Robert Pardi: “Self-Awareness”

Regardless of the type of loss, whether it be the death of a loved one, menopause, erectile dysfunction, the loss of a job, your home, a divorce, the loss of freedom, or mobility, all loss ends with a damaging blow to one’s identity. Your identity is shaken and part of who you were vanishes during […]

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Regardless of the type of loss, whether it be the death of a loved one, menopause, erectile dysfunction, the loss of a job, your home, a divorce, the loss of freedom, or mobility, all loss ends with a damaging blow to one’s identity. Your identity is shaken and part of who you were vanishes during a loss or life change.


The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.

Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.

How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?

In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Pardi.

Robert is one of those rare individuals who embraces change. Throwing caution to the wind after losing his wife, he left his comfort zone and pursued new dreams — to live in Italy and become a life coach. He now lives in Abruzzo, Italy and is a now certified life coach, adjunct professor, international guest speaker and author of Chasing Life. The extraordinary true story of love, joy, and achievement against all odds.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I learned about uncertainty from a very young age. It is a great skill to have, and I am very thankful for it, but as a child it was not the easiest. I was born in The Bronx to a rather average middle-class Italian American family, supposedly to great fanfare. I was the first son and the first grandson. Yet, I did not ever feel wanted. The problem was that my father was an alcoholic and when he drank, he had two settings, violence or disgustingly affectionate. I learned to prefer his rage. The bear hugs and telling me he loved me honestly felt suffocating. But it was an excellent lesson. A lesson that taught me about resilience, grit, and uncertainty. It allowed me to understand real love versus conditional love. And it provided me a vast tool kit which came in handy when I had to confront some tough life changes.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Honestly, I have so many to choose from and each has value but there is one that resonates with me as a philosophy. It is from Richard Bach’s book ONE:

“We are each given a block of marble when we begin a lifetime and the tools to shape it into sculpture. We can drag it behind us untouched, we can pound it to gravel, we can shape it into glory.”

This resonates with me because it shows how it is our thoughts, efforts, and actions which shape our lives. Think about it, dragging a block of marble behind ourselves represents indecision and inaction. It is exhausting. Pounding it into gravel represents a life of anger and/or feeling like a victim. But shaping it into glory? That represents the life of a craftsman. It means being proactive in our lives. It means being present. It means that while we may not see a radical change each time we chip away at our block, we know are moving towards crafting the most beautiful life we can through patient effort. It is what I call “possibility in action.”

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

First, I would like to ask your readers to understand that success is not only measured by the amount in one’s bank. True success, in my opinion, is the ability to craft your life in alignment with your passions, values, and purpose. I started off chasing money as a means to liberate myself from ties to my father. I learned later it was better to chase life than money. And my life experiences have revealed these three top qualities which are critical to success:

  1. Self-Awareness

Most people have heard the phrase “Know Thyself,” especially if you are a Matrix fan. It is by far one of the most critical qualities to have. How can one know what they want if they do not know who they are? How can one achieve what they want if they do not know how they are showing up in their lives? How can one grow if they do not know what limiting beliefs they are carrying into their daily interactions? It was only when I sat down and looked at who I am, discovered what my north-star values are, and examined how I was getting in my own way that I was able to craft my life. Only then was I able to sculpt that block of marble in the quote I shared. You can’t be a success living someone else’s idea of success.

2. Curiosity

Life is full of opportunity. It is full of possibilities which we only become aware through staying curious. When we are curious, we see the abundance of choice. And it is in that moment, once we are self-aware, that we can see the many paths that lead to success. If we enter with expectation and attachments, or the need to control life, we close ourselves off from curiosity. Which, in turn, creates a dynamic of trying to force life instead of using life. Think of curiosity as a Kaleidoscope. A Kaleidoscope allows us to not only to see possibilities but understand that new beautiful images and perspectives can be created by a slight turn of the dial. Curiosity is what incents us to turn the dial. It opens us to combinations we never thought of. It is about letting go of expectations and attachments.

