Celebrate the Victories. It isn’t just the big moments that we have the most growth. Growth can happen in the small moments as well. So don’t just celebrate the big things. Take every opportunity to show yourself kindness and love with the small accomplishments too. Did you receive an accolade at work? Celebrate it. Did you get all your laundry put away? Celebrate it. If you look for them, there are moments to celebrate every day. Giving yourself praise for the effort you put in on a daily basis will help you not only see your life more positively, but it will help you see yourself in a more positive light too.

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 Vickie Stolle.

Vickie Stolle is the founder of the company Dragonfly Paradigm — A Cleft Resilience Community. She is also a woman born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. Vickie knows from firsthand experience the emotional challenges one goes through when living with a facial difference, and as a result, has built a community wherein she shares strategies and tools for building and maintaining emotional resilience for those in the cleft community.

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 am a writer, pianist, general aviation pilot, relentless list maker, and builder of strategies. I am also a person born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. My cleft wasn’t detected prior to my birth, so my parents, needless to say, were shocked and overwhelmed with not only caring for a newborn baby but also a baby with a cleft that would need extensive medical treatment. I had my first surgery when I was about 3 months old and underwent 12 more surgeries by the time I was 14. Although the medical aspect of living with a cleft is intense, where I struggled more was with the emotional aspect. It wasn’t until I was much older that I fully processed the trauma I experienced as a result of having been born with a cleft and began to heal.

I grew up in a small town in Oregon, and up until I was high school age, I never saw anyone else that looked like me. Although I had wonderfully supportive parents and excellent medical care, the struggle between accepting my cleft and flat out ignoring it was ongoing.

However, my facial difference didn’t stop me from living a wonderful life. My mother was adamant about not letting me hide away from the outside world, so I have been outgoing and interested in all sorts of activities throughout my life. Learning to play piano, performing at recitals, becoming a professional pilot and teaching others how to fly, and participating in virtual presentations seen by hundreds of people are just some of the wonderful experiences I have had over my life.

Currently, I live in Washington State with my husband and daughter. I am a member of Smile Train’s Cleft Community Advisory Council and founded my own company with the mission to help others in the cleft community build their personal skills of resilience.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

One of the most interesting things that has happened so far was being asked to participate in a panel discussion during Smile Train’s 2022 Virtual Cleft Con. For those who are unaware, Smile Train is one of the world’s largest cleft nonprofit organizations that helps to provide cleft care all over the world. Each year they hold a conference for those in the cleft community. From parents and caregivers of cleft affected children to cleft affected adults, there is an opportunity to connect, share and learn from others on their journey.

Although I have had an on-line presence for some time, this was my first experience speaking to large group of cleft affected individuals and their families. Our topic was how “being othered” due to our cleft has affected our lives. I shared the virtual stage with two other cleft affected adults where we talked about ourselves and offered advice and support to those who may be feeling the same way. I shared a very personal story about a specific time that I had been mocked and ridiculed in public. It was a very powerful moment for me. To share my vulnerability on Smile Train’s platform pushed me out of my comfort zone, and the payoff was tremendous. Many of those watching wrote in and commented on how they could relate to what I shared. It made me thankful to not only share my story, but this opportunity helped me confirm that this work is what I am meant to pursue.

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

When it comes to learning about clefts and the journey that children will take, there is no shortage of medical information — the types of surgeries, the types of dental work, etc. However, there is a lack of information about the emotional side of the journey. So that is my focus. My lived experience being born with a cleft allows me to share specific knowledge with parents, in order to help them give their child the type of emotional support I had, and in some instances, wished I would have had.

I have received feedback from many parents of cleft affected children letting me know how they appreciate my personal sharing so they can be more prepared to help their child navigate the emotional aspect of their journey. It is a very moving and rewarding opportunity to touch people’s lives in this way.

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 have two, actually. First, my parents, and specifically, my mother. She was determined from the very moment I was born that I was not going to hide from life. Although my father wanted to keep me in a little protective bubble so that no one would ever hurt me, (and who could really blame him), my mother knew that wasn’t what would set me up for a successful life. She helped me learn to be brave, courageous, resilient, and to step out and take my place in the world.

Secondly, my daughter. It wasn’t until I became a parent and was faced with my very intense reaction to my daughter going through her own bullying situation, that I realized I had some work to do on myself. That led me to continuing my self-acceptance journey of learning and healing from my own trauma, but on a deeper level. It has been nothing short of amazing.

