Olga Phoenix: “Cultivating Life Purpose”

Cultivating Life Purpose. Finding meaning and purpose in our lives is very powerful for cultivating resilience. The more we feel that our existence is meaningful and purposeful- the more empowered, centered, peaceful, and joyful we become. This is because purpose and meaning give us clarity in our lives, help us carry on when things get […]

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Cultivating Life Purpose. Finding meaning and purpose in our lives is very powerful for cultivating resilience. The more we feel that our existence is meaningful and purposeful- the more empowered, centered, peaceful, and joyful we become. This is because purpose and meaning give us clarity in our lives, help us carry on when things get tough, give us a sense of personal accomplishment, and a strong feeling that we matter. Regardless of where we find our feeling of purpose and meaning- in nature, in work, in our family and friends, in spiritual practice, in a religious community, in expanding our worldview, in travels, in studies, in taking care of people around us- once we find it, we immediately start enjoying its incredible wellbeing benefit.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Olga Phoenix.

Olga Phoenix, MPA, MA is an internationally recognized resilience, wellbeing, and burnout prevention expert, speaker, and best-selling author. She is the creator of the Self-Care and the Resilience Wheels –some of the most searched, downloaded, and utilized wellbeing tools, translated in several languages, and featured widely in media outlets worldwide. Her keynotes, trainings, consulting programs, the online academy, and books empower individuals and organizations to grow and thrive via strategic planning, programming, and personal growth tools that foster resilience and wellbeing. To learn more, please visit www.olgaphoenix.com.

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?

I was born and raised in the communist Soviet Union, a place known as the “Gateway to Siberia”, a snow-covered sleepy port town surrounded by an endless sea of pine trees. I went to a fantastic school, played sports, and loved learning languages. As a teenager, at the encouragement of my English teacher, I got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate and win a highly competitive, merit-based scholarship to study in the United States. Living through the fall of the Soviet Union, the profound poverty and social turmoil that followed, as well as being a foster care kid through it all, made life in the United States an almost magical experience. In the first few weeks in the US, I finally mustered the courage to raise my hand and answer my teacher’s question in my American History class. Although two other boys raised their hands as well, to my amazement, the teacher called on me! And I thought to myself: “Women have a voice in this country, which means I can literary become anything I want!” That was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my young life to that point and I decided to believe that my future is in fact, up to me. Through that experience, I once again saw the power of simple encouragement and what a tremendous difference it can make in one’s life. Right then and there I decided to help others discover their true selves, to be an encourager and a cheerleader, and to bring positive change to the world. Since then, I took every opportunity life presented to me, completed my graduate studies, and successfully launched my company. For the past 15 years, I’ve had an incredible honor and a privilege to help people and agencies all over the world transform and discover purpose, fulfillment, resilience, and wellbeing. I’m deeply grateful to my cheerleaders who taught me to be true to myself and pursue my wildest dreams because anything is possible. And from my experience, I can tell you, they were right!

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 started my career in the domestic violence prevention field. I worked in various roles- advocate, counselor, but mainly, a trainer. The term “self-care” took the interpersonal violence prevention movement by storm in the early 2000s, and I was all in! Not only did I think that teaching victim service providers how to take great care of themselves was an incredibly needed and ethical thing to do, but by that time, I knew I was in great need of self-care myself. I immediately started doing in-depth research on the topic and incorporating self-care and burnout prevention modules in my trainings. I also began including an anonymous group activity called “How does your work affect you?” in all of my presentations. The activity opened the floodgates! My audience talked about complete and utter burnout on all life fronts- including strained personal relationships, declining mental and physical health, deep dissatisfaction with the quality of life- often as a direct result of pressures and stresses of their jobs. I thought: “Certainly, only victim service providers and crisis responders feel this way!”

As my scope of work expanded to different fields- medical, criminal justice, journalism, education, military, the corporate world, I continued asking my audience the same question: “How does your work affect you?” Incredibly, year after year, thousands of people from various fields were telling me the same story victim advocates shared with me in the very beginning! I started wondering if it was in fact true that personal and professional frustration, overwhelm, and exhaustion are inevitable parts of being human in the 21st century? Can we have full, healthy, purposeful, happy lives inside and outside of our work? After doing a tremendous amount of research, education, and work in the field, I learned that in fact, we can! There is a solution, called resilience building, and I set out to share the great news with the world! Since then, I’ve had a great privilege and honor to be able to help hundreds of thousands of people to find their way to joy, happiness, and contentment, and to serve thousands of agencies in creating sustainable cultures of resilience and wellbeing. And what a wonderful ride it has been!

