Dr. Michelle Rozen: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient
Love and accept yourself. Resilience can only happen if you love and accept yourself the way you are. If you don’t love yourself, how strong can you actually be? Think of it this way: resilience is the ultimate from of belief in yourself and the best gift that you can give yourself.
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 Dr. Michelle Rozen.
Dr. Michelle Rozen, PhD is a game-changing, revenue- building, performance-boosting change expert, keynote speaker, and respected authority on the psychology of change. She is an author, a Huffington Post contributor, and a frequent guest on media outlets such as NBC, ABC, FOX News, and CNN. Dr. Michelle’s rare blend of audience engagement, killer take-away strategies, and instant connection with the audience have made her one of the most unique and memorable speakers on the stage today. Her latest work is around “2-Second Decisions”, helping people to master time management and power through decision making in turbulent times. Dr. Michelle consistently speaks for Fortune 500 companies and her clients include some of the most recognizable companies in the world including Johnson & Johnson, Merrill Lynch, and The U.S. Navy. She holds a master’s degree and a PhD in Psychology and resides in the greater NYC area with her husband, three kids, and two dogs.
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?
It all started on a rainy, windy day, on October 11, 2008. I was 37 years old and I felt that my life sucked. Back then, I’d meet my good friend at Starbucks at 7am every Saturday morning before our kids woke up. One day, I told her how much I hated my job and routine. She looked at me and said, “Then change it. Go to school and change your path.”
“I wish I could,” I told her while holding back the tears. “My kids are so young, and they need me. Adam is in a startup and never home. One day, when the time is right, I’ll do exactly that.”
She gave me a sharp look and then told me something that changed my life.
“Michelle,” she said, “you just don’t get it, do you? Your kids will always need you and Adam will always be in a startup. Go and sign up for classes this week, and tell me next Saturday that you’ve done it.”
I looked at her puzzled. That never crossed my mind. I never thought of it that way.
SO, I REGISTERED. I COMMITTED TO CHANGE
Not many people start their master’s with a five-year-old toddler, one-year-old infant, full-time job, and spouse who constantly travels. The new 3am to 6am shift for studying was brutal, but my life was suddenly full. I was being challenged. I was finding fulfillment. I was going somewhere.
Then, in 2008, the economy nosedived. My husband’s startup shut down. Being challenged moved closer to being broken. I told my husband that I thought the most sensible thing for me to do was to take a break.
“I’ll go back to school later,” I told him. “When things get better and the time is right.”
He looked at me and said two things that I’ll thank him for every day for the rest of my life. “Who deserves a PhD more than you?” Then, he said, “Michelle, if you leave now, you won’t go back. Stay with the program no matter what and finish your degree.” So, I stayed.
A few semesters in, I found myself struggling with bills, kids, work, and school. The juggle impacted my coursework, and I even received a warning letter from the university. It said I was on probation unless I repeated a class. I literally sat and cried.
That night, I cried myself to sleep. I was tired and worn out and felt that I had no wins under my belt. Everything seemed to work against me. Perhaps I was wrong with my choice to go back to school. And a PhD? For a full-time working mom of three little ones with a husband who is never home? What was I thinking?
Maybe I should have thought this through. Maybe I want too much. Maybe I am just aiming too high.
That night I cried myself to sleep.
The next day was my daughter’s 10th birthday party. I had it all planned beautifully, with the kids and the balloons and the beautiful cake and all the fun activities. I was smiling on the outside but my heart was heavy. What am I to do? Should I stay at school, or should I leave? I had a big paper that had to be submitted within a week. I am chanting to myself: should I stay or should I go? Should I stay in school? Or leave? Should I even write the paper at all? Just to think of all the spare time I’ll have if I just won’t have to do it…
And then the cake came and I hear the kids chanting:
Are you 1
Are you 2
Are you 3
Are you 4
And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I remembered a tool that I learned in one of my classes. We’ve learned a tool of scaling for people who suffered from depression. It was called scaling questions; it was a part of Solution Focused Brief Therapy and the goal of the tool was help people scale how they feel.
Are you 5
Are you 6
And I think to myself: what if I use this to decide, right now, right here- what on earth am I going to do? What if I use this tool to figure my decision out?
Are you 7
Are you 8
Are you 9
My head is chanting: Do I stay or do I go?
The kids were chanting:
Are you 10
And then they yelled-
And then it hit me.
It’s a 10. It’s a 10 for me. How much do I really want to leave? 0. I just kind of think it’s something people expect me to do but it’s not what I really want! How much do I want this? 10! I want this a 10.
I got up. I gave Abby the biggest birthday hug and felt so relieved. So happy.
Gosh. Now I have to write this paper.
I know what I want.
I know my 10.
I know what matters the most to me.
Fighting tooth and nail I got my PhD. The day I got it was one of the happiest days of my life. Not that I liked the ceremony, I hate ceremonies (also, didn’t really eat that morning and forgot my banana in the car so I spent the entire ceremony thinking of that banana- full disclosure). But what I really felt good about that day was that I stuck with what mattered to me the most. This wasn’t about pleasing anyone. This wasn’t about doing what other people expected of me. This was about following my “10” through and through. And it felt whole, and it felt right.
That decision I made at that birthday party is a decision that changed my life. It changed my life not only because I took a decision that changed the course of my career and ultimately my life, but also because it gave me a tool to work with when it comes to making decisions that I found myself using in my daily life more and more. And the more I used it, the more successful, focused and high achieving I became.
I used it for prioritizing and time management and found myself a lot more confident and in control of my time, both for work and for rest. I used it for making business decisions for myself. I used it for managing my day to day
I used it extensively with leaders throughout the globe that I was working with. I found that leaders used it in team meetings for team decisions, and for their own decisions that they had to make.
