The 9/11 attacks took thousands of lives and left countless invisible wounds in every American. The attacks and aftermath of the most lethal terrorist attack on US soil triggered Adam Markel’s guest, Eileen McDargh, on her quest to become a “learner of resilience”. Adam and Eileen discuss the meaning of resilience and share their own perspectives on resiliency. Eileen also touches on her new book which focuses on the nature of challenges. Join them for this episode, chock full of encouragement, tips on beginning your day, and insights on remaining focused despite distractions.
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Eileen McDargh: A Learner Of Resilience
I am feeling incredibly blessed at this moment. I suppose I start every day in that way. I don’t know that every day ends up feeling that way. I’ve committed in the last couple of months to greeting the day with love in my heart and made a bit of an addition, a plus to an old book by Og Mandino called The Greatest Salesman in the World, where there’s a particular chapter, all committed, all devoted to how you greet the day with love in your heart. I greet the day and I meet the day with love in my heart. The meeting the day piece is the key for me because I’ve mastered the idea of getting up, feeling grateful and greeting the day with love in my heart. That part, I think I’ve got down.
The more challenging bit is that somewhere in the middle or some other point in the day, it can be 20 minutes in, something happens that requires me to show up with more love. Sometimes I don’t do that or I’m not able to pivot and go with my heart immediately. This idea of meeting and maintaining the day with love in our hearts is a big deal because at least for me personally, it helps me to feel more resilient. My body is more resilient. My mind and emotional state certainly are more resilient and it pays an amazing dividend.
I feel blessed that I’ve got somebody that’s going to be with us in this episode. I’m going to introduce her to you, who has a tremendous amount of expertise when it comes to this concept of what resiliency looks and feels like? What is it in the world before, during and I venture to say, after pandemics? Eileen McDargh is the CEO of The Resiliency Group. Since starting her consultancy practice in 1980, Eileen McDargh has become known as a Master Facilitator, an award-winning author, an internationally recognized keynote trainer and executive coach. Her clients have ranged from global pharmaceuticals to educational institutions from hospitals to the US Armed Forces.
She’s the author of seven books, including her latest, Your Resiliency GPS: A Guide for Growing Through Life and Work. Her book Gifts from the Mountain won the Ben Franklin Gold Award and was turned into a training program featuring Eileen. Her newest book, which we’re going to talk about as well is scheduled for release in August 2021, which is a little while away now, Burnout to Breakthrough: Building Resilience to Refuel, Recharge, and Reclaim What Matters. It’s so great to have you on the show, Eileen. Thanks for being here.
Thank you. I’m delighted. I’m grateful.
What’s not written in that bio that you would love for people to know about you at the outset?
I think what’s not in that bio is my why. When I say my why, I think that’s a critical part of resilience and when you lose your why, you lose your way. By the way, I also teach what I need to learn. As I’m speaking out loud to you, I’m speaking out loud to myself. My why is that I believe I’m here on this planet to make a contribution, to help transform the lives of work and the work of our lives through conversations that matter and connections that count. That is exactly what life does to us.
What I love about things like that, of interruptions as you were saying, that the things interrupt us in our flow. They interrupt us in life and what do we do to utilize them? What’s the creative opportunity right there to utilize what’s happening? Would you want to riff on that?Life happens. The whole deal is that it's never a perfectly smooth track. Click To Tweet
Life happens. The whole deal is that it’s never a perfectly smooth track. When that call came in, first off, it startled me and I will share something with your readers, I wear hearing aids. It goes directly into my ears is why I asked you, did you hear that? It’s interesting that things have happened in our life that go right to our head and how we respond to what goes right to our head, determines what the outcome is. I will say to you, right then I went, “Crap. This is terrible.” You have to take care of it at the moment and to do that, I have to stop and breathe and now let us proceed.
How important is the breath to you? I saw that you went to your breath right there.
The notion of breath is think of all the ancient wisdom and meditation, it is all about the breath. It’s in the notion of heart map which we have the congruence between our head and our heart. The heart is also called the little brain. Our heart talks to our brain. When we can have that congruence and what breathing does, instead of being shallow, it’s that centering. It’s that coming back. Breath is incredibly important.
