Rising Through Resilience: Author Michelle Atlas On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Learn to Thrive. When we go through a tough time or a learning curve, there is usually a breaking down of what was familiar; a loss of our previous normal. If you are resilient you will probably cycle through a variety of emotions, and ultimately return to your baseline. That is surviving. Surviving is returning to where you were, or something like your previous normal.
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 Michelle Atlas PCC, Founder of Michelle Atlas Coaching.
Michelle empowers deep, intuitive women (and a few men) to create change they didn’t think possible in their relationship to money, their businesses, and themselves. She has taught “Resilient Leadership” to US federal government leaders, authored the dailyOM course “Overcoming Money Shame”, co-authored “The Superwoman Entrepreneur, How to Turn Your Breakdowns into Breakthroughs”, and created the popular “Activate Your Money Flow” twelve-week coaching program. Michelle is currently writing her first book “The Sovereign Woman Entrepreneur”, to help women reclaim their self-trust, so they can build their businesses guided by their intuition, creativity, and wisdom. Based in the US, Michelle coaches and speaks internationally on the psychology of money and living resiliently. https://michelleatlas.com
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?
I’ve always known I was meant to work intimately with others, to help them release barriers, grow, and express their greater potential. From a very young age I was a detective, seeking lessons in my toughest times. Right after college I went to live in a yoga and meditation community and unexpectedly stayed for twelve years, during which time I spent fourteen months in India. Those years anchored me in a meditation practice that I continue to this day. I went on to work in human services with people with traumatic brain injury and mental illness. After eighteen years, I knew it was time to convert my training, my expertise and the wisdom I had mined from my life, into a business that could bring other intuitive, creative women to greater fulfillment and success. That’s when I took the leap into what I call the “entrepreneurial adventure.” I received the blessings of the best-selling resilience expert Al Seibert, PhD, to become masterful in his work, before he passed away in 2009. Then I was invited to teach Resilient Leadership to top US federal government leaders for five years during the Obama Administration. In the years that followed, I obtained additional coaching certifications in multiple modalities. I have developed a huge transformational toolbox that includes courses, retreats, and private coaching packages to help women all over the world empower their relationship to money and grow their businesses, in alignment with their souls’ calling. I feel extremely fortunate to do work I love; helping other women soar in their businesses and lives.
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?
I’ve experienced a lot of serendipity as an entrepreneur. Twelve years ago, while making a cup of tea, I felt an overwhelming intuition that I should call Al Seibert, to explore becoming certified in his resilience work. He picked up the phone and in no time we were immersed in conversation. He had certified less than a dozen people worldwide in his resilience model and recognized that I had a lived experience of resilience, and not only an academic fascination. We made plans to move forward. Unfortunately he passed away a short time later, which led to my receiving an unexpected invitation to take a piece of his high-level, federal government contract, teaching Resilient Leadership. I had always trusted my intuition when making significant decisions in my personal life. This experience revealed to me that bringing my intuitive gifts into my business decisions, could also be a source of success.
A few years later, I made another intuitive decision that changed the trajectory of my business. When I became a coach, I was skillful at facilitating transformation, yet I didn’t know exactly how to build a prosperous business. I learned of an event on the west coast that I believed would provide the perfect remedy. However, I didn’t think I could afford the trip.
A large part of my work with women is helping them expand beyond their status quo. In the spirit of walking my talk, I invested beyond my comfort level to attend that event. While there, again I felt guided from within to commit to a year-long mentorship that cost almost seven times what the event had cost! The next day, while flying back east, the complete stranger in the seat next to me, hired me on the spot for a fee equal to half of my investment! Two weeks later she referred someone to me whose company paid me two times more than the remaining tab for the year-long mentorship.
This exemplifies one of the most important lessons of my entrepreneurial journey, and one I teach to all my clients. When you take a risk to expand, life will meet you. Whether the return comes immediately, like mine did, or later, it will often exceed what you can imagine.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
When a creative, conscientious woman shows up on my virtual doorstep, frustrated after trying a multitude of unsuccessful strategies to grow her business, that’s my cue that she has beliefs she is not yet aware of, sabotaging her results. While strategy is obviously important, we each carry emotions that profoundly influence the decisions we make and thus the results we achieve.
I offer a unique blend of deep transformational guidance, with practical resilience and money empowerment coaching. As a result, clients experience self-healing while accelerating their business growth.
