Focus on your goal and remember it is your goal, no anyone else’s. So, when others discourage you, remind yourself it is not their goal. A great example I have on this was, in high school I wanted to take two years of Latin and two years of French. My first year of Latin was tough and my grades were not great, but they improved as I got extra help. My guidance counselor told me I should not take Latin II but switch to Spanish or French for the next three years. My mother was so bothered by the fact she discouraged me and was telling me to take an easier path that she had me assigned to a different counselor assigned. By the way, the next year I received an academic award for Latin II and went on to do a third year. Remember it was my goal, not the guidance counselors!
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 Virginia Walton.
Virginia Walton is a Certified Professional Coach helping executive women maximize their productivity and avoid burnout. She spent 24 years in the banking and finance industry starting as a teller at a local community bank and achieving the level of Senior Vice President by the age of 38. She now runs her own Executive Coaching and Speaking firm, the family tree farm and serves on several nonprofit and community organizations.
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 mom was a single mom that got pushed through the public high school without much direction and my father was the biggest dead-beat dad in the county. This meant I had to earn everything I have on my own but my mom instilled an extremely strong work ethic in me. I started my banking career as a teller at a local community bank and was a Senior Vice President of a multi-billion bank by age 38. I would joke that I made a career out of doing the things no one else wanted to do. I never had one of the ‘sexy’ roles, but it served me well.
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 guess it depends on how you define interesting. I was reporting to the head of the Commercial Division of the bank when he called me one day and told me I should consider a role in Risk Management. He proceeded to say someone higher up them him thought I was a good fit. He was an Executive Vice President reporting to the President of the Bank so I was confused, who could he possibly be referring to. It turned out the President wanted me in the role.
I was shocked he even knew who I was given I was in a satellite office and had almost no interaction with him. I had resolved a regulatory matter, which is a big deal in banking. It got his attention and I was promoted.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
When I started my coaching practice, I did market research and found it so interesting that most of the other executive coaches focusing on burnout did not have backgrounds in corporate roles. The backgrounds I saw were in academics or in human resources. While HR is part of corporate America, that is very different than running a function or being in an operational role. I was excited to know I can offer a different perspective than the other firms that are bringing an HR perspective while I bring the “been there; done that” perspective.
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 agree we all need mentors and sponsors. I had several sponsors during my career who advocated for me behind closed doors. Ironically, one person was a woman that was the interim Chief Risk Officer. She had the opening I mentioned before and while she was not named the CRO, she continued to advocate for me.
We had developed a personal rapport and I had shared with her my frustrations that the other two Senior Risk Officers were also Senior Vice Presidents but I was only a Vice President. We were doing the same work, had the same titles, so you would think we would have the same officer status. She, without my asking, advocated to our HR person who then shared this with my boss. She and the HR person recognized the risk of losing good talent if I continued to feel I was being treated inequitably.
Actually, this also reminds me of an experience early in my career at a local bank. I was hired part time as they wanted me to work in a supermarket branch, which was to be built the following year. I had to work an additional part time job to make a living so when they hired full time tellers externally rather than promote me, I was frustrated.
The head trainer went to HR and said they would lose me if a full-time role was not found. The funniest part of this is HR was surprised. They knew I had another job and thought that was preferred, yet never asked me! Again, I did not ask this person to speak on my behalf. She did it because she too was afraid the bank would lose a strong resource.
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 view resilience as the ability to keep going in the face of challenges. Resilient people are determined, they push on, they may fall down, but they get up and are usually stronger each time.
I was at a high school sports event recently and in conversation with some of the parents we talked about the fact we are raising a generation of ‘wussies.’ When we were children, if we messed up, it was our fault, not the teachers, the coaches etc. Now the first response seems to be where to shift blame.
I actually would see this in colleagues when we had to review a prior decision. There were some who just could not admit they or their team made a mistake. Mistakes are okay, we learn from them, but it you cannot take accountability, life will be a lot tougher.
Resilient people, accept the mis-step, learn from it and move forward. We need more of this!
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage is not being afraid to do something different or even dangerous. It takes courage to run into a burning building. The resilient person may not run into the burning building but they won’t let the fire destroy them as a person. A person can have courage but not be able to handle the defeat.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I have a friend that was born on an island in the Caribbean and is one of over 30 children; yes, I said 30! She is the only one that left the island and has gone to college. Not only did she go to college she has a doctorate, is a published author, senior leader at the bank she is employed by and has established an international charity that serves the homeless in amazing ways. They literally take food, showers and haircuts to the homeless.