3. Resilience

Resilience is vital to success because we are all confronted with what we call “set-backs.” We all have those moments of falling. Yet, resilience is highly misunderstood and once we realize what it is, we can harness it the way it was meant to be harnessed. First, I need you to understand you are already resilient. Each of us are. Humans were born resilient or else we would not have survived. The problem is it lies dormant for most of us until our back is against the wall. How often have you said, “I can’t take one more thing,” and yet you did, right? If you did not, you would not be reading this now. But what if you were able to access your resilience on cue. That is possible once you know yourself and what you are fighting for. Once you stop wasting your energy fighting against. And it is then that you will realize resilience is not about bouncing back. Why would you want to go back to the same spot? Resilience is about bouncing beyond. Resilience is about transformation forward. Resilience fuels innovation, determination, and flexibility — the building blocks of success.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?

I have suffered many types of losses in my life such as the loss of my childhood, money, jobs, friends, family, but the loss that shifted my entire world was the death of my amazing wife after an 11-year battle with breast cancer. I was blessed to have met my wife Desiree at a very young age. She was 17 and I was 19. We were fortunate to spend almost 24 years to the day together. She evolved into the most astonishing person I will ever know and her approach to her own illness was so intriguing that her story appeared on the front-page of the New York Times Easter Sunday, 2010.

Soon after getting married Desiree was accepted into an MD/Ph.D. program at Mount Sinai in New York City. Following the completion of her Ph.D. in October 1998, she enthusiastically took a one-year sabbatical to join me in the United Arab Emirates where I had started a new job. We both believed in taking risks, challenging our comfort zones, and savoring experiences — yet we were unprepared for the unknown where we soon found ourselves. Desiree, 31 years old, was diagnosed with Stage 3B Breast Cancer on Thanksgiving 1998.

The emotional rollercoaster set off with an enormous drop leading to a series of corkscrew twists and turns we quickly learned to navigate for the next 11 years. We did everything we could to delay the inevitable, but in 2009, my beautiful wife passed at the same hospital where she completed her MD/Ph.D., setting me up for the biggest challenge of my life — living life forward without her.

What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?

The scariest part after she passed was feeling empty and lost. I felt like a stranger in my life. In fact, the world itself seemed foreign. Who was I without her? When Desiree passed, I lost myself as much as I lost her. I lost my identity. I was no longer the husband, the friend, the lover, the caregiver. The vision, rather expectation, I had for myself, my life, our life — poof, was gone. I should have been the investment banker with the beautiful doctor wife, living the yuppie lifestyle in New York City. When she died so did all of that.

It was not the lack of uncertainty of what do to next, but the perceived lack of joy in life without her. That scared me to my core. In an instant, life seemed to lose its meaning. Looking back, I believed the worst thing that could happen to me was that I would never return to enjoying life again. That I would become a walking Zombie. I had an overwhelming fear that life lost its value forever because I could not share it with her.

How did you react in the short term?

My reaction immediately after she passed was to run back to safety. Financially I was challenged after her battle with cancer and as a child I believed money was the road to safety. Therefore, it seemed logical to me to run back to my investment banking life in Dubai. I just threw myself back into my work. I had lost desire for life, so why not waste it only making money. I embraced the attitude of keeping my head down to plow through life. Honestly, I was distracting myself. I was ignoring changed perspectives, shifted paradigms, and the realization that money is far from a source of safety. It certainly could not save the woman I loved.

After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?

After the dust settled, clarity emerged. I learned to be still. Actually, I didn’t exhibit the normal stages of grief or rely on traditional coping mechanisms. My journey with Desiree was a bit unusual in the fact that she did not want to know anything about her disease. She had asked me to manage it according to the parameters she laid out. I became her surrogate for the disease itself. In that role, to a certain extent, I had to live her disease as if it were my own to manage it to the best of my abilities. And that changed the dynamics of grief for me. What I did do, as I awoke to stillness, was throw myself into introspection. I journaled and asked myself questions about who I was, my values, my beliefs, and what type of life I wanted.