I’d love to use this as a launching off point into resilience because as you said, things are happening all the time. The disruption of a cell phone in the middle of a show some other thing, it’s a tiny, minor little thing compared to things that are going on in the world right now and have been for thousands of years. How is it that you look at things like that and apply your philosophy of resilience to them? Even though it’s a minor thing like a disruption, like the one we were playing with, people are disrupted all the time. Both my own experience of it, as well as seeing others is that it can take people out fast. Even a tiny little thing that’s not a blip on the screen can throw their day sideways. It can take them out of their creative space. It can trigger anger or some other emotion and louse them up. When it happens several times in a day, it can move the needle in the wrong direction. When we think about resilience and things like minor things, as well as major distractions or changes, what’s your philosophy about that?
Let me first define resilience for you, Adam, because I disagree with the dictionary definition. If I’m talking to a group and I ask them, “Tell me what’s resilience?” Inevitably they say, which is the summary of the very first statement in the dictionary, it means to bounce back. That’s great if you’re a piece of steel or you’re a Willow tree. It’s not for the human system. There’s no such thing as going back. When I hear people talk about, “We want the new normal.” Get over it. There is no new normal. Instead of resiliency being to go back to where it “was,” when I think of is resilience is the ability to grow through challenge or opportunity, so we end up wiser, smarter and better on the other side. It’s all about growth.
If I think about that, what allows me to move forward, whether it’s an interruptive cell phone call or whether it’s the fact that everything has closed down and I don’t get to go and be with clients, it’s how do I use this as an opportunity of growth? Ultimately, resilience is also about energy management. That’s in the book, Burnout. It is when your mental, physical and emotional hardiness is depleted. It’s exhausted. It can go on a scale from 1 all the way up to 110. What controls my energy, what either gives it to me or takes it away is how I create connections.
The connections first and foremost are the connections in my head. We talk to ourselves all the time. What are the connections I’m making? Is it giving me energy, or is it taking it away and how do I get it back? I have connections with my heart, that’s a huge energy base. I have connections when I think about my hands, which is what do I do? It’s one thing to think. It’s another thing to feel. It’s another thing to do. When I look at those connections, where is it that gives me energy, where is it depletes it? Our day goes like that. The more I can learn to manage that energy, the more I can grow.
To reframe the definition, to begin with, I think is so useful to people because that’s what a lot of folks say. There was an article that I read about several months ago where they were interviewing a bunch of leaders, fifteen leaders or something, CEOs and founders, to ask them their definition of resilience. What struck me as a resilience speaker and an author on that topic, as well as yourself, where the diversity of definitions that they all have. The way all defined it differently and I thought that’s fascinating. My own experience of people is that they define it the way you define it at the beginning. If you asked any person on the street what resilience means, more often than not they will say, “It’s the ability to bounce back.” There is something worth looking into this concept of bouncing back to, what? There’s only now and there’s only what is in the forward to go back to something that maybe didn’t work, for example.
When you think about what knocks us down in the first place are usually things that weren’t working well. To go back to something that wasn’t working because it represented safety or it represented the status quo, it represented the “normal” that people were comfortable with. Even if that was a painful or mediocre comfort is a really interesting distinction. Instead to do as you said, which is to look at resilience as, how it is that we grow? That’s not about bouncing back. That’s about bouncing forward. It’s about moving in the forward direction. Maybe it would be great for our folks to learn a little bit about why the topic even became important to you. As you said, you’re teaching what you most want to learn or in the process of learning. Maybe take us into a pivot story of your own and where it is that you may have learned resilience for the first time. I think that’d be interesting.
I’ve been doing this for a long time, as you said, since 1980. I became intrigued with resilience, frankly here in the States when 9/11 hit. When 9/11 hit and I’m not sure I would have used the word resilience before in my life, but if I look back at it, I go, “That was it.” Resilience is a life skill. It’s not an in time of crisis skill. It’s a life skill that we built. I would not have been able to put a name to it but when 9/11 occurred, I looked at myself, I looked at neighbors, my fellow citizens and for us in the US that was the biggest like, “Everything stopped.” All my work stopped. They said, “No, you can’t come on a plane and fly,” and I’m going crazy. I’m saying, “You need me. I’m not afraid. Take me, I’m yours. We didn’t talk about this.”
