Practice gratitude. Find joy in the smallest things. Start noticing things that make you smile throughout the day, different ones all the time. Train your brain to treasure the little moments. I have written down three things that I’m grateful for every night for the past decade. There’s science behind it. Whether you name things you’re grateful for while you’re scooping your coffee into your coffee maker in the morning or as you have your first few sips, morning, evening, doesn’t matter — just start finding things that sink you into a state of being grateful.
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 Elisabeth Cardiello, Founder of Caffe Unimatic, Brave Conversations Over Coffee and co-founder of Legacy Out Loud.
Elisabeth was probably the only six year old in Brooklyn with her own business cards. After college, business school and a four year stint in the finance industry, this native New Yorker dealt with loss, found herself and her passion, more loss, learned the meaning of post traumatic growth and embraced her pull to create. She started Caffè Unimatic, the coffee company that you may recognize from the Netflix documentary “Coffee For All.” She’s the co-founder of Legacy Out Loud, an educational platform and methodology designed to build confidence and resilience in young women. Most recently, she brought the two together and is the host of Brave Conversations Over Coffee®, a leadership development / team building workshop series that’s part coffee tasting and part communication training to inspire transformational bravery in communication (to support trust, connection, creativity, leadership and mental health) in companies, at colleges and in the community. She always knew she found herself in the world of coffee to use the platform to make a bigger difference. She’s a two time TEDx speaker, has spoken at UN conferences, given keynotes, Congressional briefings and when you hear the way she talks about coffee and it’s power to be a catalyst for change, she will inspire you to be more intentional about your most consistent morning ritual. Her family is still wondering where that shy 9-year-old went…
If you want to get a little better at communication, downloading her 10 Step Blueprint to having a Brave Conversation Over Coffee is a great place to start.
If you love coffee, our readers will receive some serious coffee love if you head to the Caffe Unimatic website, adopt a Unimatic and use the code “readerlove” at checkout.
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’?
Sure! So, I was probably the only six-year-old in Brooklyn (maybe in all of NYC), that walked around with business cards in her “purse.” My dad was an entrepreneur from Italy, and that was just how we rolled. He was a bit older than the normal Dad and I was more of a sidekick than a child. While his cards just said his name, beneath my name was a title — mine said: “Owner.” Looking back, I had no idea how impactful that simple affirmation would be. Only now do I realize how abnormal that (and the rest of) my childhood was. He and I would sit at the breakfast table for hours, talking about ideas, people, psychology, business, creativity, the why’s of life — things that I realize now are wildly rare to chat about with a 7, 10 or 13 year old. We’d take ideas from concept to national, to international, through every stage of business, over coffee (or for me, milk with a spoonful or two of coffee before I was old enough for my own mug). Sometimes he’d come home with a business issue and ask my opinion. If I gave him ideas, he’d actually put them into practice. We started a bunch of businesses together. I had my first product on shelves at 13 and he even convinced a board that he was on to let me take part in a meeting or two. Looking back, it’s pretty wild that my life started, over coffee.
At the time, I’m not sure the word “entrepreneur” existed, and if it did, it surely wasn’t popular or “cool.” It would have been way more normal for him to have a corporate job, but he never did. Ever since he came to Brooklyn from a little town in Southern Italy, called San Pietro al Tanagro, when he was 12 years old, he did a myriad of things — all on his own. There was a cookware company called United Cookware, a cosmetic company, an advertising agency, a talent agency, a restaurant and athletic club — the guy seemed to dabble in everything. But he didn’t just start businesses, he also did things that seemed to have a huge impact on others. For some period of time at least, he was in Intelligence with the US Army. One of his mentors was a man by the name of Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote the book on the power of positive thought (around the time of Napoleon Hill). Because of his influence, my Dad would be called in to teach positive thinking to the NYPD. When he’d describe this experience, someone would retire, return their badge and gun and seemingly their identity along with it — which is totally understandable for someone whose whole life was devoted to protecting and serving. But his role seemed less about just “thinking positively” and much more about helping people remember who they were through hard times and the infinite potential they had within them. Note: these were also the kinds of conversations that I deemed “normal.” Only in my adult years did I realize that the things I absorbed from him shaped how I saw the world, how I communicated and how I processed what was happening around me. I never knew that he was quietly teaching me things like how to put myself in someone else’s shoes and drop into empathy, hostage negotiation techniques, the psychology of sales and relational communication, or things that are now part of the field of positive psychology and brain science. What I did know was that genuine human connection, communication, human potential and the whys of who we are made me infinitely curious. I thought everyone was having these sorts of conversations around the table and hearing things like “what the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve” every day… but, they weren’t.