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

We live in an increasingly complex and unpredictable world where stress, overwork, overwhelm, and burnout have become seemingly inevitable parts of being human. I heard this from hundreds of thousands of people in my trainings and certainly experienced it myself. The most wonderful thing is that we don’t have to accept this as a part of our reality because there is a solution! The sole purpose of my company is to radically transform the quality of people’s lives everywhere. To bring powerful, proven, evidence-based solutions, tools, and programming designed to create irreversible breakthroughs and healthier, happier, more fulfilling, passionate, and purposeful lives.

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’ve been incredibly blessed by the support and cheerleading of so many wonderful teachers, mentors, bosses, colleagues, and friends! The power of encouragement is undeniable. When someone else believes in us, expects great things of us, and sees us as champions, we start to believe it ourselves. We start rising to the level of their encouragement, we get brave, and we succeed!

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 like to think of resilience as an ongoing process of using a specific personalized set of resilience-building tools consistently which results in a sustainable state of wellbeing. The concepts of resilience and wellbeing were studied very extensively in the past several decades and were directly linked as vital necessary parts of one another. The state of wellbeing- an experience of good physical and mental health, high life satisfaction, a sense of meaning or purpose, and improved ability to manage stress- was directly connected to the concept of resilience. People who fostered resilience on a regular basis were feeling much less stressed, more happy, healthy, socially connected, and purposeful than those who didn’t. Thus, we discovered that engaging in ongoing resilience-building practices offered us a priceless opportunity to not only be able to handle stress and adversity more effectively-but, with commitment and practice, could actually afford us a sustainable state of wellbeing, happiness, and overall life satisfaction regardless of what was happening in the world or our lives! We also discovered that resilience was not just a biological, inherent ability of a person to withstand hardships in life. This could not be farther from the truth! In fact, with practice and commitment, an ongoing sustainable state of resilience and wellbeing can be achieved by anyone! How exciting and hopeful is this?

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

Oprah Winfrey, an incredibly successful woman and philanthropist, experienced a tremendous amount of hardship and pain growing up, including poverty and abuse. She survived and thrived, against all odds, and has been a source of strength, hope, and healing for millions of people around the world. In her biography, Oprah gives credit for her resilience: “for every one of us that succeeds, it’s because there is somebody there to show you the way out…for me, it was teachers and school.” I loved this quote! I could most definitely relate and agree that having at least one person in your corner, often a teacher, can profoundly change one’s 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?

I don’t believe in the impossible. I’ve seen so many miracles along the way, things that absolutely could not possibly happen but did, that I stopped doubting the possibilities. Here is a little story about this. As I said before, I grew up in the communist Soviet Union and attended a wonderful school where I took several foreign languages and cultures starting from the 1st grade. I loved it! Learning about other countries, customs, traditions, looking at textbook pictures of the Eiffel Tower of Paris, the Big Ben of London, and the Empire State Building of New York was amazing but also bittersweet because as a citizen of a communist country with closed borders I knew I would never be able to visit any of these beautiful places in person. Several decades later I can tell you I visited every single one of those wonderful landmarks and took my own pictures there! Granted, it took the fall of the Communist Empire, moving to the United States, and becoming a globetrotter-all absolutely impossible things in a mind of a little Soviet girl-but it did happen, nevertheless! Believe in miracles, they happen every day!

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 truly believe that adversity, setbacks, and challenges are the greatest contributors to our personal and professional growth. My strength, resilience, perseverance, and wisdom are the direct result of all the incredibly difficult and painful circumstances I’ve had a great fortune to overcome. I can’t say I’m grateful for all of them, but they definitely made me the woman I am today, and I like this woman very much!

