How do you bounce back from difficult situations? Accept the uncertainty of the moment to develop resilience and personal growth. Today’s guest is Chris Bordoni, founder and CEO of Bordoni & Company, LLC. Chris discusses with Rodney Flowers how he learned resilience through his personal experiences, especially as a cancer survivor. When you accept your current situation, you’re better able to figure out what to do next. Rather than resist the struggle, look at it from a positive outlook. How can you come out of the situation better and stronger? Tune in and find out!
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Resilience And Personal Growth: Becoming Stronger In Difficult Situations With Chris Bordoni
I have yet another resilience expert in the studio with me. Chris Bordoni is with me. He’s an expert in resilience, reinvention and personal growth. He is an Executive Coach and teaches at American University’s Kogod School of Business. He’s also the creator and the host of the 100 Inspiring Voices Podcast. Without further ado, let’s welcome, Chris Bordoni, to the show. Welcome to the show, Chris.
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
When your profile came across my desk, I got super excited because you talk about resilience. You are an expert in resilience, reinvention and personal growth. I get excited when we get to talk about those types of topics. Especially now, with everything that’s going on in the world, resilience and reinvention has been a hot topic. I don’t know about you, but it feels like everyone is more conscious of personal growth, taking a personal responsibility to pivot, to change the game. They’re looking for information about how they can do that successfully. I’m excited to get into that conversation with you.
I can’t wait. I feel the same way. There’s so much about your background that resonates with me. I’m looking forward to having a conversation and comparing some notes. I’m excited to see where it goes.
What about resilience excites you, Chris?
I was dealing with resilience or was getting an education in resilience for a long time before I realized that it was important. It was interesting and it’s something I wanted to help other people with. I had a number of experiences in my life, starting from when I was seventeen years old. I was a competitive swimmer. I was competing at a high level in one state, in New York State, All America and all that stuff. I blow out both my shoulders and overnight, my swimming career ended. It didn’t happen that quickly. I spent a couple of years and had two surgeries. I spent a year rehabbing and it took me a while to be willing to hang it up and say it was over, but it happened pretty fast.
The last time I competed, I was sixteen. That was a huge part of my identity. I’d been swimming since I was five years old. I had to deal with it. I didn’t think about it in those terms and I struggled with it in a lot of ways, but at a young age, that was a formative experience for me. Fast forward. A couple of years later, I was working in a management consulting job, a prestigious job. I’m working hard and doing incredibly well. I had a serious back injury. I could barely stand up and couldn’t walk. I spent months trying to get healthy. I ended up having to leave that job and went back to grad school. I got healthy again, took another great job and was doing amazing. The same back injury recurs and I have to leave again. Fast forward, lots of good things come out of these and I had late-stage cancer when I was 30.
At that point, I had just gotten married, moved to a new city, launched my own business and got my first client. Things were going so well and then I had this massive experience. When you asked me about resilience, for me, it’s come out of my personal experiences and of not having a choice. It’s having to realize that these things happen, stuff happens in people’s lives. I’m no different than anyone else, but you figure out what are you going to do. It’s not to say I did it all that well, but I went through that cycle enough times to realize, “There’s something here.”
When I started looking at my successes and the things that I’m proud of, they all are born out of these challenges in my life. Being able to go back and understand that relationship has been powerful for me. As I’ve gotten more comfortable with that, I realized, “There’s an opportunity to help other people. It’s not just me, people deal with this day in and day out. How can I take what I’ve learned and start to help other folks with it?”
What did you see when you took that look back? At what point did you start to see, “This is more of an opportunity?” if you’ve seen it that way, or “This is something that I need to pay attention to.” What came up in your view?
When I was younger and was going through these experiences, I was frustrated and angry and I felt like I was falling behind. I was a very competitive person. When I look at my peers who are getting promoted or who were going to go into nationals and sports, I looked at it and I thought, “My career got derailed.” When I got a little bit older and as I went through that process a little bit more, I was able to look back at those and say, “Maybe I wasn’t having the same type of success that other people were having, but I was getting something different out of these experiences.” I was having to grow up as a person. I was having to become more patient. I was becoming less judgmental in the way that I viewed other people.