Sonja is a beautiful example of the way that this dual approach can provide both lucrative and personally fulfilling results. She is the creator of a high-quality line of personal care products, with contracts all over the world. Sonja came to work with me because she sensed that she was under-valuing her product and herself. When speaking with her customers, she found herself habitually discounting her products. Referencing the characteristics of the Queen Archetype, we created a powerful posture for her to use during her business negotiations. This helped her transform feelings of unworthiness into clarity and confidence. She also identified the right price point for her products. The very next time Sonja spoke with her largest international customer, she stood (literally) in her value. For the first time, she discounted nothing and received instant buy-in.
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?
My aunt was extremely significant in my own resilience trajectory. She was a psychotherapist and we were very close. When I was about thirteen, she and I began having special conversations. Light bulb after lightbulb went on as her wisdom helped me make sense of my toughest family experiences. The emotional connection and respect that I consistently received from my aunt, combined with the personal empowerment I gained through what I learned from her, had a profound impact upon my life and work. I believe that my relationship to my aunt, more than any other, influenced my career choice and my passion for personal development and transformational work.
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?
Research tells us that we are wired to grow and evolve through challenge and change, but it must be self-directed. What that means is resilient people take 100% responsibility for their experience of their life. They choose to not live as victims of that which they cannot control. And they intentionally seek to fortify their resilience. Examples of self-directing your resilience might be ensuring that you have quality relationships and support, cultivating a spiritual practice, getting enough rest, eating well, meditating, journaling, or a creative pursuit. The particular recipe for each person will be unique. We discover our resilience from the inside out. Resilient people have the confidence that although they may not have the perfect solution to a problem immediately, they will find their way. They have an orientation of growth and learning toward their challenges and losses. Not in an unrealistic everything-is-always-rosy way, but with an openness to new possibilities and discoveries. They focus their attention and efforts on what they can influence. They embrace and adapt to whatever life sends their way and they use every life experience as an asset.
A common misunderstanding is that resilient people are “thick skinned.” That would require a person to disassociate from the full range of human emotion. When hit with a challenge or a tough time, a resilient person may cycle through a wide range of feelings, including perhaps anger, resentment, or grief. What distinguishes the resilient from the non-resilient person, is that the resilient person experiences his or her feelings, yet does not remain hostage to them. They know that difficulties are temporary and do not take them personally. During times of change they can flex in ways that are beneficial to both themselves and to all concerned.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
It’s hard to choose one person. I have always loved Viktor Frankl because he used his experience of surviving unthinkable atrocities to catalyze his search for meaning in life. I love the way he speaks of meaning as something fluid and changeable. I also resonate greatly with his perspective on changing one’s self rather than another person or external circumstances when something is not working for you.
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 can’t think of a time I’ve been told that something was impossible :).
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?
About ten years ago, I experienced the loss of a romantic relationship that sent shockwaves through my system, and re-activated some childhood traumas I didn’t know existed. Although I had done an enormous amount of work on myself, there were still stones unturned. In resiliency psychology, there is an understanding that when the impact of an event or circumstance exceeds the resources of that which it is impacting, there will be a descent. For the first time in my life, I found myself devastated.
Prior to this loss I had experienced a particular type of self-consciousness that I could not seem to shake, no matter how I tried. It showed up most excruciatingly, when interacting socially or with a new potential friend. There was a free-floating fear that morphed into a disassociation from my body. This fear lived right behind my eyes, in the muscles of my lips and in the tension that froze my face. It expressed, by preventing me from maintaining eye contact for longer than a few seconds. Being in close proximity to another person (other than a handful of very close friends) surfaced an unrelenting pressure. It felt like I was hiding something from them, but did not know what.
I observed others in intimate interactions with their friends and loved ones, looking into each other’s eyes (and souls) as they spoke and shared. How I longed for this!
The moment that relationship ended, although I was overcome with immobilizing pain, I sensed that the impact would bring me face-to-face with something that I had been avoiding my entire life.
Over the weeks and months that followed I began to experience feelings of self-loathing that I had never felt before. Instead of avoiding them with distractions, I sat with them. I allowed them to burn through me (and admitted them to trusted others), with brutal honesty.
Then one day standing near my dining room table, a rumbling started deep in my core. I sensed something enormous impending, like the subtle tremors that occur right before an earthquake. Within moments, the vibration rose from deep in my solar plexus, up into my heart-space and then into my throat.
