Accept that what you need is what you need, free from judgment about what that means about you or your upbringing or your surroundings.
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 Tamara Staton.
Tamara Staton is the Greater Pacific Northwest Regional Coordinator and the Education and Resilience Coordinator for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) — a nonprofit, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change. In addition to her CCL endeavors, Tamara is a consultant, facilitator, coach, and educator with over 25 years’ experience. She has worked with individuals and groups around leadership development, communication, team building, and improving overall effectiveness. She’s passionate about integrating more joy into the climate movement, and supporting leaders and climate advocates in building resilience and effective pathways to positive global change. In her downtime, you might find her backpacking, river-running, camping with her family, or strumming her banjo by the creek.
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?
Sure! I come to climate and resilience through an education and wilderness doorway. While I originally intended to study veterinary medicine, I found that I was fascinated with the study of foreign languages and psychology, and ended up pursuing careers in teaching, and wilderness leadership with youth. I loved working with young people, being able to be my goofy self and help guide and do my best to bring laughter and lightness to their lives. I never really saw myself working with adults nor did I expect to land in the field of climate change, but after being nominated by a group of adult volunteers to lead my first community climate project in 2012, it became clear to me that helping others to grow their personal resilience in the face of climate change was exactly what I wanted to be doing. This realization took me through a professional coaching certification with Integral Coaching Canada, and landed me with a volunteer role with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, an organization that has continued to contribute to and help shape the person that I’ve become today.
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?
The most interesting story comes from my days in the high desert of Idaho leading wilderness therapy trips with at-risk youth. This particular story is about one of my favorite students over the course of my two years running such trips. I don’t remember many details about this student, but I clearly remember his big heart, and how driven he was to get what he wanted. I remember the moment when I realized that he had run away, and I knew that I would need to chase him through the sage. I was quite annoyed that I needed to run after him after having already hiked for miles to get to camp, but it was also really clear to me that this was something that he just had to do. He didn’t end up getting very far, and we ultimately caught him with the support of our backup teams at base, but what I took away from that whole experience is that people are not their actions. There is what we do, and there’s who we are, and while there is clearly a relationship between the two, they are not the same. This kid was awesome. I had a deep connection with him and really appreciated his deep commitment and strong drive. I wasn’t psyched that he put me in a position of having to chase him, but I respect that he was thinking about all of his options and how they might bring him closer to what he needed at that moment. Working with those kids out in the desert really helped me realize what it takes to meet our goals, and while it’s not always comfortable and easy, it’s worth the effort to reach those goals.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Citizens’ Climate Lobby is an amazing organization, and I can’t imagine who I would be without it. I know we don’t always get to say that about the organizations that we work for, but after volunteered with this organization for 6 years and feeling as respected and supported as i did for so long, it was clear to me that this was an organization that I wanted to be a part of as an employee if i could make that dream a reality. What I think is one of the most spectacular aspects of CCL is the importance that we place on our volunteers and the belief that we have that they can do great things. We have a two-part mission in CCL: 1) create the political will for climate solutions, and 2) empower individuals to have breakthroughs in their personal and political power. We believe that breakthroughs are possible, and we do whatever we can to support people in stepping just enough outside of their comfort zone to be able to enact those breakthroughs for themselves and the world. I remember when I was first starting the Portland CCL chapter back in 2012. At the time, I had no experience with political engagement, very little understanding of economics, and very little experience with climate advocacy. I felt very overwhelmed, and in some ways, at a complete loss for how to move forward. But I was so impressed that there was a weekly call just for people who were wanting to start a CCL chapter. On this call, we were trained in some basics of chapter development and also had the opportunity to ask individual questions of the trainer and connect with others in similar positions around the country, which really helped to combat that feeling of doing this on my own. This was so validating and helpful, and these Group Leader calls, as well as many others, continue today so that our leaders and committed volunteers can find as much support as they are seeking.
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?