I was getting clear about my values and what I wanted in life. In a sense, I was failing or not succeeding in the same way that other people were or the way that I define success prior to that. On the other hand, I was getting an education in something that now, as a more mature person is valuable and I feel thankful for that. Cancer was probably the thing that made that clear because I spent a lot of time around other people, many of whom weren’t fortunate to make it through, and who were going through stuff that’s even worse than me. That was an eye-opening moment for me, but it’s been that journey. It’s been able to look at that series of things and say, “There’s some goodness in here.” I’m not sure I want to go through it again. I hope other people don’t have to go through it to get there. That’s part of what my work is about, but for me, that forced me to do a lot of growing up. I’m thankful and proud of that work.
When you started the conversation, you mentioned how swimming was part of your identity. What is your identity now and how has that changed as a result of the series of experiences that you’ve gone through?
It continues to evolve, your purpose and calling changes in life. At this moment, what I’m feeling and what I’m finding is that there’s so much opportunity for me to help and to give back and to be a coach and a teacher with other people. I view myself now more as a teacher than I ever have in the past. I always loved it. I loved the work that I was doing for my clients. I love solving problems. That stuff was great. I enjoyed helping the person who was one step behind me, who was a little bit younger, a little bit newer to the organization. I always liked that the most, but I never identified with being a teacher or a mentor or a coach. It was just part of what I got to do.Every single person needs to do the work, experiment, and learn. Click To Tweet
Now, I’d be able to lean into that a little bit more and say, “I’m going to affirmatively go out and do that.” Let me put some of this other stuff on hold and let me make a choice to help, teach coach, and train people. That’s been cool. That honestly feels like a privilege, to the extent that it feels like a privilege, that gives me a sense that it’s the right path. It’s the right thing for me to be doing now. If we had this conversation ten years from now, will that evolve, will it change? It might and that’d be exciting to go back and have that conversation. For now, I identify with this teacher role and I’m thankful to be in that position.
Why teach, Chris? Why that over anything else?
It’s important for us to use what we have. For me, there are certain jobs or certain things that I can’t do. There are certain doors that got closed or couldn’t do in the same way. I went through chemo and it had some physical effects on me, things like short-term memory issues, fatigue and things like that make it hard for me to go back and do a job where you work 60, 70, 80 hours and travel every week. Those things are demanding, especially now with a kid. On the other hand, I picked up a lot of the things that we talked about before. As I think about where can I use my skills? How can I give back in a way that draws on what’s been unique about my experience? What is most fulfilling about my experience?
That’s when I look at the opportunity to teach and coach and that feels good. Now “teaching” because you can help people start their journey and in a moment in the journey, but at the end of the day, we’re all living our own lives and finding our path. I had to find mine, you’ve found yours, every single person out there. They got to do the work, they got to experiment, try, and learn things. There’s a role for coaches and teachers to help people and say, “Maybe here’s a rock you should go turn over. Here’s a little bit of encouragement. Here’s some accountability.” We can provide that for people but at the end of the day, it’s people that do the work.
Given that there’s work to be done, many people struggle with uncertainty. It’s like you and I, you’re pretty sure about what your tomorrow or five years was going to look like because you were on a path. You were on a trajectory, you had a vision and you were preparing yourself for that vision to come to fruition and then something happens. It knocks you off that course. Now you don’t even know what tomorrow is going to look like. The vision that you do have is like, “I don’t want that for my life. This is not what I bargained for.” In your opinion, how does one deal with that?
What’s been interesting for me is realizing that prior to things starting to unfold in my life, I had a false sense of certainty. Nothing changed in the way that the world worked. I realized the fact that you never know. You wake up the next day, you go to the doctor, it turns out you have cancer. They might say, “We found this early.” This is my experience. They thought that they’d found it early. “We’ll send you for some follow-up tests.” It turns out they’d caught it late. It had spread throughout my body. There’s constant uncertainty. At any given moment, you don’t know what’s going to happen next and what’s going to happen tomorrow. I don’t think it’s about changing that. It’s about recognizing that this is part of life. If you accept that, then it starts to open the door toward making different choices and toward approaching each day a little bit differently.