So after college and business school, not head-over-heels in love with any of the businesses that we’d started together, I did the thing that any driven, type-A, New Yorker does when they don’t exactly know what they want to do: I found the hardest possible job to get, and went for it. At that point, it was in the finance industry. I worked at a big bank for a year and then at a hedge fund for three. I think I was trying to prove something to myself and trying to “fit in” — something that never came all that naturally. Finance was what everyone wanted to do, so I figured I “should,” too. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy, but since I didn’t have an idea for my own thing yet, I plugged away — until one Fall day, when I was 26, when we lost my Dad.
We were a family of three, so I took over as husband and father overnight. Sidenote: my Mom was (is still) the most amazing Mom. I was really lucky to grow up with all of the love and support that I did, but she was never a business person. So, all of those mornings spent at the table, talking about life and business needed to be put into practice, immediately. Looking back, those conversations were what prepared me for the storms I’d have to weather in the coming years. Those conversations over coffee were the reason I didn’t break. They were my fuel to get back up and put one foot in front of the other.
Losing him was the turning point. It was when I realized just how much I took for granted, that what I was doing wasn’t fueling me and that filling his shoes was not going to be an easy task. Writing and giving his eulogy changed the way I thought about life. I realized how much he had done, the way that he impacted people and that I wasn’t giving myself the chance to accomplish any of the things that I wanted to be or leave behind in the world. I wasn’t putting myself in the situations where I would be able to leave the kind of legacy that I wanted. I went on to write my own eulogy (yes, I acknowledge that’s odd, but in the moment, it felt like the only logical next step). That was what changed everything and I think that’s probably where the rest of my story begins…
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career?
There are so many stories worth sharing but I’d say the most interesting is the origin story of my coffee company, Caffè Unimatic. (P.S. This story is told really beautifully in the Netflix documentary, “Coffee For All” and the TEDx talk “How a Coffee Pot Changed My Life”). After losing Dad, I’d written a business plan to start a coworking space (this was before they were popular). I began cleaning out my Dad’s old office in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, thinking I’d do it there. P.S. This meant that I literally went from working in midtown at a hedge fund to jumping in and out of a dumpster for six months. This place was like a 1960s timewarp. There were remnants from a bunch of his businesses and enough furniture to redecorate the Bowery Hotel, just collecting dust. More old stuff than you could ever imagine, just sitting in silence. We were selling things — garage sale style — we were donating things, we were throwing things away in any way possible. I even became a regular at a scrap metal yard, and judging from their looks, I might have been the only woman to set foot on that property, perhaps ever.
Thing is, I realized pretty quickly that my Mom needed to sleep at night and me attempting to start a business wasn’t the best next step when she needed to pay the mortgage. I was creating these fun problems to solve, but I had real problems and no plan B. Both my safety net, and the person who reminded me that “what the mind could conceive, the mind could achieve” disappeared. (I should probably also mention that about a year and a half after losing Dad, in the middle of this mess, Hurricane Sandy hit my Mom’s house with what was said to be a 9.5 ft. wave. It displaced her — well, us, as I moved home to help — for over a year). For 4+ years “after Dad”, something was always falling to pieces and yours truly was the last (well, only) line of defense.
Long story short, I made the decision to shelf my business plan and lease the space (my Dad’s last words to me were “take care of your Mother,” so there was really no deliberation there). Fast forward to about three weeks after making that decision, we were still cleaning out the space, now for the new tenant. I found the key that unlocked a door that my Dad had always referred to as the inventory closet. I expected to find old makeup or something… Well, when I opened the door, I was met by a wall of boxes, floor to ceiling, of something he helped create half a century ago. It was a coffee pot, called the Unimatic. It was an improvement on the percolator that was popular at the time (ca. late 1950s). He’d helped create it and bought the patent on it. Truth be told, it was the only way I knew how to make coffee, because it was the only thing we ever used in our house. Plus, it was my 5th grade science project, so clearly, I knew it inside and out! Since his cookware company had started to carry a little bit of everything for the kitchen, and since he would say that American coffee “tasted like dishwater,” he did a ton of research and came up with the Unimatic. These little gems were “conceived in Brooklyn and born in Italy” (I even found the paperwork from the factory in Parma that made them). I didn’t think much of seeing the pots at first; I figured, “cool, wedding presents for a year… next.” I imagined that we’d throw them in the car and be done with the closet… I was wrong. That door didn’t lead to a closet. It was the door to a warehouse, full of these original, Italian-made Unimatic coffee pots, ~5,000 of them! They were perfect, just waiting to be discovered.