This is a tough one, as there have been a multitude of influential and supportive people who have helped get me to this place. But in regards to this particular topic of building resilience around climate change, I’m feeling especially grateful towards Mark Reynolds, the former, yet long-time Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. From day 1 in Portland when he came north to lead our group start workshop, I felt Mark’s indelible support. He made me laugh, and would laugh right along with me. He listened. He guided. And he told fabulous stories and quoted magnificent people. And he had this way of making me feel important, like I was the best in the world. When you feel that from someone, it’s quite a propelling force — even when you know it’s not you, but him…his way with people. Knowing that he believed in me, that he would call me from time to time to offer praise or support, and that I could call him when I needed guidance — it made a huge difference for me, and kept me going even when I doubted myself and the process. His optimism, his humor, his get-it-done attitude — all interwoven with the massive sense of love that surely continues to surround everything he does.
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?
Resilience helps us stay the course, through the highs and lows, and helps us bounce forward from challenges. It is that characteristic that gives us strength to stick things out when they are challenging, when we are inclined to give up, but we don’t. We may take a break, and in fact, break-taking is a key part of building resilience…but after the break, the recentering, we get back in it and keep going. This ability to keep going generally requires a level of deep commitment to the goal at hand, perseverance and an ability to consider multiple perspectives. The ability to bounce forward — to learn and grow from the whole experience — often requires self-awareness, creativity, and belief in oneself — specifically a belief that you can do, or contribute, to the challenge that surrounds you.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
This is a great point — courage and resilience both support us in taking on challenges, with a general sense of confidence that things will work out. The difference between the two, however, is that resilience enables us to skillfully manage the setbacks. In some ways, I think of courage as more of a state of mind, and resilience as more of an embodied experience. Before COVID, as an example, I was really passionate about white-water kayaking. It took a lot of courage for me to run class II and III rivers in a hard shell kayak with a tight-fitting spray deck, knowing all the dangers that could come from getting stuck upside down in a hydraulic. Courage was one of the traits that allowed me to move past those fears and pursue the sport. Resilience, on the other hand, allowed me to keep going after I got flipped in a rapid, despite being cold, tired, and scared. I didn’t feel courageous after flipping on some of those rapids — but I kept going anyway because I was committed to improving, to becoming a better paddler, and to getting over my fears.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
My mom, Karen Lasnover, is the first person I think of. She struggled for most of my life, and hers as well, with a whole array of illness, both physical and mental. But she kept going, despite many moments of wanting to give up. And not only did she keep going for as long as she could, but she stayed true to who she was deep down, with a huge heart, tons of love to give, and a deep commitment to being the best mom she could be despite the challenges that continued to plague her. After being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, she found things to get her through, milestones to reach for, like my wedding, my sister’s first home purchase, and the birth of my daughter. She showed me, through first hand experience, what it’s like to keep going when it’s hard, to keep getting up, day after day, to keep pushing through, regardless of what life lays in front of you.
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?
My mom used to tell me that I tried to take on too many things at once, like stacking too many activities back to back in one day. She would tell me to slow down, to create space, and like you say, that what I had planned was impossible. From her perspective, it’s easy to imagine how goal-stacking like that would feel impossible. But to me, it felt like a fun challenge, and the feeling of accomplishment rivaled nothing else at the time, knowing that I could tackle what I set out to achieve.
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?
This question takes me back to my desert-days in Idaho, leading wilderness therapy trips. I was in my early 20s at the time, and like most of us, still ripe for learning key lessons in life. I remember getting some really hard feedback from my supervisor, Dennis. I clearly recall the desk where he sat, the shelves on his wall, the dark tones of the wood paneling. But most of all, I remember the sinking feeling in my stomach about how I was coming across to other adults, based on feedback from other staff on base. In a nutshell, I was acting self-centered, making demands instead of requests, coming from a place of expectation as opposed to gratitude. I felt like crawling into a hole, having received feedback around something that, for me, was the very character trait I’d been hoping to avoid for most of my life. I was enveloped by feelings of shame and failure, doubt that I’d be able to change. But Dennis had a huge heart, and not only delivered the message as tenderly as one can imagine, but was on the other side of criticism to help guide me through my process of despair. He believed in me, and similarly helped me gain some “mindsight,” as Dan Siegel calls it — an ability to gain perspective and recognize my feelings without being consumed by them.
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?
