Course-correct — Peak performers do this well. Course-correct. If they are traveling down a path that isn’t producing the results they want, they course-correct. Time and time again, they make minute adjustments that completely shift their trajectory. Sometimes the adjustments are huge, but often they are minute. Being keenly aware of where you are at and where you are headed is a critical skill in being successful. I can only tell you how difficult it is to make a minute adjustment mid-air during a triple revolution that only last less than one second. But I learned. If you can harness this power, then becoming resilient will be a skill that you have conquered.
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 Val Jones.
Val Jones is a professional figure skater who competed against Kristi Yamaguchi and Tonya Harding. While her Olympic dream never materialized, Val has taken all she has learned from that experience and uses it in her current job as a peak performance coach. She says it is her goal in life to influence and impact as many people as she can to get up and go again.
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?
My story has three parts to it that while may seem that they are separate, they are very connected. I started figure skating at five years old. By the next year, I was training six hours a day, six days a week. I was so committed to my Olympic dream that I moved away from home at eleven years old to train with the best coaches in the nation.
My Mom and I would travel from our studio apartment in the Bay Area back to our family home in Sacramento every weekend. One weekend when I was 13, my Dad wasn’t feeling well, and I’ll cut straight to the tragedy, had a massive heart attack and died at the young age of 50. I almost quit skating at this point but continued on.
My skating career was in full-swing. I was advancing in the rankings and my Olympic dream was in sight. Just five years later while training a jump called the triple lutz, I blew out my knee and it ended my skating career. Gone, just like that. Just like my Dad.
Fast forward a couple of decades, nobody told me when I was five that ice was hard and that all those double and triple jumps would have consequences. I’ve had eight surgeries in nine years, all but one has been of an orthopedic nature. On the one surgery that wasn’t orthopedic (sinus surgery), I contracted a deadly complication called MRSA. I happened to actually contract two strains. The medication to “cure” MRSA is very strong and the complications of the medications are too. I went into kidney failure on day twenty-seven of my protocol. My infectious disease doctor said that I have a 50/50 percent chance of making it. Challenge accepted and I’m still here.
Here’s what I know to be true, and I’m not a “Debbie Downer.” If you have a heartbeat, chances are at some point in your life you will experience pain, heartbreak and disappointment. Trust me when I tell you, I have experienced those things. The ability to get back up when life has knocked you down is perhaps the greatest gift. And it is my hope and goal to encourage people to get back up and go again.
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?
Meet Robert, age 54, married to his college sweetheart, father to three children, CEO of a multi-million dollar organization. He shared with me that his marriage was rocky, he was disconnected from his children, he was overweight and overworked. Getting on a plane, Robert had a heart attack and technically died. They were able to revive him, and he spent the next nine months rehabbing from a quadruple bypass. Robert had all of his priorities mixed up and he compromised some of his priorities for others. After we worked together, Robert is now 65 pounds lighter, shows up to every event of his children, is now a runner, and best of all his company has reported record sales the last three years.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I truly believe that businesses don’t do business with businesses. People choose to do business with people. I can’t do the work for my clients. I will either walk beside them or just behind them in case I have to catch them when they fall. It is personal to me. I am happy to report that my clients end up being my friends and some of them have even become like family to 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?
Wow, so many people. My parents, first and foremost. I had the best skating coaches in the country, perhaps in the world. I’ve had business and speaking mentors, too many to list. The National Speakers Association has taught me so much as well.
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?
My definition of resilience is to get back up after falling, wipe the dirt (or ice in my case) off your bottom, and go again. Resilience to me is accepting that there is no such thing as failure, just feedback. This critical mental shift is perhaps the greatest tool I have ever learned. Look, it isn’t like I showed up at the rink one morning and my coach said, “Ok Val, today we are learning the double axel.” And I went out there and did it on the first try. Nope. Not how it happened. Now, I’m not sure if Malcolm Gladwell’s theory about mastering something taking ten thousand hours or not. What I can tell you, is that I probably fell ten thousand times before I ever landed on my feet. But each and every time I fell, it was feedback. Did I not jump high enough? Did I not rotate quick enough? Was I off-axis? Each and every time it was feedback. Until one miraculous day, I collected all the feedback and landed on my feet. Angels sang. And here’s the other thing, I couldn’t have chosen to stay on the ground. Or ice, in my case. I literally and figuratively had to get up. Resilient people know that the key is in the getting up, learning from what happened, and going again.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage is most definitely related to resilience. You have to be courageous to get up and go again. You have to be courageous just to put yourself out there and try something. You have to be courageous to fail…in front of everyone. And in front of yourself.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Scott Hamilton. Yes, of course he is my favorite skater of all time. But when you learn his story, he is the most resilient human I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Scott was adopted. He had a mysterious childhood illness that stunted his growth. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1997. And was told he would never be able to have children. Scott and his wife Tracie were blessed to have a baby boy in 2008.
In 2004, Scott was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor and was treated successfully for it. On June 23, 2010, Hamilton had brain surgery to prevent the recurrence of the benign tumor discovered in 2004. Called craniopharyngioma, the tumor could have caused blindness if left untreated. The surgery was successful.