It was one of those moments where your life flashes before your eyes. All I could see were pictures of those moments we spent together at the table, over coffee. That coffee pot was the reason we’d linger. He’d always cite it as the reason to stay, “don’t leave yet” he’d say, “we’re almost finished with the coffee” and (because of the way it works), “it’s still hot, just stay for one more cup.” And so I would… those moments, those stories, those lessons, those memories, wouldn’t have been possible without the Unimatic. If you could hit rewind and play on the coffee pot that lived at our house growing up, she could tell you all of our family stories. She could replay all of those mornings that we spent dreaming and creating. The Unimatic created those moments, and without them, I wouldn’t be who I am… I didn’t know what I was going to do or how, but what I knew for sure was that if I could give the opportunity for those moments to ~5,000 other families, I was in. It was as if he was saying, “thank you for doing the right thing and taking care of your Mom, now… let’s do this! Let’s infuse some Italian values into the world and keep families around the table, together.” And so, it became my mission to find each one of our original, limited edition, Unimatics a new home.
This all sounds great, but I was constantly (silently) battling imposter syndrome, because my ego kept telling me that although I resolved to make something out of this crazy discovery, none of this was “mine.” I didn’t “do” anything but move them without injuring myself (thanks, Crossfit). I knew that my Dad’s story was cooler, that this was his, and that for me to feel any ownership, I had to find a way to expand it and make it mine. I’d have to add things to it. The most obvious thing being coffee. My Dad always said that the Unimatic brewed the most perfect cup, but I was curious, did the coffee have anything to do with that? So, I researched coffee and found that technically, you’re supposed to roast your coffee for the way that you’re going to brew it and here in the states, we don’t do that. It’s one of the reasons why coffee can taste bitter. I decided to see if we could create coffee that was optimized for the way the Unimatic brews… and we did! People constantly call our blends “the smoothest coffee ever!” — which is fantastic, because that’s exactly what I was going for. So, that’s how Caffè Unimatic got its start.
All that said, from a personal perspective, I think what I was needing in the beginning wasn’t something fully of my own. I think some part of me liked the fact that all this was his and that I’d get to keep him around — or at least be able to talk about him, for good “reason.” I’d learn later that my drive to keep talking about him was actually something that would help me get through grief. The field of Narrative Medicine tells us that sharing your story is healing and we know from trauma therapies that some of the basis of moving through the hardest bits of life is often supported by sharing your story. I wish I could say that I did all this knowing the benefits, but in all honesty, I was just following gut feelings about what I needed to survive (and be sane enough to handle the things I needed to).
Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I’ve learned so much (and continue to), but a few key things rush to mind immediately:
- “What the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve.”
- Play the long game. Make decisions based on the long term impact they’ll have, not the short term gain. Basically, do the thing that you’ll look back on in 10 years and smile about. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
- Listen to your intuition. It’s always speaking to you, or trying to. The more you listen to the voice within, the more you trust yourself, and hence, the more you end up trusting others. When your foundation is solid, aka when it comes from something deeper than your ego, you’re more able to accept yourself and others in their imperfections and failures — because, reality is, we’re all going through something.
- Ask yourself the hard questions early and often. Who do you want to be? What do you want to give? What do you want to leave behind? And: are you on a path to do any of that?
- Know what your values are and try to turn them into actions everyday. They won’t always be popular or make “sense”, but they help you put one foot in front of the other.
- After you list out your values, and start paying close attention to the things in life that embody them, fuel them and further them. In hindsight, I can say that it makes perfect sense that I ended up in the coffee business. When you step back and look at my values, coffee embodies all of them: connection, communication, inspiration, hope, daily positive forward movement… but through the dashboard, I saw none of that.
- You can’t follow someone else’s map. They’ll offer it. They’ll mean well, but we’re here to calibrate our own compasses. No one can do that for you. It’s not for the faint of heart, but reality is, this being human thing is hard, and the only way out is through.
- The greatest stories of your life will make no sense as they’re happening. You’ll need help. Ask for it. Keep moving forward and thank people along the way. And if you forget the last time you thanked someone, do it again.