One of the most recent devasting adversities that we all had to deal with was the pandemic. The Covid-19 shelter-in-place was very difficult for me and my overall wellbeing. Most of my self-care, resilience, and wellbeing-building activities took place outside of my home- beach, gym, socializing with friends, kayaking, yoga, date nights, travel, visiting family, professional development conferences, and group meditation. And all of it, my entire world, was closed for business overnight without any end in sight. Since I teach resilience and wellbeing for a living, it wasn’t news to me that my ability to take care of my mental and physical health the way I did for many years went out the covid window, and I needed a different approach. What I knew for sure was that there is a solution and its resilience building. Resilience leads to wellbeing and wellbeing is where I wanted to be. So, I went back to the drawing board to brainstorm and create a new, pandemic-friendly self-care, resilience, and wellbeing plan for myself.

Fortunately for me, it worked! It worked so well, that not only did I develop a new resilience-building plan for myself, but I also decided to share it with the world! In April 2020 I created and released a new wellbeing tool called the Resilience Wheel, containing 36 pandemic-friendly strategies designed to overcome stress, banish anxiety, boost wellbeing, and create a more balanced and flourishing life no matter what’s going on in the world! And the world loved the Resilience Wheel! Over the past year, I’ve been creating courses, trainings, and curriculum based on the Resilience Wheel for schools, universities, hospitals, and mental health communities to help facilitate recovery, healing, and wellbeing during these difficult times. The Resilience Wheel, the Resilience Wheel Assessment, and Create Your Own Resilience Wheel tools, as well as the e-guide “Resilience Wheel Toolkit: Your Life-Changing Guide to Overcome Stress, Boost Wellbeing, and Flourish!” are available for a free download on my website www.olgaphoenix.com. I’m also excited to report that a book based on the Resilience Wheel is in progress as well, and I cannot wait to share it with the world!

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

The year I turned 11 was the most difficult year of my childhood. My life changed overnight and took an entirely different course. I lost my mother to domestic violence, received the label “ward of the state”, and entered the foster care system. A few months later the Soviet Union collapsed, bringing unspeakable poverty, the rise of organized crime, and a country-wide social turmoil. These were devastating times. What contributed to me surviving this and building an incredible amount of resilience in the process, was the extraordinary and unwavering support from my teachers. No matter what happened in my life, I knew I had stability and a constant in my school life. I was not alone, people believed in me and my healing process, and eventually I started to believe it myself. Several years later my English teacher convinced me to enter the competition for a scholarship to study in the United States. I won that competition, moved to the United States, and my life has never been the same! To this day, I have a tremendously soft spot in my heart for teachers and strongly believe they save lives every day. They sure did save mine.

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.

Yes, one of the most wonderful qualities of resilience is that it’s just like a muscle that can be strengthened with practice. Another amazing quality is that engaging in ongoing resilience-building practices will help us to not only be able to handle stress and adversity more effectively-but will actually create a sustainable state of wellbeing and high life satisfaction regardless of what’s going on in the world or our lives! Below are 5 steps for greater resilience, wellbeing, and high quality of life:

