- Catching negative thoughts
Not freaking out unnecessarily is the first step because if you freak out, you don’t think clearly. Practicing catching negative thoughts as they are coming in can help in this. Negative emotions are going to come in because we are all humans. However, you want to be able to identify it when you are feeling or even being negative. Ask yourself why you are feeling a particular negative emotion, and if that is justified. Then determine if that helps the situation. More often than not, it doesn’t help the situation.
2. Practice Gratitude
This is probably the most important of the lot. When you practice being grateful for what you have, troubled times won’t feel as hard. Often, we overemphasize the negative things that are happening to us. When you feel like the world is crumbling around you, practicing gratitude helps you to identify what are the good things in life that you still have. And no, you don’t do this only when the world falls on you. Practice this whenever you find yourself complaining or stressed about certain things.
Sometimes, you might even realize how insignificant the problem is. Or maybe it is not an insignificant problem, but knowing that you still have the support system of all the goodness around you makes it easier to handle mentality. Always know that you might not be the luckiest person but you are not the most unlucky one either.
3. Separate the mental from the practical.
Figure out what thoughts are mental and what are the practical considerations. Instead of harping on “my business is going to fail because of the pandemic”, work out the numbers and determine “Ok, I have 6 months of runway with current resources and operations”. Drill down on the practical considerations and use those metrics to find solutions. Don’t let discouraging, negative thoughts overwhelm you. Having real numbers and options to work with helps you focus on the actual problem and not the negativity arising from the problem.
4. See things from different perspectives.
Practice approaching things from different angles. This is a practical way to identify solutions. When we are deep into the situation, we can sometimes be very stuck on one point of view. This is particularly so when under pressure. Remind yourself to always take a step back and look at it from new angles. Find opportunities in the tough times, figure out different approaches to the situation. Sometimes putting yourself in the shoes of other stakeholders will also help to identity non-obvious solutions and opportunities.
This can be practiced by trying to see other peoples’ perspectives in daily life. Why is the cashier looking miserable? Why did the restaurant change their prices, what is the owner thinking and what do the customers think about it? Why does my friend from another culture feel this way on a certain topic? When you put yourself in the thought process of different positions and mindsets, it trains you to think from multiple angles.
5. Remember the tough times and spin things in a positive way
Celebrate the wins and always remember the tough ones. These are great reminders to yourself that if you survived that, you can always tide through other challenges. Use these as morale boosters and reaffirmation for yourself when fighting rough battles. You are a warrior and you can get through whatever just as much as you have gotten through life so far.
That said, you want to always try to identify the positives in a situation regardless of how small they can be. These are just to really put yourself in a lighter mood. I also like to laugh and repeat the problem at hand. All of these seemingly silly, small things add up to help you stay positive and light-hearted when dealing with difficult times.
That incident in Peru is a good illustration of some of these tips. In a brief version, I went to the gym in Cusco, Peru and someone broke into my room and stole all my valuables and devices. I knew that my younger self would have been really pissed, stressed and panicky about it. However, I managed to stay calm to the situation and just try to resolve the situation as soon as possible.
- I caught the instant negative emotions first and not let that overwhelm me
- I laughed at the situation
- Appreciated that the culprit did not take my passport and my credit cards. It could have been worse.
- Thought of how lucky I was to have backup all my travel photos and videos on the cloud, so I didn’t lose those from the stolen hard drive.
- Pleasantly surprised and appreciated how my clients were not just understanding but really supportive in the situation even though I have never met them before.
- Focused on actionable steps that needs to be done rather than harping over the fact of the incident happening. “Ok now I need to book a flight to Lima where I can buy what I need.”, “I need to get documentations for insurance” etc.
- Recognized that although I had to pay a lot more to get new laptop and electronics in South America, setting back up fast was more important in the bigger scheme of things.
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. 🙂
Wouldn’t consider myself a person of great influence but I think that’s the thing too — You don’t have to be one to inspire others around you with your thoughts and actions. My greatest fear is regret and I believe that is the case for many people. I would hope to inspire others to pursue what they truly desire and not worry too much about others’ opinions and judgment. Most of the things we worry about today, that plague us from pursuing what we want, probably won’t matter when you are 80. This is still something I have to work on myself as well.
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 🙂
Gary Vaynerchuk. Big fan of some of the principles he conveys, particularly on his abundance mindset. That comes with a perspective that focuses on collaboration and giving value, rather than competition and gains. There is sufficient for everyone, and working together achieves more than just competing. This approach has created much more opportunities and less fear of action.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Always a pleasure. Thank you for having me!