- Fulfillment doesn’t come from “things”, it comes from purpose. There was a period after I found the Unimatics, that we were still cleaning out the space for the new tenant. Because I had something to work toward, something that I believed the world needed — giving other families those moments at the table over coffee — jumping in and out of those dumpsters was more fulfilling than any of the other things I used to have that signified “success.”
- That little voice that tells you that you’re not good enough, ask it why. Mine would constantly chatter in the background saying that my story wasn’t as cool as my Dad’s (and I’d be the first to agree), but I decided to let that little voice push me. One of my values is originality, and I needed to honor the fact that I wanted to start things, not just be part of them. So that voice, for me was helpful, not because it was right, but because it was guiding me toward creating, and there was value in that. It pushed me to create a line of coffee and our Brave Conversations Over Coffee® tasting and communications workshop series that we host for companies and colleges. That little voice was like a trail of breadcrumbs that navigated me toward things that wanted to be born. It sent me down the harder road, but in that, I found a way to keep him here, at the table, where we spent so much time dreaming, and now I am bringing teams and companies back to that same table, too — to take brave steps forward, over coffee, just like we did at home.
What do you think makes your company/brand stand out? Can you share a story?
I think our origin story really set us up to be different. Because we think a lot about legacy, we’ve always been driven to use the global platform of coffee for a greater purpose. Now, we get to use it to ignite the conversations that we are needing to have and foster human connection and resilience. Plus, the Unimatic and our blends do make a simply remarkable cup of coffee… We like to say that we’ve perfected coffee! 😉
This all started because I wanted to share something that changed and supported me and keep my Dad’s legacy alive. I had no idea that along the way, people would start seeing their story in our story and in the same way that the Unimatic became my symbol of hope and taking positive steps forward every morning, they made it their talisman as well. You wouldn’t believe the letters I’ve received, sharing such personal stories tied to our little coffee pot. These letters say things like “the Unimatic is part of my healing. It gives me the energy to get up every morning and start again, to rebuild from nothing.” That was from a woman who courageously shared that she suffered horrible domestic abuse and how her coffee, and now, her Unimatic symbolized a new day and a new chance to rebuild life and family. Other letters have said, “the Unimatic saved our family. We’ve been through trauma and tragedy and when we put that pot on the table and told your story, we were finally able to talk about our own. And then, we laughed together, in a way that we hadn’t in years. You saved us and we are forever indebted to you for sharing your story and these last Unimatics with the world.” Then there was a gentleman who told me that he was going to name his Unimatic “Grace” after his grandmother, so that he could have coffee with her every morning, like I do with my Dad. One of my favorites is from an officer in our military who wanted to deepen he and his wife’s tradition of coffee, show the kids the power of ritual and find a way for them to “have coffee together” while he was deployed… And these are just a handful, I cry at least once a week because of the notes we receive. It’s crazy but we’ve somehow found this magical way to make a “thing” part of people’s families and moreso, to remind people of what’s important on a daily basis. I’m proud of that, and I think my Dad would be, too.
Our reason for being has served to inform all of our decisions. It made me want to know the humans drinking our coffee and adopting our Unimatics. I wanted to know the families that we were keeping at the table. I wanted the Unimatic and our coffee to stand for something more, to inspire people to see their potential and that they can get through anything every morning as they sipped. So, we do things like include handwritten notes with our monthly coffee subscriptions or when anyone adopts a Unimatic coffee pot. I figured that even though I don’t know them, these people are letting us in to one of their most intimate and sacred moments of their whole day. I never know what I’m going to say to any one person, but I just write what comes out. It’s been interesting how many times I’ve gotten, “you say exactly what I need to hear.” It’s a joy to know that we’re doing something that resonates and might leave someone in a better frame of mind. I think that sets us apart, too.
This company has been a continuous process of creation and letting go in every sense of the word, from the pots themselves, to metaphorically navigating grief, to our logo and packaging, everything meant a little more and took a little more thought and emotional labor. One of the byproducts of doing something bigger than you is how it nudges you to look within and grow in yourself. I began Caffè Unimatic to keep my Dad’s legacy alive, and in building the company, I actually began to lay the foundation of my own. Exactly none of it has been easy, but all of it has been worth it.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Again, there are too many to name, but there are a few that I feel were heaven sent…
The first is Robert Galinsky. Not long after I discovered the Unimatics, I happened to read an article in The New Yorker. It talked about this guy who was writing something called “Coffee: The Musical.” My brain immediately thought: wouldn’t it be cool if the Unimatic had a cameo appearance on Broadway?! The article made the mistake of telling me where this man would be that upcoming weekend; he and the cast would be performing some of their preliminary songs at something called “Coffeefest” at the Javitz Center. So, I resolved to scout out Coffeefest and stalk this poor guy. Worst case scenario, I didn’t find him, but I learned something about my new industry… sounds logical, right?
