Eileen McDargh: “Resilience is NOT about bouncing back”

Resilience is NOT about bouncing back. There is no such thing as going “back” for humans. Whatever has happened in our life is “done.” You can’t enter the same river twice. The river (and life) have moved on. Resilience is the ability to grow THROUGH challenge and the opportunity to become smarter, wiser, and/or stronger. […]

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Resilience is NOT about bouncing back. There is no such thing as going “back” for humans. Whatever has happened in our life is “done.” You can’t enter the same river twice. The river (and life) have moved on. Resilience is the ability to grow THROUGH challenge and the opportunity to become smarter, wiser, and/or stronger. At the end of the day, resilience is energy management.

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 Eileen McDargh.

Eileen McDargh is the CEO of The Resiliency Group. She is an internationally recognized keynote speaker, master facilitator, and award-winning author with expertise in resiliency and leadership. The British research firm of Global Gurus International ranks her in the top five of the 30 Communication masters worldwide. Her articles have appeared in countless publications and two of her books have been awarded national recognition, including the Ben Franklin Gold Award. Her seventh book, Burnout to Breakthrough: Building Resilience to Refuel, Recharge, and Reclaim What Matters, releases in August 2020.

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?

Although I was born in Colorado, I grew up in Georgia and Florida. I was always the “runt” of the litter (I have a twin brother) and never really “fit in” with most of my class. However, by the time I got to college, I stepped into leadership roles on campus and graduated as the Outstanding Woman in Leadership at the University of Florida. I taught everything from pre-school to adults at a rural school at the Florida/Georgia border (a role that was by happenstance rather than design). Once I left education, I became the Director of Marketing at Amelia Island Plantation. A divorce prompted my move to Los Angeles and subsequent positions as a communications coordinator for a publicly-traded company. Following that was a stint in a public relations agency where I handled primarily the multinational companies. I HATED IT!

I had just remarried a wonderful man and adopted his 3 children. Nonetheless, and with my husband’s ok, I left with no idea what I was going to do. However, I knew what I did NOT want. In short order, I began my communications consulting firm. That was 40 years ago. Along the way, I’ve addressed groups as large as 15,000, facilitated senior executive retreats, spoken on 5 of the 7 continents, written 7 books, and rejoiced in my amazing family.

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?

There have been so many lessons! I’ve learned how NOT to lead by witnessing horrid “leadership,” and the best leadership by witnessing great leaders. I also learned, early in my consulting practice, that straight-up conversation MUST precede any agreements.

Case in point: a meeting planner from a prestigious hotel called and asked if I could address a national group that was coming to Palm Desert. I said I could AND also what my fee would be. In a subsequent conversation with the hotel’s client, I discovered that the hotel had quoted double my rate. To say I was dumbfounded would be an understatement. Caught flat-footed, I mumbled something to the hotel’s client and then called the meeting planner. “Eileen,” said the planner in a haughty voice, “We always double the fee of outside vendors.” From that day forward, I vowed NO one would say what I was worth except me. Honesty and transparency are huge values for me.

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

I can only tell you what clients have told us. Not sure there’s a “story” per say, but we have been told we are easy to work with and fun in the sandbox. Laughter is the shortest distance between people. My aim is not to have a “client” but to create friends. Some “clients” have been with me, on and off, for over 20 years.

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?

As I mentioned in my first answer, I never quite seemed to fit in. When we moved to south Florida and I started high school, I was tremendously intimidated because it became quite evident that my family came from the “other side” of the tracks. We didn’t have the money or the country club membership that many seemed to have. Then, sophomore year, Sister John Margaret (a Franciscan nun from Joliet, Illinois) was my world history teacher. She told me at the start of the year that I was to stay after school. I was terrified that I had done something wrong. However, it turned out that she was going to start a debate team and wanted me on it. (You never said “no” to a nun!) She not only got me into debate, but also into other speech competitions. She encouraged, guided, and believed in me. In short — although she was there only ONE year, her belief in me sparked a belief in myself. What a joy, decades later, to find her at the Illinois motherhouse and thank her for that belief. Her one year changed my life and led me to the work I do today!

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?

Resilience is NOT about bouncing back. There is no such thing as going “back” for humans. Whatever has happened in our life is “done.” You can’t enter the same river twice. The river (and life) have moved on. Resilience is the ability to grow THROUGH challenge and the opportunity to become smarter, wiser, and/or stronger. At the end of the day, resilience is energy management.