It was when the dust settled that I knew the only way I could honor everything I learned, gained, and absorbed from this remarkable woman was to grow. I had not only witnessed her evolution, but I had also evolved. Yet, I was ignoring my evolution. I was not acting upon what I learned. Inaction is stagnation. Stagnation is decay. Decay is the loss of life. Therefore, action was my coping mechanism. Clearly deciding a direction and crafting a plan of action for the next season of my life.

Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?

My concept of resilience is what ignited my healing. I must say that I truly think it is impossible to ever completely let go of anything. Any loss, any negative event, becomes part of the fabric of our life going forward. We can’t get over, plow through, or move on — but we can move forward. The one thing under our control is our perspective and it is our perspective that allows us to live life forward.

Would I have wanted to spend the rest of my life with my wife? Of course! Did she live a short life? I don’t think so, she lived an accelerated life. She pursued and reached her dreams and goals. We experienced joy. We constantly focused on joy. Should we measure life by time or by the amount of joy we experienced? I would opt for joy. Therefore, I was able to heal and let go of negative aspects of her loss by changing perspective, refocusing on joy, and utilizing my resilience.

As I mentioned earlier, resilience is not about bouncing back, but bouncing beyond. It is about transformation forward. I had to ask myself “what’s next?” I needed to look inside and find out who I was. How I had changed by loving and losing her, and what did all that meant for the next stage of my life?

Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?

It was not as much as letting go, as it was that I used the event as fuel. I was able to look at the loss of Desiree as a calling. I could have thought that life did something horrible to me, but the sad truth is that we are not meant to get through life alive. I love her to this day. I will always love her and I miss her terribly. How better to celebrate that than to actually live in the joy I learned existed in life. That there is joy to be had and experienced in life regardless of adversities. Do you want to know a secret? Joy exists in the ordinary moments and it is through the ordinary moments that we build an extraordinary life.

So, what I did internally was to connect to the love I had for her. To not be afraid of it because it hurt, but welcome it to bathe me in her essence despite her no longer being with me physically. I lived a life of anger with my father. I used anger as motivation to get away from him. Anger is neither truly constructive nor sustainable. I needed to not fear the hurt but accept the hurt as a symbol that I was blessed to care so deeply for someone. I say all the time I am beautifully scarred for having loved and cared for my wife. I knew I could not hide from that or push it down. I needed to walk into the valley of the shadow of death and as the Psalm states, walk through! “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”. Nowhere does it say, come, sit down, light a campfire and stay in the valley. The key is to walk through. And no way was I going to leave the love I felt for her in the dark valley. I was going to carry it forward with me, knowing life blessed me with a great love. It did not rob me of anything.

This allowed me to reimagine my life after she passed. It allowed me to redesign my life and pursue dreams, pursue joy, and pursue purpose. That led me to return to a childhood dream to live in Italy and connected me to a new calling. We need to be open to how we change after such an event. I certainly changed throughout the journey and eventual loss of Desiree. My purpose changed and I came to believe that our experiences only have value if we share them. Therefore, I left investment banking to become a life coach. I am now a certified life coach and live in the same small Italian village on of my ancestors immigrated from in the early 1900s.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?

One particular person is hard to find, because each person in my life in their own way, even passively, helped me rebuild. If I had to choose one, it would be my friend Phyllis Melhado, who is also the co-author of my wife’s memoir Chasing Life. It was her idea to start to put my memories on paper.

At the beginning it was to celebrate the journey Des and I completed. And it was through putting everything on paper that the joy of the journey shown through. That, in turn, reminded me that despite adversity, we always have the choice to live in a state of joy.

So, I am thankful for Phyllis for first helping me document the journey and then helping me shape it into a book. That said, I would have to thank David my touchstone, Michael my brother, Khaled my guardian angel, and Desiree for sharing all of herself with me.

Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?

Reframing is such a powerful tool and one that most people back away from. Many believe it is just fooling ourselves or that we are brainwashing ourselves. Honestly it means being conscious in the programming of our brain. Something that happens with a little conscious input from us when we develop core beliefs as children.