In a flash, I was wailing like a wounded animal. It was violent, and ecstatic. I had exploded into a gut wrenching, tsunami of GRIEF.
It went on for what may have been minutes, but felt much longer, ultimately resolving naturally.
The peace and quiet throughout me immediately after, cannot be described in words. The landscape within, became silent. I had been emptied. Completely.
I realized that from the time I was very young, I had been carrying buckets of shame and grief. And the energy it took to keep a lifetime of difficult feelings under wraps, was also keeping me from authentic connection with others. My unfelt grief had been holding me hostage, my entire life.
In the coming months, my grief was my most treasured friend. It was the antidote to my shame and self-loathing. Once I immersed myself in the sacred, cleansing river of grief, I always emerged with brighter eyes and a more open heart. Every tear I shed seemed to strip away another conditioned idea, or a contrived false identity or pretense, leaving only the tender, undefended, essential me. Whole. Alive. Sovereign. Here.
As I came to be at home in my own skin, looking deeply into the eyes of another for as long as I wished became as natural as saying “hello”. The depth and presence I came to embody through that wild and beautiful ride has remained with me, unwavering.
My grief brought me into integrity with myself, which has allowed my business and life to evolve in unprecedented ways, ever since. It changed everything.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
My parents were threatened by others’ achievements, happiness and wealth. My conditioning taught me that emotional safety was guaranteed only when I was serving the needs of those around me, to the exclusion of my own desires and interests. I was an only child. As the target of my mother’s emotionally abusive outbursts, I learned to survive masterfully, by disowning what lit me up.
Yet even as a little girl, right smack in the middle of that battlefield, I knew that somehow I would find my way back to the me I had been robbed of, with my original gifts intact. There were many magical moments that were like bread crumbs, pointing me toward healing and the life I wanted.
- When I laid my little four-year-old body down on the warm, sundrenched city pavement outside of our apartment and gushed with well-being.
- The time when I was only eight years old that I was enveloped in a deep affinity for the Tibetan monks on the cover of my father’s National Geographic magazines. Their peace and joy seemed to mirror both my distant past, and the future I knew I would discover.
- When, as a teenager, I saw the tag on a piece of clothing branded “Ahimsa”. I didn’t know that it was Gandhi’s term for non-violence. Yet, it filled me with inspiration. I clung to the word, repeating it like a mantra, not knowing why.
By the time I hit adolescence, I had begun the journey to transform my toughest times into assets. I became a voracious reader of books on personal development, psychology, and spirituality and cultivated deep friendships where I could process my most difficult experiences. Those friendships have also been resilient, and are still thriving today, forty years later. I have dedicated my life to cultivating my own resilience so I could, as my mother, in an uncharacteristic moment of kindness, once told me, “do something beautiful” with it.
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.
- Fill Your Own Tank First. If you were driving cross country, would you leave with an empty tank, drive all the way to your destination, and fill your tank upon arrival? If so, you probably wouldn’t make it. When we feed our own soul before undertaking tasks and responsibilities, we expand our capacity to give and create from a place of fulfillment. We also have more energy, and we can get more done in less time. Another resilience essential is to build periods of recovery into your day. No matter how busy you are, taking short breaks where you step away from your desk, move, or spend a moment in nature are important. And a social interaction that provides connection or activates a different emotion can greatly increase your resilience. You are the most important resource in your business. Discover what fortifies you and make it non-negotiable.
- Access Multiple Types of Intelligence to Make Decisions and Solve Problems. Many entrepreneurs believe that only their logical mind can help them grow their business. While logic is useful, we are multidimensional. The last time I offered my coaching program (which helps women entrepreneurs empower their relationship to money) I decided to try a new marketing approach. Rather than the conventional e-mail and webinar sequence commonly used, which I find mechanical and depleting, I taught the module that moves me the most, free of charge, in depth. I decided not to worry about “giving away” too much and to instead, to focus solely on touching people, just as the work touches me. The results were phenomenal. I delivered the material on a wave of inspiration and the enrollment that followed, tripled my earnings! Next time you find yourself troubleshooting an important issue, consider possible solutions through a variety of lenses. What does your gut say? What does your practical mind say? What if you try something that seems a little wild, but really lights you up? When you close your eyes and breathe deeply, what kind of guidance is revealed, beyond logic? What do you WANT to do? Release over-thinking and instead go towards what feels expansive. We are capable of more than we know. Accessing different ways of knowing will help you create unprecedented solutions and new possibilities in your business and your life.