As I began to think about what is in this case, in the face of this traumatic event that will allow us to move through this, that’s when I began my research and my writing and my thinking about this. It was only over time that I realized it was also because it’s the feedback that people give to me that it is that transition of energy. When 9/11 happened, there were little kids on the street that sold lemonade and it was what they could do. They sold lemonade and the money was going to go to New York. The money was going to go to first responders.
They did what they could do in the face of something. That was important to me that even as young as we are, there are times we say, “How can I make a contribution? What can I do?” The other thing that was fascinating to me when 9/11 hit was to read accounts of people who had big jobs and big titles and suddenly, they said, “In the scheme of things, this isn’t important to me.” People began to question this notion of, why? What do I want to do if life is going to be what we take is going to go on forever and also, we realize it’s very short? If it’s going to be a short lifespan or whatever that looks like, what is it that I will do that is meaningful to me and meaningful to others? You saw people making some career shifts because of that. That’s the thing that started me looking at this journey.
Events like that cause re-evaluation. Before we started the show, I was sharing that my wife and I were on this little island of Cape Cod. After 9/11 happened, we have four kids and they were really small at the time, we were like so many people in shock. It was a month of being in shock going, “Are we hear really here? Is this where the world is and for our children and all that thing?” We came to this little island the two of us at the time. We had lived next door to my in-laws, so they were happy to watch the kids. We got away, which is for folks that intimate relationship, it’s really important to do that. I recommend you do that now, even that if you can get away somehow. I know it’s tough to get away but even if that’s a day, a week or whatever to be alone with that person, I recommend it.
We call this place a base camp for us. We came here before we had purchased a house. We came up and found a spot on the beach and a bottle of wine. For a good long weekend, we hung out, together thinking about what was going in the world and what was going on that would affect us as a couple, as parents and all that. I think it’s a part of resilience. We have our formula for it, having looked at the research and seeing the traits of resilient people. I’m going to consider how important it is that you make time to be still with what’s happening. I don’t think enough people talk about it. We talk about meditation and all that but the more intentional stillness for the purpose of being with the thing, the event, without hopefully trying to judge it, figure it out or any of that. We couldn’t make anything. That was a thing about 9/11. If you’re living in the US and in particular, in the tri-state area, we were living in New Jersey. I’m from New York. We had people who lost their lives in the towers. You were in total shock. It was a complete shocking event.
I feel like the pandemic is that kind of a shock event. Only unlike 9/11, it came very quickly and it departed fairly quickly. Within six months, we already figured out who our common enemy was. We had rallied the troops. People were behind doing something and all that thing and then the country got back to a sense of normalcy. I think this is different. It came out of nowhere. It caught everybody off guard. We’re 99.9% off guard. People are still in shock that this thing is continuing and going forward. I don’t expect you to have answers about it, but you’ve been studying this for a long time. When you’re doing a workshop, like you and I work with corporations and we do these virtual trainings, what are you telling those folks to help them work with their workforce and help people live a bit of a more grounded life in the midst of this chaos?How we respond to what goes right to our head determines what the outcome is. Click To Tweet
There are so many different answers because the context is different for everything. First, the difference between where we are and 9/11 was it really was about the US. This is global. This is about us as a world. It’s about us as a global community, which makes it very big. The second thing that is different is that I think because you got the pandemic over here, but then you have all these tangential things that occurred. The economic downturn, the extreme social unrest and stuff that goes on at some higher levels within governments that you go, “What the heck is going on?” What I think we have here and it’s what I would say to clients is, “A hallmark of resiliency is being able to take an event.” You use this word too, Adam, is to reframe it, to look at it differently.
Let me give you a metaphor. By the way, I think metaphors are incredible teachers. In 1850, there was this massive storm that swept across England. Huge wind and rain. Five ships went down, all hands were lost. There was an Irish passenger ship that went down. It was tremendous devastation and loss of life. When the storm finally abated, the villagers on the tiny Island of Orkney, which is off the coast of Scotland emerged and there was a point on that island that now is called Skara Brae. What they discovered when they walked out was that the ferocity of the wind, the waves, the tides had literally taken off all the topsoil and the villagers looked down and saw intact houses, no roof, but intact houses. Those houses come to find later are older than Stonehenge and older than the pyramids.