It’s interesting, after having reflected on my mom, to consider the role that both of my parents played in my resilience-building process throughout my life. Where my mom was a big hearted listener and mostly met us where we were at, my dad was a driver of goals, achievement and success. Stop at nothing. Don’t take no for an answer. Keep going no matter what. So in that regard, I had resilience modeled from both of my parents, from a very early age. My dad created a successful life for himself from almost nothing, with a childhood family income based on horse-racing — and he was deeply committed to us learning similar skills of perseverance, commitment, and hard work. And then, there’s the reality of life’s challenges, growing up in a divorced family where debilitating illness and emotional turmoil left me needing to deal with my own insecurities and weakness. I saw particular personality characteristics and experienced a way of life that I was determined to avoid as I grew up and started my own family. This deep commitment to personal growth has motivated a number of practices throughout my life that have contributed to developing my personal resilience. Initially, these practices revolved around finding support and gaining perspective that I couldn’t gain on my own — it can be hard to recognize and change our own habits when they are so entwined with who we are. But over time, I was able to develop enough resilience and self-awareness to integrate practices that I can do more on my own, like integrating regular activity and exercise into my life in ways that I enjoy; slowing down and creating more space in my every day, like my mom suggested; noticing the little things that make life magical; and cultivating a mindset of gratitude.
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.
There are SO many ways to build resilience, without one right formula. But as humans, it can be really helpful to have a place to start and a guide to follow. So, if I were to boil it down to five steps, I’d lay them out like this:
- Figure out what you need right now…and make this a regular thing to check in with yourself about.
- Accept that what you need is what you need, free from judgment about what that means about you or your upbringing or your surroundings.
- Seek help with your needs that you struggle to meet yourself — again, without that needing to mean anything about you or the others of whom you’re seeking support.
- Practice meeting your needs. This will naturally look different for everyone, and it may take some trial and error to see what will meet your needs and how.
- Take inventory of the above process regularly. Check in with it and with yourself to see how you might fine tune and improve it. Rely on resources which can help mix things up for the brain and pave your way for success.
I recognize that I’ve provided a pretty high level list, with steps that might feel quite challenging or overwhelming, especially if this is a new concept. Starting small can make a huge difference, though. Here are a few examples to help you envision the above:
Figuring Out What You Need
This might look like asking yourself at any moment, what do I need right now? Am I hungry? Thirsty? Do I need sleep or a break? A change of scenery? Social connection? Validation? To feel heard or understood?
Sometimes it can be hard to hear the answer, once you remember to ask the question (nothing like a bright post-it in your work space, or a reminder in your phone: “What do you need right now?”). When the answer is hard to find, it can help to just try something: go outside; get up and walk around; turn on your favorite music; call a friend; eat a snack; drink some tea or water or beverage of choice. If the solution you try doesn’t put you in a better space, try something else. Or take a few deep breaths while you pause and ask again. Sometimes the answer is right there but our thoughts get in the way of us hearing it.
Accepting What you Need
Sometimes it can be hard to hear the answer because we wish or expect the answer to be different — not necessarily so difficult when it comes to things like thirst, but some of us can get pretty judgy about what we need, making it mean all sorts of things about who we are. If I’m tired right now and need sleep, for example, I may get all up in my head about how I should have gone to bed earlier or feel frustrated that I had to stay up late on behalf of someone else. If I’m hungry and need to eat, it’s natural for some of us to get judgy and self-critical about how often we should or shouldn’t eat, and what. It’s far too easy for some of us to spin out into larger issues and concerns when we identify a need. Doing that distracts us from meeting the need in the moment, however, which is one of the key steps to building resilience. The need is the need, at least for now — if you’d like to change it, acceptance and self-love will not keep you from working on that (it will actually make it easier and more likely), and you can certainly choose to work on that — but not in the moment when what is needed is acceptance. The task for this moment after identifying your need: accept it as a need, and nothing else. Sometimes thinking about the love you feel for someone else can help in this process, to just feel into that feeling and let it be there for yourself.