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?

As you mentioned at the top of this article, resilience is generally defined as our ability to handle adversity and work through challenging times. I like to take the definition a bit further. My definition of resilience is our ability to implement our individual skills to manage life’s challenging times. Many people believe that resilience is something you are born with. That either you have it, or you don’t. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Resilience is a skill, like any other, and it is honed through adversity. So that means that each of us has our own unique skills because our life experiences are unique. What works for me may not work for you, and that is why we need to find our own personal skills to help us manage all that life will bring us.

When I think of resilient people, a few characteristics come to mind. First, they value themselves. Life is hard enough without putting ourselves down all the time. We spend our entire life with ourselves, so resilient individuals know how important it is to treat themselves with kindness and compassion. Second, humility. No one knows everything, and resilient people understand when to ask for help, and that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. And third, resilient people are honest with themselves. One of the surest ways to make life harder on yourself is having unrealistic expectations. Resilient individuals can assess where they are, assess what skills need strengthening, and understand that the first try of anything rarely ever works perfectly.

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

For me, courage is related to resilience in that in order to discover our personal skills of resilience, we have to be courageous enough to try. However, I believe courage is something we use off and on, not necessarily something we use on a daily basis. Yes, we need to be courageous and brave to get through certain moments in our lives. But, the ongoing and lasting skills that we can learn to help ourselves through difficult times are where the longevity of resilience comes in.

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

There are so many! I believe that every one of us has a story about how we have learned ways to overcome difficult times. Because we all experience difficult times, right? But if I have to pick, I choose the younger generation of cleft affected individuals. Since I launched my company and have become more involved in the on-line space of the cleft community, I am continually amazed and inspired by the young people with facial differences. Sharing their vulnerability by showing the world that it is ok to be different and doing the important work of representing the facial difference community in the mainstream paves the way for those who will follow. They are truly awe inspiring. They are doing the work that I wished I could have witnessed when I was growing up. It is truly changing lives.

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 remember a time as a teenager when I applied to participate in the 1993 Miss Teen of Oregon pageant. For someone born with a facial difference, it surprised a lot of people that I would event attempt to participate. Putting myself up for being judged was something many people thought would be a recipe for disaster for my self-esteem. However, it was not that at all. My application was accepted, I participated, and it was one of the best things to ever happen to me. I was able to meet new people, showcase my piano playing ability during the talent portion, put my dance-team skills to practice with the choreographed group routines, and even won two awards -The 15-Year-Old Division and The Spirit of Miss Teen award.

Looking back, I think that I was willing to challenge myself because my family had created a safe space in which I was able to try new things, and even if those things didn’t work out like I hoped, they would be there to love me no matter what. Self-confidence is something that is forged over time, and having a safe space to return to when things don’t’ quite work out, empowers you to keep trying. Those who care the most about you, don’t care what you accomplish and what you don’t. They just appreciate you, as you are, and that makes all the difference in how you view yourself as you go through life.

Did you have a time in your life when you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

In high school, there was a time when I became a bully. It may sound strange to your audience that someone who was bullied for many years of her life actually became a bully, but that is unfortunately what happened. It was during a time when I had gained a little bit of power, and I used that in a negative manner towards someone. My behavior eventually caught up with me and I was taken to task by the school administration with a punishment of publicly apologizing to the person I had been bullying. The person never forgave me, and I don’t blame them at all. I had become a version of myself that I never thought I would. It made me realize that my actions really did have an impact on other people, and it was up to me if I wanted those actions to be helpful or harmful. It was an extremely humbling situation, and I knew from that moment that I could not let my own history of hurt be an excuse to inflict hurt on others.

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 I mentioned at the top of this article, I was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. From the surgeries I’ve had, to my ongoing dental issues that I am still dealing with to this day, there have been many times throughout my life I have had to work through physical challenges. Many people think that to repair a cleft is a one-time surgery, but in fact, it is often multiple surgeries over our lifetime addressing the issues we encounter. I had a total of 13 surgeries, but I know of many people who have had more, even upwards of 20 or so. Along with the physical side of living with a cleft, there are emotional aspects as well, and often they are what we endure the longest. There is one instance that has always stuck in my mind that not only reaffirmed who I was as a person, but also let me know that there are good people out there who will stand up for you when you need them.