Here’s my analogy, which I think is the reframing. What we have has ripped away all of the stuff that we’ve poured stuff over, “This is the way we do stuff. This is the way we handle medicine. This is the way we talk about people. This is the way we manage our businesses.” No, we can rip all that away. Now I say, “What is my opportunity here to create the business the way I want it? My world, the way I want it?” Don’t go pushing opportunity? I think we’re seeing a number of organizations that we’re able to say, “What’s important here? Why do I do this?”
Even though I say, we don’t want to bounce back, there are some things that we forgot that we covered up in the essence of “new” and what we’re discovering one of the most important things we can do as an organization is talk to each other. We can look into each other’s eyes. I don’t care even if it’s Zoom because, I didn’t see anybody. I send an email out. They’re all in their little offices over here. Somebody’s sitting in Massachusetts, they’re all gone. Here we are and what’s that opportunity? That’s how I take it.
It’s so wonderful when we’re working in our little independent patch of land and tilling the soil and proud of things that grow in it. We discover that there’s someone else in some other part of the world, who’s tilling a piece of soil and growing things that are very similar. I think Socrates said that all learning is remembering which to me in many ways is so wonderful because we’re constantly being reminded of things that in many ways, there’s a humility in it. There’s also a great understanding of what you said that there are so many connections. Connections between us start with the fact that when we’re talking about resilience, traits, and the way that you produce it, the first thing we always start with is the reframe. The reframe and not the reframe, but the reframe to see the creative opportunity, which is what you brought to life.
That’s exactly it. Look at some of the things you’re saying that you never would have thought. I saw something where they were talking about and because it’s a source of burnout in the remote workforce and you feel alone. One of the things this organization is doing is when the “workday” is over, they do board games together via whatever format that is. It’s probably would be Zoom or whatever. They’re seeing each other. They’re having virtual happy hours. There’s another company that in the morning when they bring the team together, they have is called it’s a “brewtiful” morning. It’s a brewtiful morning. Let’s start by saying, “What’s brewtiful about the morning? What is it we need to do?”
What a great moment for re-imagining things. There’s so much talk and sometimes a bit of an empty talk. Lip service to the word innovation in many ways, I think. What this disruption does is it creates innovation, the opportunity for innovation at a level that is deep, not surface-level stuff. Thank you for sharing that. You’re among other things and author and public speaker. If you’re a public speaker and travel throughout North America or the world, my question to you is, what do you make of the situation? How are you maintaining your business resilience in the midst of what probably you haven’t seen since 9/11 in the way of, like you said, “Don’t get on a plane. Don’t come here,” because it’s nobody to come here to at the moment?
In the area of presentations, training and stuff, it’s shifted. I think for all of us who are in this industry, it’s number one, we’re like the deer in the headlight and like, “This will come back.” No. It is a different world in which we have to operate. I’m learning. That’s what I’m doing. Everything from like we got on, it’s like, “How’s the audio sound and how’s the lighting? What does it look like?” These are technical things that you haven’t thought about before. The other thing is I’m seeing some people that their idea of virtual training is maybe they can go to a studio and look at all the different virtual backgrounds I can have here. In one minute, I’m on top of the Rockies and the next minute, I’m standing in Barcelona.
For me and this is what I am choosing to do is I want to have more and more conversations with clients. I can do “the seminar or the training,” but we have to involve in it a lot of conversation and interaction. For example, from 6:00 to 8:00 at night, because I’m in California, I’m doing a two-hour program for the International Coaching Federation of the Philippines. We’ll have folks from Manila. That’s why the time zone is different. What we’ve structured it in this two-hour in which is based on the book is there’s a lecture at, but there are breakouts, there’s a conversation. They’re going to talk with me. That’s what I think is different because in the old world, if I were standing and speaking to X amount of people, there wasn’t that dialogue back and forth. Now we’re going to create that conversation.