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

Mom was one of three women in medical school in the 1930s. She was one of the 1076 Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) who flew in WWII. In each of these roles, Mom had to keep a strong spirit and resolve because these were not roles women played. In fact, the WASP were disbanded shortly before the war was over and women were NOT allowed back into the cockpits of military planes for 30 years! Mom never lost her love of flying or her love of being of service. She started a women’s auxiliary for a volunteer fire department and was probably the most successful PTA president at my school, using her creativity to craft a never-before-held carnival to raise money for the school.

Her motto was, “I’ll find a way.” When she received a divorce notice after 20 plus years of marriage (and NO alimony), Mom was determined to find a way and went back to work. She managed to finally buy a duplex, continue to volunteer, and then went through cancer. Independent, strong willed, with a ready laugh, Mom is and was my greatest role model.

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?

There is a prayer we said as kids that had one line I have always remembered: “Forgive me for the things I have done and for the things I failed to do.” The last part of that line has always stuck me as the most important. When I left my paying job (in a new marriage with a new family and no house for us to live in and little money in the bank), people thought I was nuts. Although people didn’t verbalize their disapproval, I saw the glances and the raised eyebrows. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Ignorance can be a bonus. I started small. We watched every penny. I accepted small assignments. I learned how to use a computer. And I taught continuing education classes at the local college. Teaching was one thing I did know and I could use the college to also test-market content and branding.

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 can’t think of any one setback. There were always losses — whether a piece of work, a precious friend, etc. — but somehow, after the grieving, we got up and went on. I think the hardest time was after caring for my mother for the last six years of her life — that loss was the greatest setback. WHY? Because I had put my business on auto-pilot and I was a lousy pilot. Starting again was difficult and different. Yet, each phase of life offers us new vistas and windows.

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

This is a hard one. As I think about it, growing up in South Florida, we experienced a series of hurricanes. Thanks to an amazing mother, we were always prepared “in the event of.” In short, she had us plan ahead “in case,” but then we lived in THE NOW. Mom could make playing cards by candlelight, cooking on a Bunson burner stove, or playing word games into an adventure. We were never scared, despite the howling winds and the trees that went down. At the time I would not have called this a sign of resiliency, but in retrospect, I think Mom was teaching us.

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. Listen to the voices in your head. Everytime you say “I have to,” stop and say “I choose to.” When I find myself complaining, worrying, moving in circles, I know I need to stop and ask myself, “What are you CHOOSING right now?” There is always a choice. I often forget that I have control.
  2. Search for the “What else can I do?” My friend Jesse moved to Berkely and tried to buy a house. Housing in California is out of sight. She made her very best offer but another couple had not only outbid her, but offered even MORE than the asking price. Undeterred, Jesse kept thinking, “What else could I do.” She realized she had gold coins in her bank deposit box that could be offered. She realized she knew the chief of police in the town where the young family who were selling the house would be moving and she could make an introduction. Lastly, she told the young couple that since the house she hoped to buy had been the one where their two children were born, she’d allow them to come stay there for one weekend a year while she moved out — keeping memories fresh. She got the house!
  3. Practice intelligent optimism. This is the ability to reframe an event to see the upside versus the downside. For example: the current mandate to “shelter in place” can be framed not as a “prison,” but as an opportunity to learn what the family can do together — games, puzzles, meals. It’s an opportunity to do everything from cleaning the garage to discovering (or re-discovering) an art. I’m having virtual happy hours with friends whom I haven’t seen in years. In short, there is a definite upside to this downside.
  4. Do at least one thing you’ve never done each month. It stretches your mind. It allows you to see that there is always more you can learn. It can revitalize your energy and imagination. AND, it will keep you young.
  5. Exercise. Because resilience is energy management, it is imperative that we boost our physical energy. I’ve realized that running in the morning — before the rest of the world is up — gives me a sense of calm, well-being, and strength. My brain works better. Whatever form of exercise you select, try it for at least 30 minutes. But make it aerobic, of any intensity. Your stress levels will be reduced and you’ll face the world in a much better frame of mind.

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. 🙂

Resilience is energy management. Energy comes from the connections we make in what we think, feel, and do. Poor or bad connections drain our energy. Here is what I would want to start: A movement to create conversations that matter and connections that count with ALL people so that we design a world that works for all.

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 🙂

Well, I suspect the person has to be living. Michelle Obama would be my choice. Her story fascinates me: real, vulnerable, focused, and fun.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/eileenmcdargh

Twitter: https://twitter.com/macdarling

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Professional-Speaker-Eileen-McDargh-CSP-CPAE/405748766188727

Newsletter Sign-Up: https://www.eileenmcdargh.com/subscribe

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

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