Fast forward, I showed up at the Javitz Center, Unimatic in hand and actually found Robert! I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I’d been so excited to just find him that I hadn’t gone any further in my head and literally word vomited the story without blinking or taking a breath. Interestingly, he paused and said “could you do that again?” and filmed me with his iPhone. When I finished, he shocked me. He said, “that’s fascinating, of course the Unimatic can have a cameo, but can we talk about writing part of that story into the script?” I was floored, and we’ve been friends ever since. He went on to write a book called “Coffee Crazy” to fund the musical. Since I was quoted in it, he looped me into his book tour/performance schedule. We’d travel around NYC; the cast would sing and I’d make people Unimatic coffee and tell my story. Now, he’s that person that I can trace just about anything magical back to, think “Six Degrees of Galinsky.” He’s like a heartbeat, pumping so much good into this world. (I hope this gets printed simply so I can publically state that about him). At a time when I could have felt very alone, he always made sure that I was included, supported and celebrated; I’ll be forever indebted to him.
Funny, I can actually trace the second person back to Robert as well. One evening on the “Coffee Crazy” book tour, the producer of TEDx Fulton Street heard my story and asked me if I wanted to give a TEDx talk (can we say, dream come true?!). The second person I couldn’t have gotten this far without started as my speaking coach for TED, and over the years turned into more of an Uncle to me. His name is Brad Boyer. He’s famous for helping people tell better stories onstage or in the boardroom. He helped me with both of my TEDx talks and with all of life in between. Everyone needs someone who reminds them of who they are. He’s watched me grow up in a sense, navigate challenging situations and emotions in life and business. When people enter your life and choose to show up for you (when they don’t have to, but purely because they choose to) that’s a true gift. When things feel like they’re falling apart, I know that I can call him. And just that knowledge makes it a little more ok for me to leap and take risks and keep putting one foot in front of the other when I’m walking squarely into the unknown. I couldn’t ask for a greater mentor and friend.
The third person I met totally by chance (although I’m sure I can probably find a way to trace it back to Galinsky). He’s an author of one of the world’s most popular blogs and more than 20 best sellers. The way he talked about human dynamics, marketing and well, most things reminds me of the perspective that my Dad would bring. I’ve never known anyone else to possess that same way of seeing the world. His name is Seth Godin. I met him in a conference, and gave him a business card (which, admittedly, are kind of wacky and memorable), so a couple years later at a different conference, I went to say hi and he remembered it, and me! A few minutes later, I was sitting in my seat minding my own business, when someone asked a question about branding (Seth was doing audience Q&A) and all of a sudden he said, “where’s Elisabeth? Wherever she is, you should go find her, because Elisabeth owns a coffee company and the way she talks about coffee makes me want to drink it — THAT’S branding.” I died. Right there in my seat, frozen. A couple days later I found myself sitting across from him answering questions about childhood, coffee, the why’s of what I wanted to build. Since then he’s been someone who has challenged me and cheered for me, called me out for being in the resistance or hiding from the real work. He’ll tell me to save the good stuff to tell him later and ask me to start by telling him all the things that aren’t working, so we can sort through them together. He’ll remind me of my superpowers and of how important my mission of inspiring and igniting “Brave Conversations Over Coffee” is. He’s one in a billion and even after years, the fact that he makes time for me still floors me.
There’s something that happens when someone reaches out, makes time, truly listens and reflects back that it’s safe to trust yourself. It’s astonishing how many people we sometimes need to remind us of who we are when times are hard. If I had to find a silver lining in the challenges I’ve faced, it’s these three and others like them. One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received is the ability to allow people to show up for me (I spent a long time thinking that I had to go it alone). I’ll never be able to repay any of them, so all I can do is pay their wisdom forward and help as many others as I can.
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?
Well, since I’ve actually studied resilience, I am cheating a little here, but I’ll tell you the story of why I ended up studying this topic and actually building a curriculum around many of its principles… it’s also the reason why Brave Conversations Over Coffee began.