In the morning, my wife, my daughter and I are all rushing to get wherever we’re going. You have those moments where maybe someone’s in a bad mood, you’re frustrated and there’s that tension. I think back on my experience and how quickly things can change, “Why would I ever leave the house or let my daughter and my wife leave the house and have us be in a bad place, have us have that friction, have us not give each other a hug and say I love you?” Why would I do that knowing how much uncertainty there is after that moment?
Accepting and realizing that starts to lead to more acceptance and comfort, which is paradoxical and a little bit weird. To be totally fair, I have moments where the uncertainty of, “Will my cancer come back? What’s going to happen with my job? What’s going to happen with these things?” I struggle with it just like anyone else but there’s a way to come back to that baseline of, “It’s okay. Things unfold. There’s a natural order to things. I have a lot of control over how I respond.” Those are all helpful things that I’m finding in my life.
One of the first lessons that I learned, Chris, after not being able to walk, realizing that many people take walking and activities of daily living for granted, but when you can’t do those things, seemingly nothing else matters. To take that further, I found myself realizing that a lot of the things that I cared about that I stressed over and I was emotional about didn’t matter anymore when I was in that situation. I carried that with me. What I mean by that is I try to only focus on what matters most now because a lot of times we get frustrated, we get angry, and we’ve been out of shape over things that don’t matter at the end of the day. When you think about the thing that you’re upset about and that’s pissing you off, it doesn’t carry a lot of weight when you look at what matters most in life.
When you come to that place, you live your life focused on what matters most. There are only a few things that mattered. There’s a lot of other things that’s trivial and distractions, but when you get down to the core of the things that matter most to you, you’ll find it. That’s a very powerful place and it’s a place that can lead you. It can guide your thought process, your behavior and the routines that you set up because you’re only focused on those things that matter the most. I find it to be freeing as well because you can let a lot of things go. When things happen, it’s like, “That happened. I’m not going to spend a lot of time stressing over that. I can control how I respond to it.” Maybe it sucks or it doesn’t or it’s something that you didn’t want to happen, but it happened. What matters to most, you need to spend a lot of time on that.
It reminds me of an experience I had. I went through four rounds of chemo. It’s not a fun experience. It looks different for everyone what chemo is, but for this type of cancer, it’s not fun. I spent eight hours a day in an infusion center getting drugs that could save your life, but also bring you to the edge of killing you. What was amazing about that experience is how focusing it was. As I sat there, going to the infusion center, getting chemo, that was my job. My number one job was to survive and make it through. We don’t have a lot of times in our life where it’s that clear because it’ll be like, “Here’s some drama in your personal life. It doesn’t matter. Here’s something that I question that someone has. It doesn’t matter. Here’s something that came up from work. It doesn’t matter.”
At that moment, all that mattered truly was surviving. That’s an interesting experience to have because we’re all so fragmented right now. There are so many distractions and things that are going on. To have that clarity that you’re talking about of, “Here’s what matters in my life,” is an insane gift. The hardest part or one of the hardest things has been not losing that. My wife and I talk a lot about how we make sure we don’t slip back to that place we were before where you’re caught up in the rat race, you’re worried about all the same stuff everyone else is worried about. How do you stay in that place where you’re clear about what it is that you care about and you have a clear way of how you’re going to live your life? That’s hard.
We should talk at some point about podcasting and how, for me, having a podcast and talking to people like you and having people like you on my show, that’s one of those forcing mechanisms. That’s so amazing because it takes you right back to that place of gratitude, focus and all the amazing things that I took from the experience. Like everyone else, I get pulled away from that sometimes. In the moments when I can be clear about it, life is good and things aren’t as hard as they seem. In the moments when I lose that center, it gets hard because suddenly, life is a lot messier than it needs to be.
