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Resiliency—the ability to get back up after a setback knocks you down—is a trait we all cultivated in order to survive the recession and one we’ll be falling back on during the slow recovery. But while survival often dictates that we find a new job, learn to live with less, or adjust to a “new normal,” bouncing back emotionally can present a greater challenge. Just ask motivational speaker and entrepreneur Lisa Nichols, who describes the path to resilience in her acclaimed book, No Matter What! 9 Steps to Living the Life You Love (Wellness Central; $24.99). While helping others, Nichols found herself in an abusive relationship that shattered her self-confidence and threatened her personal and professional life.
“I felt like a total fraud and failure,” says Nichols, the 43-year-old founder of San Diego-based Motivating the Masses (www.lisa-nichols.com) and CEO of Motivating the Teen Spirit L.L.C. Ten years ago, when Nichols was establishing her motivational speaking business, it was not unusual for her to be standing in front of hundreds of people, teaching them how to realize their dreams. Yet the fact that her own personal life was in such turmoil made her question her choices and her professional credibility. “I felt as if I was unworthy to do this work because my personal life was falling apart,” she says. “I was ashamed of what I was going through and felt like I wasn’t qualified to tell anyone anything.”
It’s not unusual for people to question their abilities following a major setback because “your self-esteem automatically plunges,” says Sheri A. Wilson Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and CEO of DRW Support Services Inc., a behavioral services company in Washington, D.C. If you lose your job, you may think you’re a poor manager; if a relationship ends, you may become consumed with your personal flaws. But the key to resiliency is acknowledging these feelings without buying into them. As Nichols would later prove, self-confidence can be revived.
First, you must start with the end in mind, Nichols says. “Paint the picture—vividly describe how you plan to come out of this [situation] and who you will be when you emerge.” Part of painting the picture means coming up with a greater purpose for what you’re going through. One night, while still living with her abuser, Nichols sat on the edge of her bed crying. ‘“What’s going on? What am I supposed to get out of all this?’” she recalls asking aloud. “And God spoke back into my heart, ‘You’re going to help wounded people heal.’” The thought that her ordeal could ultimately inspire someone else to get out of a bad situation gave her the strength to at least come up with a plan. “In that moment, there was a calm that came over me, and that’s when I tapped into my higher purpose,” she says. “I still had to get out of the mess, but I had something that could pull me through.”
The next step is to create action steps to achieve results, or what Nichols calls “deliverables.” She plotted a strategy to escape her abuser; she would move out while he was away on a trip. “Before he was 100 miles away I was already relocating,” she says of her swift departure. But while she’d made it through the physical danger, she was left with an emotional land mine.
Despondent, Nichols saw a doctor who told her she was clinically depressed; for the motivational speaker, the diagnosis signaled a professional defeat. “I had worked with clients who were depressed so I thought, ‘I’m now that person who comes to see me.’ ”