Make it count. We let our fears and our limitations stand in the way of our passions and our dreams. Any time I feel myself wanting to say, “I can’t”, I remind myself of any number of people overcame far greater odds than myself. Among my favorites- Beethoven, who spent twenty-five years composing music while deaf. Today, 200 years later, his work is still widely admired and performed globally. Each of us gets one shot at life, so why not go for it?
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 Anna Wood.
Anna Wood is a writer and creator with interests spanning environmental activism, feminism, and technology. When she isn’t working or volunteering, Anna can be found outside adventuring, or inside with a good book. She currently calls California, USA home.
Her new book, I’ve Had One Too: A Story of Abortion and Healing, is available on Amazon.
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 grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, so I had the luxury of a childhood free of cellphones- my siblings and I spent a lot of time playing in the woods and riding our bikes around suburbia. I’ve always been a bibliophile and recently made my own dreams come true by publishing a book.
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?
So many people had a hand in shaping me, but I’d probably have to say my dad was fundamental to my success. He faced challenges both growing up and as an adult, but was still successful by every definition of the word- athletically, in his career, in his family life. His belief in himself to overcome odds was a great roadmap for how to live my own life. When I faltered along the way, I could count on him to see my dreams as a reality- he kept that vision alive for me when I couldn’t do it for myself.
How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I would define resilience as the ability to bounce back from unforeseen challenges, or in some cases to overcome all odds, to achieve one’s ends. I think resilience and perseverance have so much in common, which is to say I think the most important characteristic of a resilient person is their ability to keep going, to keep believing in themselves and their mission, no matter what.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Nelson Mandela. Mandela spent 27 years in prison and yet somehow never stopped believing in the dream of dismantling apartheid and living in a democratic South Africa. I remember reading his autobiography, and being in awe of his ability to be passionate and grounded at the same time. His passion led his way, his groundedness (in himself) kept him going when it must have felt like all hope was lost. I have so much admiration for him.
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?
Yes! It’s a silly story but I’ll share it anyways. I am the youngest in my family and was so, so upset that I wasn’t allowed to drive when my older siblings were. I knew I was capable but was so frustrated that it was somehow legal for them and illegal for me even though we never remembered a time in our lives without each other. To me it felt as though we were the same age. I talked about it ALL THE TIME. Finally, to appease me, my dad took me to a deserted parking lot one evening to let me drive around in circles. So yeah, I drove at 15 and felt pretty special at the time.
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’ve gone through a couple periods in my life where it felt like the floor fell out from underneath me, but one stretch of time in particular stands out. At age 34 I was in a crumbling relationship and fell pregnant. I really wanted to have a family and to keep the child, but my partner didn’t. With the added stress of a pregnancy, our relationship really became toxic and I realized this was no life for a child, or for myself. I terminated the pregnancy. Within a few months I found out that my partner had been cheating on me throughout the relationship. It felt as though my life had whittled itself down to a shame-pain-shame sandwich.
The worst part was in the months after the abortion I felt totally trapped in a relationship that I didn’t want to be in. But it was like my imagination muscle had completely atrophied and I couldn’t see any way out of the mess that I was living in.
Slowly, and with help, I started to pick out the small pieces of my life that were going well, and was able to think, if there were more good things, what would that look like? Getting to a place where I could think creatively was key for me to move forward. It was then the pieces started to fall into place- I finally listened to my gut and stood up for myself, made decisions and didn’t back down, and ultimately chose the life I wanted. I wound up writing a memoir chronicling that time in my life and what it took to heal. It is kind of the ultimate story of resilience- the hardest time in my life led to me fulfilling a lifelong goal- to be a published author. Of course I didn’t know that would happen when I was in the middle of my hard time…
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I rode horses for a while growing up, and the story at the stable was that you had to fall seven times before you became a “real rider”. Riding is a dangerous sport, and this wasn’t said to encourage us to take risks. It merely put into perspective the obvious: you will fall, and in order to succeed, it is imperative that you get up, get back on, and ride again. It was something that became so easy to apply to other parts of my life be it academics, other sports, jobs, and society as a whole.
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 care with your words. What we say, and how we say it, really matters. The power of language and imagination is what has given humans the power to create all that we have today. Remember that the words you use when you speak about yourself and your life will shape you, and will shape your life.
Use your personal power of imagination to see the world you want to live in and hold that in your mind as a north star. When you talk about that vision, be clear and direct about what you want. Speak to yourself as you would speak to a friend. It is so much easier to keep going when you say “I am committed to achieving this goal,” then when you say “This feels impossible.”
In my life the written word is really strong. I write down my goals, write about what it will feel like when I achieve them, and when I face a setback I just look at it as though I haven’t achieved my goal… yet.
- Don’t believe everything you think. We believe our thoughts as though they are capital T truth. But they aren’t, and more than anything else it is our thoughts that get in our way of our happiness. Byron Katie has an excellent series of questions you can use to look at your thoughts from a fresh angle, and see how they may be holding you back. Journaling also helps me see what I think (funny as that sounds).
This is similar to my first point, that we need to take care with our words. But in order to do that, first we need to really see what words we’re using, and what’s behind them.
- Choose what you let in. I was at a Christmas party once when my friend’s dad told me his whole life story including the time he took his wife and two young children out to look at a lot in a “fancy neighborhood” and said, “kids, one day we are going to own a home here.” No one believed him. Not his wife, not his kids. It was too expensive, too far out of their reach. He didn’t take their words personally, and chose not to let their pessimism encroach on his vision. He kept believing his dream, and now he owns that home (plus two more).
We get to choose what we want our vision to be, and we have to protect that vision, and look at influences in our lives and question, is this thought/friend/book/news feed good for me? We forget how much choice we have about what we consume. Be a gatekeeper to your own mind.
- Make it count. We let our fears and our limitations stand in the way of our passions and our dreams. Any time I feel myself wanting to say, “I can’t”, I remind myself of any number of people overcame far greater odds than myself. Among my favorites- Beethoven, who spent twenty-five years composing music while deaf. Today, 200 years later, his work is still widely admired and performed globally. Each of us gets one shot at life, so why not go for it?
- Take a rest day. In this culture we are so focused on outcomes and productivity that we often miss real life. Turn off your phone and go for a hike. Stop to listen to a stream, lay back, and watch the clouds go past. (I will point out here that rest- and even boredom- will ease burnout and seed creativity. But that’s not why you should rest. Rest for the sake of resting.)
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. 🙂
The re-wilding of the world. I think it would do all the species of this planet, including ourselves, a great deal of good if we allowed large swaths of nature go back to nature, and if we all spent more time in unaltered places. Humans so quickly forget that we are animals. We evolved outside. When we are in nature we are less anxious, more tuned in with ourselves. Who wouldn’t benefit from being more tuned in?
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?
Jane Goodall. Everything about that woman is an inspiration to me. Her ability to hold science and faith in her heart at the same time, her dedication to her passion, that she Just. Keeps. Going. I’d love to have her give me a chimpanzee greeting, and to hear all her tales of Africa.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m not on the socials! It wasn’t something I found enriching for myself, personally. You can hear about any new work from me at the-numinous.com.