Reframing allows us to see much more broadly. It is a tool that allows us to find benefits. Ok, I know people are going to cringe hearing that. What benefit is there in having a loved one die in your arms? Desiree actually passed away while I was holding her. We need to take a step back. We need to think of benefits in a much wider context. As I mentioned, do I wish she was still here? Of course! But life is life and everything, everything is impermanent. So how could I reframe the event? Hang on.

I learned how strong I am. I saw how much Desiree fought for our life together as much as she fought for her own. Therefore, I knew how deeply she loved me. I observed that it is possible to find joy in the ordinary moments. I witnessed evolution. I watched someone rise above obstacles to reach dreams. I know that I have a broader understanding of life and that my experiences could help others.

What did reframing allow me to see? It allowed me to see that life is full of possibilities when we let go of attachment and expectations. When we surrender — a huge act of bravery by the way — and connect to gratitude.

Reframing allowed me to come up with a name for my life’s philosophy, “Possibility in Action.” Meaning we need to take action when life confronts us. We need to transform. We need to be open to possibilities. Remember, I believe we do not move on from a loss, but we move with it. It is a stone in the mosaic of our lives. Desiree is a big, beautiful piece in my mosaic.

What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?

This is a great question because it underlies what I have been trying to say. Loss or a huge life change, regardless of how horrible and tragic it seems, can be used to learn about ourselves. What did I learn? How much time do we have?

First and foremost, I learned how much I was willing to do to help the woman I loved. Walk through fire you may ask? Walk through fire, covered in gasoline, naked, with shards of glass piled on the hot coals while being flogged. Yeah, I learned that I will never give up for whatever I believe in. I learned I was stronger than I imagined. I also learned that I needed to be vulnerable to actually make the right decisions. I needed to take off the armor and feel what was happening, not hide behind a shield. I learned to really connect to my values and define my life. I learned to let go of the unnecessary and craft my life according to purpose. I came to understand that purpose is when your values come in alignment with your passions. I learned that purpose is when there is more joy in giving away the results instead of holding on to them for your own benefit or glory.

What did I learn about myself? I learned that my ego was what always got in the way, and I learned how to overcome my ego. I learned that, when a cause lies in my heart, I will do commit 110 percent of myself.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.

Before I list the five things you need to heal after a dramatic loss or life change, I would like to define two key concepts in your question. What is “loss” and what is “change.”

Loss in my opinion, at its core is a:

Lack

Of

Self and

Security

Regardless of the type of loss, whether it be the death of a loved one, menopause, erectile dysfunction, the loss of a job, your home, a divorce, the loss of freedom, or mobility, all loss ends with a damaging blow to one’s identity. Your identity is shaken and part of who you were vanishes during a loss or life change.

Now let’s define “change.” Life is change. We just desire to always be in control of change. And when we make a change for the positive, we are certainly happy. But when change comes unexpectedly, well, that is a horse of another color.

And for me, change represents a:

Call to

Harness

Awareness and

Nurture

Grit for

Evolution.

Read that again. Change is a call to take action and evolve.

And whether it be “loss” or “change,” we need to work through grief. Now, I am not talking about grief as we have come to know it — those stages of anger, denial, etc. Those are emotional responses to loss. What I am talking about is what creates those emotions. Working through what stops us from living life forward.

So I’m going to give you yet another acronym representing the 5 things you need to move forward and heal. And I want you to use this acronym as a journaling prompt. Journaling is one of the best tools to manage your grief and heal after loss. It will help you create a space to move forward.

The acronym is G.R.I.E.F.

Guilt

In any loss there is always a sensation of having to been able to prevent it somehow, or the guilt of not having appreciated something enough while we had it. I did suffer guilt. I certainly suffered survivors guilt thinking to myself “Desiree was a doctor, and I am just a finance guy. She should have survived. She is the more purposeful person.”