Asking for Help to Meet Our Needs
We are social and communal beings. Our brains are wired to connect with other people, and therefore, in certain ways, we are dependent upon others to help meet our needs (at least some of them). At the same time, we live in a culture in the U.S. that encourages independence, and assigns some level of weakness or immaturity around relying on others. It’s hard for some of us, then, as beings who need connection and ultimately social acceptance, to lean into something that isn’t as accepted by society: asking for help and relying on others. It’s a balance, though, right? Rely on others too much and we don’t build the skills for independence — which is also a key life skill. Finding the balance can be difficult, but for the moment, see if you can identify those challenges that you are struggling to address on your own — like needing conversation, intimacy or to feel heard, or experiencing tunnel vision, or overwhelm — and ask someone in your life to help you address that need. If feeling alone is the need you’re trying to meet, it may help to make a list of people in your life who support and love you, or perhaps reaching out to an organization or mental health professional for help creating a support network for yourself.
Practicing Meeting Your Own Needs
This one is huge, I know, and can look like all sorts of different things for different people. But it’s also creativity’s playground, in my opinion. I use the word “practice” for a few reasons. First of all, the idea of practice conveys the idea that we don’t have to get it right. Just practice. Make mistakes. Learn. The idea of practice can also convey the idea of regularity — and that’s the key here. Practice meeting your needs with intention, regularly. Once you know what you need, there are all sorts of ways you can meet those needs — especially if you regularly explore other resources to inform, educate and inspire yourself about what’s possible. If you need sleep, for example, but struggle to fall asleep quickly, you could do a guided meditation around sleep, or listen to binaural beats, or make yourself a rice bag for your eyes, or find a beautiful park in which to nap. If you need to feel more self love, or confidence, you could commit to a goal that aligns with your values and stick with it for a while, or create a positive mantra to create or strengthen those neural pathways of positive self concept.
Taking inventory of the process
As humans, we are creatures of habit. There is all sorts of brain research around the benefits of structure and consistency. At the same time, our brains are highly attuned to variation, which keeps things fresh and alive for us. So, well you may have a system in place that’s working for a while, just like a physical workout structure, there’s great benefit to assessing and making changes from time. Reading the latest research about resilience or brain plasticity (how our brain continually learns and grows), or asking friends about the practices they do to deal with stress, or making a jar of ideas from which you pick new ideas every so often… Naturally, there are all sorts of ways to create variety, but again, there’s no need to turn all the soil over. Sometimes, just the area below the plant needs to be mixed with fertilizer, as opposed to the entire garden bed.
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. 🙂
The reason that I feel so committed to supporting people in building personal resilience is to help motivate, inspire, and empower people with the tools, understanding and perspectives they need to work in community to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. Thus, it is my dream to contribute to and inspire a movement where people all around the world everywhere are motivated, inspired and empowered to work on every solution possible to cut heat trapping emissions that are warming our atmosphere. Putting a price on carbon is a solution that has the capacity to drastically cut emissions and help us reach the primary goal of the IPCC report to avoid planetary warning of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Including dividends in carbon pricing legislation protects lower and middle income households from rising energy costs, and creates well paying jobs in a healthy economy. Including budget carbon adjustments motivates action on the world stage. There are a multitude of other solutions that can help us cut carbon and methane emissions as well, but we need people to rally around these in a way that creates the political will to pass the laws to make them a reality. When people are resilient, they are better able to focus on the bigger picture of what is needed — and they have more energy to contribute to this. And that is my dream: cut emissions quickly and effectively so that we can preserve this beautiful collection of species all around us, human and otherwise.
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 🙂
As you might imagine I would love to sit down for brunch with my mom. There’s been no better listener and advocate in my world thus far. But, since tagging her probably won’t help make that a reality, the Dalai Lama and Eckhart Tolle are next on my list. I would love to hear their direct perspectives about how best to secure the well-being of humanity.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
There are a few places where I would love to point our readers. First of all, I’m excited to share our CCL Resilience Hub that I continue to curate and do my best to improve through providing resources and opportunities that can support climate advocates in growing their resilience. The CCL Resilience Hub can be found at cclusa.org/resilience.
To learn more about Citizens’ Climate Lobby or get involved as a volunteer, check out cclusa.org.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!