I didn’t know what resilience was when I was actually putting it into practice. After losing Dad, and Hurricane Sandy, I was in survival mode and often following my gut instincts more than having any real sense of knowing what I was doing. What I didn’t realize, however, was that during those conversations over coffee that my Dad and I had around the table growing up, he was actually teaching me resilience. He never used any of the terms that I’d find in textbooks, but when I realized that I could finish people’s sentences on the topics of things like positive psychology, hostage negotiation, mindset strategy or relationship building, I started digging. The way he described things didn’t help — he said he “taught positive thinking” but he wasn’t telling people to “just put on a happy face,” quite the opposite actually. He was addressing the links between the way we think and our identity and potential. He’d say he was a “specialty salesman” not an entrepreneur, but “sales” or at least the way sales is thought of today, seemed like the opposite of what he was doing. He was dropping into empathy and building trust and relationships, the human way. The terms he used perished in the 1950s, so I often found myself in a labyrinth of discovering what I knew.
People would routinely ask me how I knew how to turn something so terrible in losing a parent and a home into something positive — I’d shrug and say, “I guess I got lucky.” Until one day, when a dear friend of mine, who just so happened to have a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology told me that it was imperative that I stop giving that answer because I was doing both the person who asked and myself a disservice. She said that I was “textbook” — that I (somehow innately) did everything that she taught when she was teaching mental resilience to the US Army. I went on to learn that what she was talking about, what I had done, was actually the exact opposite of what happens in PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder. I didn’t even know that there was an opposite to it, but there is. It’s called PTG, post traumatic growth. In PTSD, something really hard happens, we are flooded with emotions around the incident, our systems can’t metabolize it all at once and so we shut down parts of ourselves. We put ourselves in a bit of a box, so to speak, so that we don’t constantly need to relive that trauma, but in numbing parts of ourselves, we hold ourselves back from living a full life. Alternatively, in PTG, we allow that hard thing to stir up all the emotions that it does. We let ourselves feel those feelings and we let them give us purpose, we let those feelings fuel our forward movement. We let that challenge be what pushes us forward. Kayleigh told me that in listening to my stories, it seemed like my Dad had instilled things in me that I was able to access when times got hard, things I didn’t even know I knew or had in my back pocket. This is actually a big part of the reason that I co-founded Legacy Out Loud and built a methodology designed to build confidence in young women. The goal was to close the confidence gap and empower young women to dive into entrepreneurship and for that, they’d need resilience.
I started combining theories like PTG with other research and learning more about neuroscience and what was happening in our brain when we were in states of stress or safety. I learned things like where our emotions come from and how we can stop trying to control our surroundings and focus on controlling how we respond to it. Note: it’s important to remember two things: 1) that I was a human development geek, even during college. When everyone else was writing their thesis on Sarbanes Oxley and Economics, I was writing about how humans develop traits of leadership and 2) We lost my Dad to aneurysms on his aorta, caused by decades of heart problems and high blood pressure. I needed to know what stress did to our body, how to regulate it all without medication and how to hack that system. I dove headfirst into building this methodology and figured that if I could absorb skills of mental resilience when I had no idea what was happening, I could (and should) find a way to give that to others. I’ll never forget my conversation with Kayleigh and her saying that since I had a platform in coffee, that if I was able to impart even a fraction of this knowledge through something as universal as coffee, that I could potentially help a lot of people… game on.
I think one of the most important things we need to know about resilience is that it’s a choice. We get to choose how we respond to things. Are we going to let something hold us back or push us forward? We have no control over situations, but total control over how we show up to them. Will we allow them to unravel us or will we use them as fuel? Will we allow ourselves to feel through the hardest emotions in service to that which we most care about? I didn’t know where this journey was going to lead, but I did know that I wasn’t going to waste my time on this earth, I was here to do something meaningful, to build something. I didn’t necessarily need to know what it was in the beginning, I just needed to start taking steps toward what felt good.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I think one of the main characteristics of resilient people is perspective. When you can zoom out and see something without creating a story around it (a story that will make it seem like it will ruin your entire life for the rest of eternity), you can start to process things. When I wrote my Dad’s eulogy and then wrote my own, I was able to zoom out and really see a bigger picture of life. That helped me course correct and find purpose, and the purpose helped me feel more confident putting one foot in front of the other.
Another characteristic of resilient people is faith. It doesn’t need to be religious faith, just a belief that the universe doesn’t revolve around you, that there is something bigger. When you think you’re in control of everything, that’s only a recipe for disaster. Whether you believe in God, the Universe having your back, Mother Nature, the goodness of others, the energy of love — it doesn’t matter, but if you can allow yourself to rest in surrender, you allow your cognitive brain to pause, which is so necessary to get out of fight or flight.