Who to hire?
Who to fire?
How to price
Outsource or in-house
Instead of being in doubt, indecisive or taking the wrong turn if life, in a business, as a leader or within your family, I started getting out of my own head and coming up with a number for every decision in my life. I was amazed at the impact it had on leaders I have worked with. I was amazed at the power it had over my own life. I learned to be bold. I learned to be decisive. I learned to take action. And I witnessed how successful and powerful it made others. Change was no longer just in sight. Change was happening.
I believe in the power of the human mind to do amazing things when we are given the tools and the freedom to make the decisions that shape our lives. I believe in getting in the driver seat of our life, work and future. I share all of that with you through my books, my articles, from the stage and from the media. If I can do it, so can you.
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?
This is only funny in retrospect considering how much I move on stage these days but at the time it was not that funny at all. My first speaking engagement was in Canada at a conference for elementary school teachers. When I got to the conference, the organizer pointed at a podium and said: ‘Michelle, I just need you to stand there’. I was so confused. How can I be engaging if I just stand behind the podium the whole time? Hesitant, I asked him: ‘Are you sure? I would rather move around and interact with people”. The guy just looked at me impatiently and said: “Michelle, please. I just need you to stand there, behind the podium and please don’t move from there, that’s it”. Being that this was the first time I spoke to a large audience; I had no experience to understand that just standing behind a podium and not moving literally ruins a talk. I followed his request and stayed behind the podium the whole time. Somehow, I got through the talk and did what he asked but this is what I had learned: communicate expectations ahead of time, stand your ground, and take the lead. I never, ever, just stood behind a podium again.
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?
I owe so much of my success to my husband and business partner, Adam. I am so grateful to him. Adam has this thing about him where if I set a goal for myself or want something, he commits to it himself. When I came and said that I want to go back to school, this guy, who was always in trouble with me for not helping enough around the house, took it upon himself to stay with the kids and run the house while he was working full time so that I can go to classes. When he couldn’t do it, he made sure we hired help. When I wanted to quit school because the economy collapsed and he lost his start up and we had no money, he pushed me to stay. In my hardest moments. He encouraged me to push forward.
Two years ago, he joined the business as my business partner and manages the marketing and branding. When we started working together, after already being married for 20 years, it is a miracle that we even stayed married. It was so challenging and we didn’t get along at all. Now, we work together in complete harmony. We understand each other completely and I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for Adam’s relentless work and belief in me.
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 the ability to overcome adversity. Resilient people are:
- Resourceful- they would typically have good problem-solving skills
- Confident- they believe in themselves and in their ability to cope, solve problems and deal with challenges
- See themselves as strong people
- Have a good support system- being lonely makes you less resilient. We are social creatures and need other people
- Are not too proud to ask for help- being humble is part of resilience. You cannot be very resilient if you are proud, because it will stand in your way.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I think of myself as a resilient person. My mom is also very resilient. In fact, 2 days ago her apartment caught fire and she lost all of her belongings. She remained calm, managed the situation, was very resourceful, and today already found herself an even better apartment. I find that inspiring.
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?
I was told multiple times by my family that getting a PhD with young kids while working full time is impossible. They didn’t realize that on top of it all I was going through a financial crisis. They were definitely wrong. If you truly and passionately want something, you will find a way.
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?
It happened to me several times. The worst was the 2008 financial crisis that shut down my husband’s start up and left us in financial dire straits. We went through a very rough time but ended up being a better couple, a better team and with a better financial foundation. Crisis is the best teacher.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I believe that resiliency has to do with self-confidence. You have to really believe in yourself and trust yourself to be resilient. I remember in 5th grade the whole class decided to not speak to one of the girls in the class. The reason was silly, something about a boy. They all followed the leader, and some girls said that they are ‘neutral’. I found the whole thing to be stupid and unfair and declared that I support her. I wasn’t afraid and I didn’t care to speak my mind. This girl has been my best friend for years and no one in the class dared to confront me. I think they were too confused by the fact that I didn’t follow the rules. That’s another aspect of resilience- you follow your own rules and your own common sense. That makes you stronger.
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.
- Work on your self-confidence. Here is a little mind hack for you on this: fake it till you make it. Tell yourself that you are confident. Speak confidently. Remind yourself to be confident. Eventually you will feel confident.
- Block all negativity. Negativity makes you weak mentally. Stay away from negative people and steer clear of negative content. Fill your life with positive people and positive content. It will make you mentally stronger. I often stay away from social media and the news. I prefer motivating content instead.
- Stop being afraid of failing. If you fail, you fail. So what? You’ll be in great company. The most successful people in the world fail all the time and then succeed. Welcome to the club. It’s a good one. I often feel that success is like rock climbing, even if you fail, you can still catch up and climb high.
- Look at everything that happens to you as a learning opportunity. When something bad happens to me, I always look at what I can learn from it and I think of it as something that happened to me so that I can become better.
- Love and accept yourself. Resilience can only happen if you love and accept yourself the way you are. If you don’t love yourself, how strong can you actually be? Think of it this way: resilience is the ultimate from of belief in yourself and the best gift that you can give yourself.
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. 🙂
I have my heart on working with teenagers and kids from less privileged communities. I feel that many of these kids lack role models and inspiration and their dreams are limited simply because they have not seen any adults that can demonstrate to them what they can possibly become.
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 🙂
Oprah, of course. Because she is living a life that is beyond any circumstances and filled with purpose. She is a living proof that anything is possible no matter what your circumstances are. I don’t know about the lunch though. I don’t think I’d be able to chew!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Dr Michelle Rozen: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.