What a great opportunity that is to create a meaningful conversation, whereas, in the old paradigm or different paradigm that we may never see again, it was more of talking, no talking at people. Not everybody that was their style, I am more of an interactive speaker myself anyway. It’s still less of a conversation when you’ve got 500 people in a room and you’ve got 45 minutes to wow them and get them in a different headspace or have them thinking and create a shift. There’s not a whole lot of time and space for that conversation to occur but this way, it is different. It’s giving us another set of tools for dialogue, so very meaningful. I want to get a sense as well. The book that you’ve got coming out, Burnout to Breakthrough, tell us about that book. How long have you been incubating it? Did you change it based on COVID? I know you were late in the editing stages probably at that point.
My book is coming out through Berrett-Koehler Publishers. They published Gifts from the Mountain. The idea for the book came as I was being asked to speak about resilience. I would say in the last several years in almost all the cases, the context for exploring resilience was about burnout. In March of last 2020, I addressed 5,000 pharmacists, the American Pharmacist Association, and it was using resilience to overcome burnout. Now, I’ve got pharmacists. They’re the ones that when you go to your local drug store, they’re behind there. They’re also in hospitals. When 5,000 pharmacists stand at the end of a presentation, they weren’t standing for me, Adam. They were standing because what they got were ideas and hope they could use. It wasn’t about me. It was about, they saw some things for themselves where they could take some personal responsibility back.
Right after that in May 2020, was when the World Health Organization finally declared globally that burnout was an occupational hazard. I thought, “I need to write this book.” This was not the book I had intended to write. If you think about this, I put the proposal out to Barrett-Koehler and they accepted it in August of 2020. Here it’s coming around now, it’s going to be a year by the time that book is out. The final manuscript was due in December 2020, I turned it on. Who knew that by the time we got to February, March 2021, the world will look very different? To answer your question, because this is through a mainstream publisher, and I asked, could I write a foreword? He said, “No, you can’t. It’s a process.” He said, “If you do that, it’ll date the book.” The hope was that the book will have a long lifespan. I said, “Okay.”
What I find myself now doing is in my writing, which could be blog posts, could be my eSign in the conversations, we will build in. I will build on what’s happening. What the book does is it provides a process first off, for defining and looking at what’s the global issue. Where do you find yourself? It looks at what the trigger is. What triggers me personally that can push me into this place of burnout? What is it that that happens organizationally? The things that organizations unknowingly or knowingly do that push people into this place and then it goes back to the person and it is going to look at those connections. What is it I’m saying up here? How do I reframe what’s going on here? Who are the people I’m connected with that are taking the energy away from me? Who renews that energy? You’ve got four kids. I’m sensing that those four kids when you are together, it fills your heart. You must do okay with your in-laws because you live next door to them. There are people that drain our energy.
We’ll look at all of those points and give people a process and a series of questions to explore that. That’s how I’m taking into account what’s happened now, the whole thing. Using that people can use that book as a process. It was someone who was within the pharmacy industry, they have a book club. They’re going to be using this book for their book club, which means that then they can gather via Zoom, whoever wants and they’re going to talk about what they’ve uncovered about themselves and what they do as an organization. That’s it in a nutshell.
You’re in presale now. Eileen, I have two more questions. First, I’m going to ask you the question, but then I want you, to dive into the why. Do you love your life?Resilience is the ability to grow through challenge or opportunity. Click To Tweet
Do I love my life?
That’s the question.
There’s no right or wrong answer, but I’m glad to hear you say that. Why do you love your life?
I did think about you Adam, because we’re doing this pretty early for California, but I woke up. I have another day. I’ve been given a day. I am incredibly blessed. I have the most amazing husband and family in the world. We’ve been married for many years. He is the love of my life. I have incredible grandchildren and because I’ve been given this day, I’ve been given one more day that I can learn. I’m always learning so much. I can write. I can talk to you Adam and through this, be able to talk to the people who follow you. I love my life. Even when it’s been hard, I won’t trade any of it because each experience, sometimes it’s difficult as can be, brings me to a different place.
What a great way to define resilience as well, what you said. I think that question is a tough one. I was surprised actually by some of the responses to my TED Talk a couple of years ago where the premise of it was, what would it be like to love your life no matter what? That was the question I pose to the audience that day. What if you decided to love your life no matter? We are in no matter what times, we’ve always been but now for so many people, it’s the moment where, as you pointed out, being given another day is so vital. I normally do this at the end and I’m not going to end this way. This will be a change in the format of the show.