  1. Practicing Self-care. Self-care is an intentional ongoing lifestyle that allows us to be, feel, and live at our best. Real self-care goes way beyond occasional treat-ourselves, luxury, something extra activities like massages, bubble baths, and vacations. It’s about developing a personalized and sustainable self-care practice for our body, mind, and spirit. A practice, which becomes our essential core life component. There is no pre-existing, cookie-cutter self-care routine that works for all. Every single self-care plan that works sustainably over a long period of time is completely personalized. That is why it’s so important to try many different activities and strategies so through the process of elimination we can determine what works for us, sustainably, in the long run. Having said that, some of the most basic self-care routine components include prioritizing sleep, learning nutritional basics, healthy meal plans, moving our bodies, learning self-soothing techniques, and practicing gratitude. Most people struggle with developing a personalized self-care plan. If you are one of them- I highly recommend you check out the Self-Care Wheel, one of our most loved wellbeing tools. It contains 88 self-care activities and has been successfully used by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide since 2013! (It’s available for a free download at my website www.olgaphoenix.com).
  2. Nurturing relationships. One of the greatest contributors to our resilience and wellbeing is the quality of our relationships with ourselves, with our loved ones, and with our community. In my resilience-building trainings audience often comment that they have no idea how to start developing nurturing relationships with themselves. This reaction is completely natural and understandable-unfortunately, they don’t teach this in schools. That is why I put “relationship with self” as a separate category on the Resilience Wheel, to give people some ideas, a jumping-off point on where to begin. Some of the things we can do to foster relationships with ourselves are noticing our inner dialogue and how we speak to ourselves, challenging our inner critic, practicing self-compassion, seeking counseling or coaching, being our best cheerleaders, and celebrating our mind, body, and spirit every chance we get.
    -We are social animals and have an innate need for human contact and interaction. Strong interpersonal relationships and support groups provide a sense of safety, create belonging, improve self-esteem, and as a result act as a protective barrier against life stresses. We can nurture our relationships by regularly planning fun activities with loved ones, by improving our interpersonal communication skills, by setting and sticking to our boundaries, by joining a support group, and by engaging in volunteering for social causes. Real investment and commitment to nurturing our relationships with loved ones and our community greatly influence our overall resilience, wellbeing, and health.
  3. Setting Personal and Professional Goals. Intentionally pursuing our personal and professional growth, setting and achieving goals, learning or trying something new- boosts our resilience and wellness by producing a sense of personal accomplishment, improving self-confidence, raising self-esteem, and creating a sense of purpose in life. It could be as small as trying a new recipe and as large as going after an advanced degree or a new career- every effort to pursue something new and create meaning in our lives will strengthen resilience. Some of the things we could do to stimulate our personal and professional growth: identifying short and long-term goals, creating a bucket list, getting mentored, attending a webinar, planning a vacation, setting a budget, joining a meetup, going on a date, and volunteering.
  4. Cultivating Life Purpose. Finding meaning and purpose in our lives is very powerful for cultivating resilience. The more we feel that our existence is meaningful and purposeful- the more empowered, centered, peaceful, and joyful we become. This is because purpose and meaning give us clarity in our lives, help us carry on when things get tough, give us a sense of personal accomplishment, and a strong feeling that we matter. Regardless of where we find our feeling of purpose and meaning- in nature, in work, in our family and friends, in spiritual practice, in a religious community, in expanding our worldview, in travels, in studies, in taking care of people around us- once we find it, we immediately start enjoying its incredible wellbeing benefit
  5. Practicing Self-Love. Think about how we interact with our best friends. We support them, we feel compassion when they suffer, we accept them as they are. Self-love is about striving to treat yourself like your best friend. It’s a feeling of self-appreciation, self-kindness, and self-acceptance that grows over time as a result of continuous nurturing actions that support our resilience, wellbeing, and growth. It’s difficult to practice self-love but it’s an integral part of our resilience building and figuring out our self-love practices is incredibly important. Some things we could do to practice self-love: making a list of positive personal qualities and accomplishments, challenging inner critic, reaching out to a friend, pursuing personal healing, asking for help, learning nutrition basics, practicing digital detox, establishing good boundaries, and celebrating every win. Ongoing unwavering commitment to ourselves, to nurturing our resilience and wellbeing, and always putting it first, no matter what- is one of the greatest and the most powerful expressions of self-love.

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 love to see resilience and wellbeing building become an integral part of our human experience, a basic core component of our lives. I’d love to see people making a commitment to themselves and deciding that we all have a basic human right to feeling and living well through dedicating time and energy to nurturing and taking great care of our bodies, minds, and spirits. I’d love to see the cultural and social narrative shift to normalizing and prioritizing our overall wellbeing, self-care, self-kindness, self-compassion, and self-love.

Because this kind of shift will change the world!

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’d love to meet Dr. Rick Hanson (@rickhansonphd), the neuropsychologist, Senior Fellow of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, and New York Times best-selling author. When I read his book “Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom” as it first came out in 2009, I was simply blown away by his research in psychology and neuroscience which proved to me beyond any reasonable doubt that I hold the keys to my own wellbeing and happiness, should I choose to put a little bit of effort into creating, developing, and practicing a sustainable resilience and wellbeing routine. His latest books “Resilient” and “Neurodharma” contain fascinating teachings, tools, and practical life applications of the science of happiness and wellbeing as well, and I’d love to discuss his research with him!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn under @theolgaphoenix. I’m very much looking forward to connecting with you!

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

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