In middle school there was a bully who was relentless in their name calling and general harassment of me. One day at lunch this person was really going after me and calling me some really terrible names. People around me were egging me on to retaliate and saying that I should respond to this person’s words with physical violence. However, I knew deep down I am not the kind of person who would resort to hurting someone else physically, no matter what was being said to me. It just isn’t in my nature. So, I decided to just get up and leave the lunchroom to remove myself from the situation. But little did I know, a group of some of the most popular girls in school rallied to my defense and confronted this bully about what they were saying and let them know that it wasn’t ok.

I cannot tell you how impactful it was on me for those popular girls to stick up for me in that way. It let me know that there are people who will stand up when they see someone being treated unfairly. And I’ll tell you, that person never bothered me again. It was such a powerful moment in my young life.

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.

  1. Advocate. You are your best friend, and it’s important to act like it. Often, we put ourselves at the bottom of the list when we think about all that we need to take care of in our daily lives. However, putting yourself last doesn’t do anyone any good. Part of building your ability to work through life’s challenging moments is asking for what you need in an honest and clear way. And sometimes that is downright uncomfortable! But we have to get comfortable being uncomfortable if we want to grow and hone our resilience building skills.
  2. Connect. Connection is a key component to building our personal skills of resilience. As human beings, we are hard wired for connection. Finding others who share our interests and experiences leads to a sense of acceptance and belonging. It is a vital part to building self-esteem and reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation. When I was young, I found a sense of belonging and acceptance with my high school dance team. Joining a team that helped me celebrate my love of dance and music was pivotal in my young life. Being accepted and celebrated for my ability, as with the piano, that had nothing at all to do with how I looked gave me a boost of confidence that helped me in other areas of my life.
  3. Live Life. Knowing that we need connection is only part of the equation. To connect, we have to embrace life and the opportunities to meet other people. When I was born, my dad wanted to keep me in a secure little bubble of happiness and safety for my entire life. As a father of a child with a facial difference, the thought of me facing the cruelty of the world had him wanting to protect me at all costs. It sounds nice, but my mother knew that wasn’t the best choice.
    When I was born, she would whisper over and over in my ear that I was going to be a strong and capable person. Hiding me away would do nothing except exclude me from life itself. Do not allow your fear to stop you from experiencing all the fulfilling possibilities of life. Seek out the activities you enjoy. Find others who share your interests. It takes time and effort, but it is worth it. If you have difficulty coming up with things you like to do, think back to when you were a kid. What did you like to do then? There is nothing wrong with indulging your inner child in order to bring more joy into your life. Life is meant to be lived, so get out there.
  4. Quiet Your Inner Bully. Stop giving your inner critic the spotlight. This is one of those “easier said than done” things, because I know how relentless that critical inner voice can be. But I learned a technique that helped me, and maybe it can help your audience too. Name your bully. Naming that critical inner voice something silly, or maybe even a name of a former boss that you really didn’t like, can be a fun way to exert more control over that inner bully. Once you put a name to it, whenever that critical voice starts its negative talk, you’ve got a name that you can use to tell it to be quiet. It’s actually quite fun to do!
  5. Celebrate the Victories. It isn’t just the big moments that we have the most growth. Growth can happen in the small moments as well. So don’t just celebrate the big things. Take every opportunity to show yourself kindness and love with the small accomplishments too. Did you receive an accolade at work? Celebrate it. Did you get all your laundry put away? Celebrate it. If you look for them, there are moments to celebrate every day. Giving yourself praise for the effort you put in on a daily basis will help you not only see your life more positively, but it will help you see yourself in a more positive light too.

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. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement, it would be radical self-acceptance and realizing that the power to do that is within. Society teaches us from a very young age that we should seek approval from outside ourselves, when in fact, the way to do that is from within. If I can help even one person to realize that once they discover their true power of unconditional self-acceptance, nothing anyone says or does can take it away. That would be a self-love revolution I would love to see.

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 🙂

Brene’ Brown. Her work has been instrumental in my personal journey of self-acceptance. I love her relatable, no-nonsense approach, as well as how she holds herself accountable. Her ability to cut through any sugar-coating and get directly to the point about how we can learn more about ourselves and own our story is amazing. Being able to meet and talk with her would be a dream come true.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The best way would be with my newsletter: www.dragonflyparadigm.com/newsletter/. I can also be found on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok. Just search Dragonfly Paradigm and you’ll find me.

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

Thank you for the opportunity to share my work and message with your audience. I truly appreciate it.


  • 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.