Give back. Give selflessly without any expectation of getting something in return. Often, when you invest in your community and the people around you, people will be willing to invest in you too. Don’t wait until you need help to start building bonds with those around you.
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 ZJ Hadley.
ZJ is an Executive Coach and HR expert residing in Toronto, Canada with her beloved canine companion, Pepper. She supports leaders throughout the tech community, and provides mentorship to women of color and other underrepresented groups in tech. Having overcome significant obstacles in her early life, ZJ is determined to make the world a little better than she found it.
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?
Yes! I grew up in the foster care system, and aged out when I was 18. Unfortunately, things got even harder from there, and for many years I worked two or three minimum-wage jobs to support myself, while still facing housing and food insecurity, even homelessness at times. Professionally, I started in the music industry at a small distributor, and then very deliberately transitioned into tech. I saw the opportunity to overcome education bias in the desperately fast moving world of startups, and a few strategic moves quickly paid off.
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?
When I was transitioning from one job to another, I had several advisors tell me that I was asking for “too much money” and should “know my worth”. This caused a lot of self doubt — I trusted these people, but the advice just didn’t sit right. Ultimately, I decided to ignore them and managed to double my salary over three years and one job change. Looking back, it’s easy to see that those advisors underestimated my worth, and it taught me to listen to my intuition and be careful who I take advice from in the future.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The idea for my company came out of an interaction with a C-level executive. The company was experiencing a lot of turnover, and conflict between executives. One evening while the office was clearing out, I pulled one executive aside, and gave him a stern talking to. I told him he owed it to everyone to put employees first, even if he risked his own job to do it. Thankfully, he appreciated my direct approach and I’m proud of what we accomplished as a team after that talk. That evening was a turning point, I realised then I have a special talent for direct communication. Now, I channel that energy and help others reach their full potential through Executive Coaching.
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 spent my younger years hoping some rich benefactor would come along and hoist me out of poverty and pave the way to opportunity for me, but I learned I have had to be that person for myself. That said, I’ve had some incredible influences over the years and received some of the best advice and encouragement from Melissa and Johnathan Nightingale, co-authors of the book Unmanageable (a must read for anyone managing people throughout the pandemic).
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 used to think adversity was something you would just one day overcome, and then everything would be fine. But, it doesn’t really work that way. We all carry the effects of trauma with us and it reverberates into the next issue and the next like a ripple effect. Resilience isn’t something fixed or static, it’s the act of putting one foot in front of the other and to just keep moving. It’s hard, and some days are a lot harder than others, especially right now.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
I define courage as being afraid of something and doing it anyway. There is an awareness to courage, and it can be exhilarating. Resilience, on the other hand, sometimes feels like you aren’t doing anything at all, or even like you’re failing. It’s the slow trudge forward with the hope that if you keep trudging, eventually things can get better.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Arlan Hamilton is a Black and LGBTQA+ woman who literally created an investment fund while she herself was dealing with housing insecurity. Not only did she overcome adversity in an inspiring way, she used that new found power to pull other marginalized folks up with her. She dedicated all of her investment funds to underestimated founders who are women, people of color, or members of the LGBTQA+ community. She is clearly a courageous person, but the way she describes sleeping in her car or at the airport while pitching Backstage Capital is the epitome of resilience to me.
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 highschool guidance counselor told me I’d never amount to anything because of my bad attitude. While that is spectacularly poor “guidance” to give someone, I will admit that spite is a powerful motivator. I let anger propel me forward for many difficult years in my twenties. I’ve amounted to far more than that mypoic counselor could have ever imagined, and largely because of my rebellious nature. Sometimes we’re not suited to our environment, but fit beautifully into another one. I believe everyone can accomplish incredible things if they find the circumstances they thrive in.
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?
Every so often I’ll get complacent in my life, and suddenly everything seems to go wrong at once. Most recently, I went through a difficult breakup and right in the middle of it, I parted ways with my job and made the leap to full time entrepreneurship. All this change at once made it feel like the ground dropped out from under me. There were dark days, and times I truly wanted to give up. I reminded myself of all the things I’ve overcome before, and vowed to get through this too, by just putting one foot in front of the other. It didn’t take long for me to turn things around, and see all the new opportunities ahead of me.
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?
Growing up in foster care meant moving around almost constantly and a total lack of stability in my formative years. Each move meant starting over, with a new environment, school, friends, and families. Looking back, I see that each reset was a chance to reinvent myself, and shed away parts of myself that I had outgrown. As adults, we have fewer natural opportunities to do this. It’s up to us to create milestones to reflect on who we are, who we want to be, and what changes we need to make to get there.
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.
- Take risks. I truly believe both failing and succeeding will lead to resilience. Failure often isn’t as bad as we thought it would be, and sometimes even our worst case scenarios can lead to new opportunities. Succeeding, obviously, builds confidence, but so does failure.
- Define your core values. Identifying the most important things to you will help you navigate even the most challenging situations and make tough decisions. My core value is integrity. When I haven’t acted with integrity, I get a sick feeling in my stomach (even for things as minor as undertipping the waitstaff). Lying gives me this feeling, so I avoid it even when a small lie may have saved me a lot of heartache.
- Venture outside of your comfort zone. Try to understand others’ perspectives and experiences. Sometimes things don’t feel so hopeless when we have the context to understand them and learn from the experiences of others.
- Maintain objectivity. When you feel like you will never get over a heartbreak or disappointment, remind yourself that objectively, you eventually will. Your feelings in the moment are valid, but they are not always objective.
- Give back. Give selflessly without any expectation of getting something in return. Often, when you invest in your community and the people around you, people will be willing to invest in you too. Don’t wait until you need help to start building bonds with those around you.
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 have overcome a lot of adversity, and I’ve done that with grit, drive, and a hearty dose of privilege. Privilege doesn’t mean you didn’t face challenges; privilege refers to all the challenges you didn’t have to face. I am a straight, cisgender, white woman. I have never experienced racism or transphobia. And, I don’t have to face the many barriers to accessibility people with disabilities do every day. White folks especially need to acknowledge our privilege and sit in the discomfort that it brings. It is simply not the case that everyone is given equal opportunities in our world, and all of us have a responsibility to change that by not only acknowledging it, but by actively seeking to disrupt oppressive systems.
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 🙂
I’m sure this will seem like an unexpected choice given everything I’ve said so far, but it’s Martha Stewart for me. Having seen poverty and lived in squalor, it has become incredibly important for me to have a serenely beautiful and functional home. Somewhere that I can relax, host guests, and be proud of is my, in Martha’s words, good thing. It’s a cliche, but I’ve always looked to Martha to learn how to create a home, especially in my early adult life. I’ve always wanted to tell her how much her work meant to me, as someone who, I’m sure, fell outside of her usual target audience.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Follow me at @zjhadley on Twitter, and visit zjhadley.com to learn more about my coaching services and see how we can help each other.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!