- Become a True Life-Long Learner. One of the most voracious enemies to resilience for an entrepreneur is thinking that you should know everything already, or that you should not take action until you can do something perfectly. Emma had dreamt of launching a group program on a topic she felt passionate about, in her coaching business. The first time she offered it, she did not receive much interest. Instead of labeling it a failure or giving up on her vision, she quickly adapted. She realized she felt more comfortable initiating this new body of work in a one-on- one format. When she did so, she enrolled several people immediately.
-Being a learner allows you to take risks, make mistakes, learn meaningful lessons and course correct, all crucial capacities for success. When you let yourself off the hook from thinking that you should already be masterful, you enter the realm of discovery. Living in discovery is what inspires us to reinvent and stretch outside of our status quo over and over. Resilient, successful people do a lot of both.
- Empower Your Relationship to Money. Our relationship to money is about a lot more than money. For most of us, it has a tremendous amount to do with our sense of personal worthiness. We each have unique money gifts and blind spots. Learning how to play to your specific money strengths and illuminate your money blind spots, rather than following someone else’s list of money “do’s and don’t’s”, can be game changing. It’s equally important to understand how the conditioning that you received earlier in life, may be driving your money decisions now, because you can’t create what you want, by making decisions through someone else’s glasses. Once you have a handle on these keys to money empowerment, you will know which business tasks are not your strong suit, so you can outsource them. Most importantly, you will be able to focus your time, energy and attention on tasks that energize and move you. This will also generate more income.
- Learn to Thrive. When we go through a tough time or a learning curve, there is usually a breaking down of what was familiar; a loss of our previous normal. If you are resilient you will probably cycle through a variety of emotions, and ultimately return to your baseline. That is surviving. Surviving is returning to where you were, or something like your previous normal.
Thriving is different. When the impact of an event or circumstance exceeds your resources, there is usually a descent of sorts. Those who thrive, allow the intensity of loss, grief, and pain to not only break them down, but to break them open. To strip them of the pretense and contrived self-concepts that keep them in predictable lives, careers and businesses, where they may not be expressing their full potential. They seek richness and meaningful lessons even in their roughest times. Thriving occurs when we become a more alive, whole, fully expressed version of ourselves than we ever might have become had we not experienced the difficulty. When the relationship I mentioned earlier in this article ended, I became much more vulnerable and authentic in my business and relationships, than I was prior to my loss.
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. :-).
For decades women, particularly women in positions of leadership, have been conditioned and acculturated away from their innate gifts. I would love to expand the work I currently do, helping women reclaim their self-trust so they can lead with their intuition, creativity, and the gold mine of wisdom they hold. This involves shedding what has been in the way of what I call your “sovereign soul”, the version of you that existed prior to all of the messages you received and the identities you contrived to get love and acceptance earlier in life.
There is nothing more powerful than a woman in full integrity with herself. I would inspire and challenge more women to bring their whole selves to their leadership style, rather than the half-expressed versions they have been told are acceptable. It begins by claiming our right to live as the authority in our own life. Then converting that innate authority into self-leadership to grow your business is easy.
I believe that much of the violence and pain in our world reflects self-alienation. We won’t solve the problems of our aching, transforming, birthing world with old ways of seeing and operating. Our intuition, creativity, and sensitivity, are desperately needed to transform the rampant reactivity we are now experiencing, into open-hearted compassion.
From a resilience perspective, where there has been hardship, there is often beauty. We need to value the depth and wisdom that comes from life’s losses and hardships. Empowering women entrepreneurs to heal themselves, so they can touch others with their brilliance and their medicine is my passion. I am committed to helping women embrace their whole selves and lead from a place of true power, so we can create a kinder and more effective world.
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 :-).
Dr. Jean Huston
Because she is a teacher’s teacher, and a living embodiment of human possibility. She is a living inspiration to the potential that exists in each of us. Jean’s brilliance and uplifting presence make her a diamond in this world. She has created a thriving business and achieved extraordinary success helping people tap their depths and heights, in complete authenticity. I would feel very blessed to speak with her.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Facebook: The Sovereign Woman Entrepreneur’s Community
Facebook: Michelle Atlas Coaching
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Rising Through Resilience: Author Michelle Atlas On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.