At the moment that we realized that we’ve woken up for another day, it may not be a great day. Maybe it’s a day you got to go to court, got a divorce or got to bankruptcy. There are many things happening to people. It’s like a funeral. It could be anything. The moment that you take that breath and you realize you’ve been given another day, it’s a blessing. There are people who are taking their last breath at that very same moment, so you can be grateful. I think that’s the mustard seed. From the Bible, the mustard seed is such a powerful concept. Something small, a tiny little thing can make a little gem, as my grandmother used to say.
A little thing makes a big difference in the world, and gratitude at the beginning of the day is the right seed to plant, to see something else grow. I wake up, I feel that gratitude for a moment. I put my feet on the floor and I say, “I love my life,” was that’s my morning mantra. That’s what I say and I had to greet the day with love. What I’m learning more and more is how to meet the day. Can you meet the day with love? Can you love your life when you get a shitty email or an unexpected bill or a gig that you had has gone sideways? They canceled it or whatever. A million little things in business that can go as unplanned.
A reminder that I would normally end the show on is for everybody to give that a try for yourself. This transformed my way of being about several years ago. I was a lawyer for eighteen years. I used to wake up in the morning and more often than not the feelings I had were anxiousness, angst and even anger sometimes. That I was doing what I didn’t want to be doing and it was doing it primarily for the money. I felt like a sellout as well. No amount of success and money can erase that feeling inside when we feel like we’re not who we’re supposed to be. We feel like a fraud.
To replace that feeling in the morning, I started with the mantra, “I love my life.” It didn’t start with my changing my career path. I continued to be a lawyer for several years after starting that. As I began to shift that beginning of the day, other things began to shift and a couple of years after, I reinvented my career path as well. That’s what that book Pivot is about. My recommendation is you try it. You think about what Eileen has said here when I caught her a little off guard, I would say with the question.
She got in her heart immediately and answered about the things she feels blessed to be, a wife, a mom, a grandmother, a leader an author and all those things. There’s a lot to be grateful for. I recommend that you all give that a shot and see what comes out of your mouth when you start your day with gratitude. The last question for you, Eileen is really about rituals. I’m a huge believer that we have the quality of our lives very much related to the quality of the rituals that we maintain. What’s one ritual that you maintain to produce resilience for yourself?
The first thing that I do besides your regular ablutions when you get up in the morning is number one, you don’t look at email. Don’t look at the news. You don’t do any of that stuff. I meditate for twenty minutes sitting there in bed. There’s a mantra that I use with mala beads, which came from when my husband and I tracked the northwestern quadrant of the Indian Himalayas about several years ago. There was a book called Celtic Benediction, being Scotch-Irish, and it’s the seven days a week. There is a morning and evening prayer. I used that and sit and be quiet. That twenty-minute is an important ritual. I say, “Let me get out of my way and pay attention to what’s asked of me.”
I have to throw this out because it’s really important, I do go outside. I go outside and I run. Let me tell you one of the things that I say when I run and you will resonate with this. It’s a poem that Mary Oliver wrote and it’s called, Why I Wake Early. She says, “Hello, sun in my face. Hello, you who make the morning and spread it across the fields, and into the faces of tulips, and nodding morning glories, and into the windows of even the miserable and the crotchety. Best preacher that ever was, dear star, that happens to be where you are in the universe to keep us from ever-darkness, to ease us with warming touch, to hold us in the great hands of light. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Watch how I greet the day with happiness, kindness and gratitude.” Gratitude is the word I added to her prayer.
That’s the period at the end of this beautiful sentence we created together. Eileen, thank you so much for being a guest on the show. Folks, if you’ve got a comment or a question for us, please feel free to go ahead and leave it at AdamMarkel.com/podcasts. I hope you will subscribe to read more of these episodes. I say, as my grandmother would say, until we meet again.
- The Greatest Salesman in the World
- The Resiliency Group
- Your Resiliency GPS: A Guide for Growing Through Life and Work
- Gifts from the Mountain
- Burnout to Breakthrough: Building Resilience to Refuel, Recharge, and Reclaim What Matters
- TED Talk – DOING THIS for 10 Seconds Can Change Your Life!
- Celtic Benediction