Don’t compare. It’s easy, and natural, to consider the experiences of your friends and people you follow on social media. Remember, what you see is not the complete picture. It may be real in that moment or completely staged and made to look authentic. Just as people stage their homes to attract the highest price, people are doing the same with what they share. You are seeing only a fraction of their reality and each person’s reality is different. If it seems like everyone else is happy, fit, rich and on vacation, stop looking at your phone and pick up a book.
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 Layla Martin.
Layla Martin is the theorist who coined the term and developed the theory of Astrofeminism. She is a nominated attendee of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP26) and The New York Times Climate Hub. Her book, tentatively titled, Why Astrofeminism should be a thing” is expected to be published in 2023.
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?
Iam an academic, activist and space theorist.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career?
Before I went back to school I worked in the creative department overseeing the artwork for 32 countries. I was in my 20’s and shared a pitcher of margaritas with my best friend to celebrate her birthday. Once back at work, I approved a one-sheet (movie poster) for India without catching a typo. The poster was released with the mistake and it was completely my fault.
Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Don’t share a pitcher of margaritas at lunch on a work day.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
I don’t work for a company but I feel that being at the intersection of space, feminism and sustainability is incredibly inspiring. Having the platform to share my research on space policy, priorities and culture is fulfilling after spending so much time alone. Harvard is hard. Really hard. Making the decision to attend and do well, meant, for me, giving up most ‘free’ time to reading, writing and research. It’s nice to lighten things up a bit.
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?
Two: Eminem and Mary J. Blige. I’ve been through some really tough times. In order to not let the difficulties shatter my strength, I developed some helpful coping mechanisms. Here’s one: On the way to what will likely be a challenging meeting (deposition, court date, public speech, an event with people I don’t want to see) I listen to Eminem really loud. His confidence is inspiring and enabled me to walk in with my head held high and in fighting mode. If things didn’t go well, I’d play Mary J. Blige’s “My Life” really loud on the way back. There is something so cathartic about her music. I never feel alone when I listen to Mary.
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?
Resilient people don’t dwell. They are personally accountable. Realistic. They don’t take what happened personally. They are not fragile.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage is necessary to face whatever is about to go down. Resilience is the ability to move on without resentment.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I don’t think of one person, per se. I think of the 82.4 million people worldwide who were forcibly displaced and due to persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations.
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?
When I decided that I was going to attend Harvard University.
I was a single mom with no money in the bank and had failed pre-algebra 4 times. Six years after my decision, I graduated. While at Harvard, I set the curve in applying game theoretical models to conflict. If you’re interested in what that course looks like, here’s a link. (This is not the syllabus from the course I took.)
In international relations, games are not Candyland, a model is not a Hadid and an actor is not Brad Pitt. When I started out, I did not know this. It took patience with myself, dedication to my studies, being honest about what I did not understand and a refusal to procrastinate to graduate.
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 had major failures, struggles and setbacks in my life but I don’t let those events define me. Each one of us has a story to tell. The key is not to let the story drag you down today. When one dwells on the personal tragedies of the past, precious time is wasted.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life?
Through a lot of reading, research and taking ownership of the parts I did, and did not, play in the events that unfolded.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
Haven’t we all?
I moved out at 15 years old. College didn’t seem like something that was in the cards for me, as I had to work low-wage jobs to support myself. After high school and two years of community college, I applied to a really prestigious art school. It was my dream to attend and I didn’t think there was a chance I’d get in. I didn’t know how to apply for student loans. In the late 90’s, information wasn’t available as quickly as it is now. The night before I was supposed to start the art school, I learned that I was not going to be able to attend due to the high cost of tuition. I felt like the life had been sucked out of me and questioned why my life felt like I was constantly being forced to overcome challenge after challenge. Instead of allowing what happened to keep me down, I shifted gears. I applied for a job as a cocktail waitress at a popular bar in Hollywood and made enough money to have a really nice place of my own. Plus, I have more fun, crazy, happy stories than most.
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.
- Don’t get stuck in a trauma-loop. Every single person has a story with varying degrees of trauma. Do not get stuck in what happened. Here’s an example, a tragic event occured: a really bad car accident, brutal breakup, you were robbed, you lost a loved one, fired with no notice … something really terrible. What happened is the past. That doesn’t mean it was okay, fair or easy, but it’s not happening today. Constantly allowing the trauma to seep in is not healthy. Conversely, pretending it didn’t happen was not my path to peace. Instead, being brutally honest about my life, my role in the traumatic event(s) and learning to compartmentalize served me well.
- Don’t compare. It’s easy, and natural, to consider the experiences of your friends and people you follow on social media. Remember, what you see is not the complete picture. It may be real in that moment or completely staged and made to look authentic. Just as people stage their homes to attract the highest price, people are doing the same with what they share. You are seeing only a fraction of their reality and each person’s reality is different. If it seems like everyone else is happy, fit, rich and on vacation, stop looking at your phone and pick up a book.
- Limit self-pity. When you’re going through trauma you feel depressed, disappointed, embarrassed, ashamed and hopeless. Don’t let sadness be the boss. One rule that I apply is “one shower worth of crying.” Meaning, I feel sorry for myself for the length of one shower. After that, I move on, move forward and strategize my next move.
- What’s next? Instead of dwelling on how horrible your situation is, think about what you’ll do next. Consider what you love and expand that. For me, it’s meeting new people, traveling, eating good food and empowering others. I think about where I’ll go next and what I’d like to see. I remember the stories of people that are much worse than my own and tap into feelings of gratitude and awareness about coming out of the bad times.
- Limit fragility. How does one maintain being empathetic, emotional and caring and resilient? I’ve learned to limit my fragility while increasing my empathy and understanding. How? Opening up. Broadening my social circle. Giving my time, energy, money and support to others. Being an activist for women, the displaced, the abused and those without access to credit, resources or an education. Nothing will toughen you up faster than hearing the personal perspective of a woman who has been forcibly displaced. I am certain of this as I am an active Arabic and French language learner. My Arabic teacher is from Syria and was displaced due to conflict. My French teacher is from Sudan and is displaced, currently residing in Kenya. I proudly support and am an active learner because of an inspiring organization called NaTakallam (it means ‘we speak’ in Arabic) which pairs refugees with people who want to connect, learn and take action as global citizens. Learn more at: natakallam.com
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.
Ideas are free. Execution does not equal monetization. I have a lot of ideas. Being able to execute them and monetize is key.
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.
Al Gore. I was a nominated attendee at the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP26) and The New York Times Climate Hub. I heard Mr. Gore speak and he is one of the most effortless, elegant, informed individuals I’ve had the pleasure of observing. Here’s the talk he gave, if you’re readers are curious: https://climatehub.nytimes.com/session/678967/the-data-we-need-enabling-climate-solutions
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!