One of these accomplishments takes resilience, but all of them is amazing. She did not let the obstacles of her youth dictate her future. She is an inspiration. We can all think of books we have read or stories of those overcoming illness, a horrible accident or a birth defect, but I love this example because it shows you do not have to experience an extreme tragedy to overcome, you just have to be committed to bettering yourself and the world around you.
Sadly, not everyone has the ability to get past the everyday challenges of 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?
Of course! I finished my associates degree while I was still in high school. Shortly after I started my senior year, my guidance counselor told my mother she did not think I could handle college and high school at the same time. I walked in my commencement ceremony the night before my senior prom.
When I was in middle management my peers joked, I was the ‘stuck on you Garfield’ on the glass wall to our executive team, meaning I was as close as you could get without being part of that group, well I was on that team 10 years after I had started with the organization.
Most recently, I thought planning our town’s annual festival in three months with only four of us working on it and no budget was going to be impossible, but I knew it was too important to our town to not try! Well, it was an amazing success! Greater than we had hoped especially since the two of us doing the majority of the work had never been involved with this in the past and have several other commitments like work, business and other community organizations we run that we could not ignore.
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 was moved out of my role unexpectedly after a merger several years ago. I was hurting because all of my performance reviews had been good, I was working hard, meeting deadlines, taking calls from my boss at 6pm on a Friday night. I felt sucker punched. My boss was in our New Jersey office after a meeting in New York when he asked me into a conference room and handed me a new job description and told me I would now be reporting to a different Executive Vice President who was based on the west coast and had been in my office the day before, but said nothing.
Once I got over the initial shock, I committed to hold my head high and help the person taking my role succeed. I then spent two years in corporate limbo as bosses retired and the organization continued to restructure to not replace them. This gave me time to reprioritize. I realized my health and well-being were more important, I learned to work smarter since I now had a more manageable pace.
An opportunity was presented to move back into that team and I politely turned it down, not because it was a little less money but because I had told myself I would not work in that environment again and I held my commitment to myself even if it meant walking away from a comfortable paycheck. It made me a stronger person and I learned to value myself more. While each of us is unique and can add an incredible amount of value to our employer, it is a business and we can all be replaced.
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?
I was one of two kids from divorced families in my grammar school class and at six years old I did not understand it. One day my teacher was passing out papers and told us to take them home to our mommies and daddies. Well, I burst into tears because I did not have a mommy and daddy at home. I was sent to the hallway for being disruptive. When my teacher came out to ask why I was crying I said why and she told me” Well get used to it. People are going to be saying that to you for the rest of your life. Now stop crying and go back inside.”
You might think that is harsh, but I’m grateful for it. She was right! This was nothing to cry over. It was life. You have to accept and move forward.
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.
- Breath. When challenges happen, take a pause and breath. It is okay to have the initial shock, tears or whatever emotion you experience, just do not stay there.
- Learn. If something did not go as planned or your boss tore apart your work it does not mean you give up. Take a breath, learn determine what did not work and change accordingly.
- Focus on your goal and remember it is your goal, no anyone else’s. So, when others discourage you, remind yourself it is not their goal. A great example I have on this was, in high school I wanted to take two years of Latin and two years of French. My first year of Latin was tough and my grades were not great, but they improved as I got extra help. My guidance counselor told me I should not take Latin II but switch to Spanish or French for the next three years. My mother was so bothered by the fact she discouraged me and was telling me to take an easier path that she had me assigned to a different counselor assigned. By the way, the next year I received an academic award for Latin II and went on to do a third year. Remember it was my goal, not the guidance counselors!
- Reflect. Once you have moved to the other side of the challenge look back and see what you have learned, how much stronger you are and who or what helped you.
- Carry it forward. Take this new found strength and use it. The next time you doubt yourself or your abilities draw on these past experiences.
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 would like to see us to start teaching more accountability. It feels like this value has been fading during my career. As a kid I knew there were consequences for our actions as did my friends and classmates. It seems like this value is being lost. I see it in my community and sadly saw it in my corporate roles.
There was a lack of consequences which meant things did not get done, time was wasted and more time was spent trying to side step blame than fixing an issue. Or worse extra processes were added because someone did not want to make a leader take accountability for an issue. So wasteful!
The saddest example I saw of this was a few years ago at a high school field hockey game as a parent on the sideline loudly told their child the official was wrong and to ignore it. Now I admit, officials make mistakes, but they are human and there are two of them to 22 players. They are still the authority on the field and if it is a real issue, the coaches will address it.
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 🙂
Patrick Lencioni. His books inspired my journey into leadership development and personal development.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!