In November 2010, Hamilton was in the hospital again. During the removal of the tumor, an artery in the brain was “nicked”. The bleeding stopped, but an aneurysm formed days later. Hamilton came through the surgery well.
In 2016, Hamilton announced that he had received his third brain tumor diagnosis.] In late March 2017, he stated that the tumor had shrunk without chemo.*
So, Scott is the epitome of get up and go again. How one person has survived so much is beyond me. And yet, he is the most positive person and has a delightful, sunny disposition.
My favorite saying is his. It is, “The only true and real disability in life, is a bad attitude.” – Scott Hamilton
*Info taken from Wikipedia
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?
After contracting two strains of MRSA (in my sinuses) my infectious disease doctor said that in his twenty-five years of being a doctor, he has never treated anyone with multiple strains of MRSA. And the chances of me pulling through, especially with my kidneys failing, was highly unlikely. That just gave me even more ammunition to fight hard and prove him wrong. He told me later that he had prepped his staff that he didn’t think I’d make it and they needed to prepare for that. I’m so happy to prove him wrong.
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?
While you would think that the loss of my father would be the setback I’d focus on, I’m not going to. Because the reality is, we will all lose our parents at some point in life. Mine just came much sooner than others. Therefore, losing my Olympic dream was my greatest setback. I was all in. I didn’t go to high school. I didn’t date. I didn’t party. I didn’t have a boyfriend. I trained. That is what I did. I was all in and sacrificed everything for my dream. Only for me, it to turn into a nightmare.
But within that, I had the opportunity to redefine who I was, and who I was to become. I could draw upon my lessons learned on the ice and use it to make this transition. I also knew I could use it to make me bitter. Or better. I thankfully, chose the latter. And I learned through that experience, that life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you. And if you would have told the eighteen year old me sitting in the orthopedic surgeon’s office that this is what I get to do for a living, I would have called you a liar. I believe the truest expression of healing is when you can look back at the trauma and be thankful for it. And smile.
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?
Being an athlete at such a young age definitely prepared me to be resilient. Sometimes I won, sometimes I didn’t. And the resiliency came in the fact that sometimes I skated a perfect program (for me) and still didn’t win. And that was hard. But then I grew to understand that there are only two things that you can control in your life – your attitude and work ethic. That’s it. You don’t get to control the outcome. And it was those moments that allowed me to grow the most and become the most resilient. I walked away from every competition asking myself two questions: 1). What did I do well that I can consistently repeat? 2). What do I have to improve upon to be better at the next competition? I still apply these theories to everything I do today.
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.
The beauty of becoming older is (hopefully) you gain some wisdom. I hope I have gained some in my life. And the five following things are the elements that have been proven time and time again to promote and support being resilient. They are:
- Commitment – You must be fully committed to your goal. If you are tempted to walk away from a goal because you failed at first, maybe re-visit your commitment to it. If it were that important to you, you’d stick with it. You can’t put in an “F” effort and get an “A” result. Not in anything in life. So, check yourself on how committed you truly are to your goal.
- Compromise – The bigger your goal, the more you are going to have to compromise. I wish it worked different, but it doesn’t. I compromised everything for my goal of being an Olympic skater and to me, it was worth it. Be ok with that. But never, ever compromise your ethics. That is a slippery slope you do not want to go down.
- Connect – Success leaves clues. Connect with people who have already achieve (or surpassed) your goal. Follow them. Mimic their behaviors, attitudes, and work ethic. There is no reason in the world to re-create the wheel. Find those people and ask them to mentor you.
- Control – Not over anything or anyone, but over yourself. Your emotions and your attitude. It is entirely possible to control the chaos within while the chaos around you is swirling. Think Michael Jordan at a last second buzzer shot. Think Tom Brady in the SuperBowl against the Falcons at half-time the score being 28-3. He was losing that game. Nerves of steel. Control. Ask yourself if you can have better control over your emotions?
- Course-correct – Peak performers do this well. Course-correct. If they are traveling down a path that isn’t producing the results they want, they course-correct. Time and time again, they make minute adjustments that completely shift their trajectory. Sometimes the adjustments are huge, but often they are minute. Being keenly aware of where you are at and where you are headed is a critical skill in being successful. I can only tell you how difficult it is to make a minute adjustment mid-air during a triple revolution that only last less than one second. But I learned. If you can harness this power, then becoming resilient will be a skill that you have conquered.
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 love Christmas. I love all the things about Christmas. But what I love most is the random acts of kindness I witness. Going through Starbuck’s drive-thru only to be told that the person in front of me paid for my coffee. I’ve seen entire grocery bills being paid for someone else. I have seen uniforms donated to an inner-city soccer league so the children could have matching uniforms. On and on I’ve seen wonderful gifts of kindness. But why only during the holidays? Why can’t we extend that movement all year round? So, if you are behind me getting an iced-coffee at Starbuck’s in July, you might just get a surprise little blessing! I would encourage everyone to practice these acts of random kindness and touch others.
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 🙂
Oprah. Her story is just amazing. She has been through so much and through it, achieved so much. I would love to know if she ever had any limiting beliefs and how she countered it. Did she ever have self-doubt as she was getting started? I just think she is the neatest person who has seen and done so much, and it would be such an honor to hear and learn from her.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!