So much of navigating the challenges of life is in getting comfortable living in the question mark, but doing that with grace isn’t always easy. Cultivating grace means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. For me, it helped to have a physical practice that was making me mentally tougher (as well as boost endorphins). Being a college athlete, movement is quite important to me and I was lucky to find Crossfit right when I needed it most — which by today’s standards, was pretty early on. In my case, having something to train for gave me structure, which was helpful as well. When cultivating resilience, I think we often want space, but when given too much space we can easily spiral. So, for what it’s worth, having some sort of structure was helpful in my journey and in the journeys of people I know.
When you ask yourself the hard questions early and often, you learn what your values are. When you know your values, you start trusting yourself more. Resilient people tend to know who they are (usually because they’ve peeled themselves up off the ground). They are able to catch themselves in their own unhelpful mental loops or stories and because they’ve met themselves at their worst, they appreciate things that others often overlook.
One of the most important characteristics of resilient people is that they are grateful. They find things, often tiny things, to be grateful for. Whether it’s because they have renewed perspective or because they are in the process of proving to themselves that pain isn’t pervasive or perpetual, that other things can exist while pain is still present, they find ways to sink into gratitude..
Resilient people generally have found tribe, someone or ideally, a group of people that they can turn to if life feels like it’s falling apart (or when life is going well). Not because these people will fix anything or change any circumstance, but just because they will witness you in your journey and remind you that you belong, that you are brave, and that you will keep moving forward and can turn to them at any time. Also, resilience is cultivated by sharing your story. (You are seeing the dots connecting to Brave Conversations Over Coffee® aren’t you?) When we feel seen and supported by others, we can often navigate struggle with more grace and ease.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Honestly, I can’t choose one person. I think every single person on this Earth right now is resilient. I think we are all going through something that most people don’t know about. Maybe it’s internal and maybe it’s external. Maybe people know about it and maybe they don’t, but we’re all doing our very best. I just wish that there were more tools available, I wish that post traumatic growth was something that we talked about (hence Brave Conversations Over Coffee and Legacy Out Loud). Since we’re all going to fail and get rejected and have our hearts broken (especially entrepreneurs), I wish our schools taught us more about how to cultivate resilience.
Think about it, we never learn about some of the most basic things, like: where our emotions come from, the process of self inquiry and reflection. Instead, we’re taught that crying and having a tantrum is bad, that emotions aren’t meant to be seen or heard, that we should put them in a box and close the lid. And then we wonder why there are people acting out, why people are using violence to take what they need, because we’ve deprived them of being allowed to feel pain or have a safe place to have the conversations that need to be had. Wouldn’t you have liked to learn what rejection did to our brains when you were a teenager? Wouldn’t it have been cool if school had taught us how to get out of a negative thought spiral? So when I think of resilience, I think everyone right now has the capacity to be resilient, I’m just trying to spread the tools.
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 mean, my whole story is an answer to this question. And inasmuch as I wouldn’t wish to go through it again and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, I do wish my Dad could know me now. They say the end of the grief cycle is gratitude, and although I’ll never be grateful for my Dad not being able to walk me down the aisle or know my kids one day, I am grateful for the woman who was built by these experiences.
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?
For a while, when I was attempting to run both Caffè Unimatic and Legacy Out Loud, everyone told me that I couldn’t do both (which wasn’t incorrect) and that a coffee company and an education company that built confidence, resilience, leadership and communication skills didn’t make any sense together. I found myself totally unable to let go of either, there was something more… I knew it, I just needed to find it. Luckily, I had a couple of mentors who reminded me of my own words (from my second TEDx talk, “The Most Powerful Question You’ve Never Considered”), when you know your “why” and your values, and you turn those things into daily actions the “how” figures itself out. Steve Jobs didn’t know that an iPhone was in his future, he just valued design and technology and believed that those two things went together — then he created the reality in which they did. It took a while, but finally, I rose to the challenge that Seth gave me, which was “find an architecture by which you can do both.”
That’s how Brave Conversations Over Coffee® was born. I believed that coffee was the perfect familiar and universally understood platform to be the basis of deeper connection and conversation. They say that when you cross something you’re good at, with what the world needs, you’ve found your purpose in life. Well, how many conversations in the world right now aren’t being had? Right, I know. We were never taught how to have these conversations, and what better way to learn than, over coffee. Plus, if there’s anything that I have 10,000+ hours of practice in, it’d be this. We’re over the moon to be hosting this offsite experience for companies and colleges that want to further a culture of trust, bravery, inclusion, creativity, engagement and mental health. This initiative proved my Dad right, “what the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve…”
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.