Of course, none of that was true. I also had the sensation of “Maybe I should have given her more supplements or did more research of life sustaining drugs.” I was neither God nor a doctor. I had to grapple with and then give up the guilt for things truly outside of my control.

Rumination

Oh, how we like to spin our wheels after a loss or life change. As I mentioned, loss is a lack of self and security. The fight or flight portion of our brain is on hyperdrive. We start thinking over and over about what happened or what the future will look like. The only way to slow the waste of energy through rumination is first to become present. To practice mindfulness and become aware. What is happening right now? What is under your control right now?

Start with small steps toward the future. We can’t, as much as we want, predict the future. And if we try, we start to feel like a victim to life. Want to stop ruminating? Become present and set a super small, very short-term goal. I did not know what I was going to do, where was I even going to live. I certainly could not afford the apartment on my own. The ground underneath me was anything but stable. Then I started to take control instead of letting the vortex of questions and worries spin in my head. For example: “Ok, I have enough of money for 6 months’ rent. What are my options?”

Impermanence

We can only truly accept a loss when we realize nothing is permanent. Did you know the ancient Japanese used a calendar of 72 micro-seasons to remind us of change and impermanence? It is just a law of nature. “This too shall pass.” No, it is more like “Everything will pass.”

When you start to focus on impermanence, the shifting of the seasons for example, you realize life did not do anything to you. You realize it is just the natural process of our lives on this planet. It helps you surrender. Think of a long past change in your life, one you did not request and see how it aided in your growth.

Expectations

I mentioned how I should have been the guy living the yuppie lifestyle. The only way to live life forward is to create space for something new. What are you still holding onto? What stealth expectations are you carrying with you that are no longer valid for this new season of your life?

Fear

Ready for another acronym?

Finding

Excuses

Against

Reaching beyond our comfort zone.

So how does fear stop us. It wants to keep us safe. That is really what it is — a warning bell, and the unknown is scary. Yet, if you have suffered change or loss, you need to venture through the unfamiliar. Your world has been turned upside down. What’s next? When I ran back to Dubai and to money, it was because I was afraid. I was looking for security, but the only security that ever exists is within us. We can’t control life. But we can use life. So I asked myself what’s next and decided to live life forward in Italy.

What is next for you? You are already in the unfamiliar. Don’t make the valley your new familiar place. The valley is a no-stopping, no camping zone.

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?

I work with a lot of caregivers and their stress is incredible. The main reason is because they have to juggle a million things at the same time. Imagine having a job where things change moment to moment. Welcome to the life a caregiver.

Whether it be a man or a woman, besides caregiving, they might (if they are lucky) have a full or part time job. Unfortunately, many have to leave their job to care for their loved ones. I know I had to. Caregivers also have to clean the house, keep the kids fed, mow the lawn, etc. I think it would be wonderful if we could all band together and offer services to them through a volunteer basis at no charge.

What is we create an app where people register what they could do to help. Maybe help with the laundry, mow the lawn, deliver meals, fix the hot water heater, paint the house, etc. The app could be broken down utilizing GPS so a caregiver could just go on and see who is available in their neighborhood and when. Caregivers do not only need help with medical issues, but they also need help with life. Helping someone through their illness-related life journey is one of the most beautiful things one can do for another person. Why don’t we find ways to help ease the burden for caregivers?

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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 if we tag them. 🙂

Oh, I can create a list of people, from Brenè Brown to J.K. Rowling to Joe Simpson, the author of Touching the Void, and Edith Eger, a bright soul and holocaust survivor. Yet, I recently finished and reread Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey. I found the clarity and approachability of the insights he shared to be phenomenal. The way he speaks about his wife also resonated deeply with me. So, I would welcome the opportunity to sit and chat with him about all the different nuggets he offered.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The best way they can find me in through www.robertpardi.com. I am also a contributing mentor on the Huddol Journeys App available on Google Play and the Apple Store and have a podcast called Possibility in Action on Buzzsprout. On June 21, 2021, the memoir dedicated to my wife called Chasing Life will be available on Amazon and Kindle.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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