- Practice gratitude. Find joy in the smallest things. Start noticing things that make you smile throughout the day, different ones all the time. Train your brain to treasure the little moments. I have written down three things that I’m grateful for every night for the past decade. There’s science behind it. Whether you name things you’re grateful for while you’re scooping your coffee into your coffee maker in the morning or as you have your first few sips, morning, evening, doesn’t matter — just start finding things that sink you into a state of being grateful.
- Be brave with yourself first. Make a practice of self inquiry. Ask yourself the hard questions: who do you want to be? What do you want to give? What do you want to leave behind? And actually start answering them. Get to know who you are. Get to know your values. Create a relationship with yourself. Start to appreciate yourself, flaws, failures and all. Try to talk to yourself in a way that you would talk to loved ones (we can be quite mean to ourselves).
- Listen to your intuition, gut, whatever you want to call that inner knowing that creeps up and whispers in your ear from time to time. Even if that just means taking note of the things that come to you, do it. The more you build confidence in listening to yourself, the closer to taking action you’ll be. The goal is being able to rely on your instincts and not constantly looking outside of yourself for a map or “the answer.”
- Be brave with others. Cultivate tribe. Have some Brave Conversations Over Coffee. Start sharing your story with others and let others share their stories with you. One of the most important things you can do for someone in struggle is listen, just listen. If you want to know how, there’s a link in my bio.
- Remember PTG. You have no control of circumstances, only over how you respond, so will you let life hold you back or push you forward? Surrender to life but be fierce in choosing how you meet it. Victor Frankl’s quote comes to mind: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Ask yourself what decision you’ll smile about in 1, 5, or 10 years.
- Move. I couldn’t not include movement. It’s scientifically proven to aid in resilience, plus it gives you structure, endorphins and makes you healthier.
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. 🙂
How many conversations aren’t you having?
Our world is at once supremely connected and supremely disconnected. Think about it, whether on the geopolitical level, or within companies, communities or even around our tables at home — we aren’t having the conversations that matter, because we were never taught how; and it’s impacting our work and our wellbeing. So, the movement that I am inspiring is called Brave Conversations Over Coffee®. It genuinely feels like I found myself in the coffee industry because I was meant to utilize the platform to create widespread change. Now, we (at Caffè Unimatic) are so proud to be using coffee as a tool to inspire transformational bravery in communication to support trust, human connection, innovation, inclusion, and mental health in companies, schools, communities and families by bringing humans together around the table to take brave steps forward… over coffee.
We believe that “Brave Conversation” is key in unlocking the shift we need to remedy the complex and deeply rooted issues that we face today. We can march, we can fight, we can petition for legislation but change will only be organic, widespread and sustainable when we are able to genuinely want the person sitting across the table from us to be well, no matter how different they, their backgrounds, and their beliefs are from us and ours. Sharing ourselves and truly understanding others is the next necessary evolution in our culture and holds the key to our path forward.
Since coffee is the global symbol of connection — to others, to ourselves, to the days of our lives, and to the world we serve, I believe it has the power to spark change on a daily basis. As you know, I think a lot about legacy, and to us coffee also a totem of inspiration, hope and positive forward movement. The Unimatic was always the centerpiece of our family table, as if she was “hosting” our conversations and witnessing our bravery. At every meal, she invited us to linger, sipping coffee while we listened, while we shared, while we learned. Those stories, those conversations are what made me brave, made me curious and made me whole. Now, her legacy is getting to host, witness and inspire yours…
We are also proud to be paying-it-forward, with a percentage of corporate workshops funding Brave Conversations Over Coffee in the community. We’ve brought together diverse groups such as: 9/11 survivors, first responders, the Muslim community and students to take steps forward toward mutual understanding, over coffee.
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 🙂
The first person who popped into my head at this question would be Oprah. I admire so many things about the way she shows up in the world and it would be an honor to sit at the table with her, and maybe even have a brave conversation over coffee! 🙂
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Instagram @caffeunimatic (I share a new #braveconversationovercoffee question or tip every weekend, join on on the journey to being braver together, over coffee!)
Thank you so much for having me! 🙂
Elisabeth Cardiello: To Rise Through Resilience Practice Gratitude was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.