It’s like a lighthouse. I’ll tell you a story in Corporate America. I’ve been a part of that now for a long time. I had a record of not getting emotional on this. There’s this job that I have that is very demanding and stressful. Emotions can flare up at any given time because we’re dealing with a lot of important and meaningful work. When that’s the case, you have to keep your cool and stay calm or else you’ll get caught up in that. It’s easy to get caught up in it because everybody has their agendas and their whole portion in it. We’re all trying to work together.Stay clear on what it is you care about and how you want to live your life. Click To Tweet
If one part of the train isn’t tied down properly, then the whole train is going to derail. I had this record of not getting emotional and staying calm. People knew this. I was calm, cool, and collected, but there was this one particular time that sent me over the edge. It wasn’t something I was proud of. I was upset that I allowed myself to go there. Although I thought it was necessary at the time, I had to regroup and say, “Hold up.” That’s the moment where you came out because I had this thing about living from in here, not out there. I don’t live from the distractions and everything that’s going on out there. I’m going to stay centered. It got me off-centered.
I immediately caught myself and I was like, “It’s time to take a time out.” It matters, but it’s going beyond where it should be right now. It’s taking you off your core. You’re not grounded as you need to be. When we’re going through life and either trauma or challenge or any type of resistance, staying grounded is the most important thing you can do. A lot of people want to look for, “What do we do? Where do we go? How do we pivot? What’s the next vision? How do we get through this?”
A lot of times, it’s not doing anything. It’s centering yourself because when you can center yourself, a lot of times, the answers will appear. You realize that at some point, “This is beneficial. I’m getting something out of this. I’m not gaining the success that I thought I was going to gain or I intended to gain, but I’m getting a degree in resilience here.” This is how you bounce back. That’s something to be grateful for and acknowledge because I believe if you have that in your toolbox, if you have that skill, then you can accomplish pretty much anything. You can be a very powerful person. The contribution that you have to give to the world can’t be stopped whenever you have that skillset.
It’s one of those things where a lot of times we forget about how strong we are. We forget about the skills that got us to where we are. One of the biggest takeaways in resilience is you already are resilient. Can you be more resilient? Absolutely, but if you’re reading this, you’re a resilient person. The challenge is when life gets sped up, when you get stressed out when things start to happen, you get away from that. This is what you’re talking about, you lose your center and that connection, and you can start to spin out of control or panic or whatever that looks like for a certain person. Sometimes the best thing to do is get back to that person who’s already made it here and done all these things and draw on the skills that you have, the past adversity that you’ve already overcome. Can we build on top of that? Can we do better than that? For sure. That’s such an uplifting part of this story, which is, you already have what you need. Step one is let’s remember that or not forget that. Step two is to figure out how do you make that even more powerful? Step one is where a lot of that power is.
Another thing, Chris, I would like to add is when we’re dealing with uncertainty, you articulated it perfectly, there is no certainty. This false certainty that we feel, you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. The beauty about that for me is you get to create your certainty from moment to moment. That’s part of your imagination and your makeup and who you are. It is your ability to manipulate energy, which is a different show. You get to create that. A lot of times, we are following someone else’s path, vision and pattern. We’re not living on our own and we don’t even know how to live on our own.
When that pattern is broken, we’re broken essentially because we don’t know how to live moment to moment based on our own agendas, thinking, plan and creativity. Another thing that I teach and it’s a big part of resilience is being in that place where we can, not that we have to, but we can figure it out. That’s a different perception versus having to do something or having the privilege to do something. I love figuring things out. It’s such a great reward with figuring things out and being in that place of uncertainty because I get to put my input, play with it, mold it, and try things. You have to be okay with failing when you’re in this space because everything isn’t going to go right the first time. This is a trial and error, but the point is to get to that space where you figured something out, you created some type of level of success and impact to a thing. Part of the beauty of life is being in that space and having the ability to create that.
Sometimes there’s a playfulness that we get away from. Maybe there’s something about a situation that you don’t love. We all face these situations that are tough, but that switch of like, “I don’t have to do this. I get to do this. I get to figure out this problem.” That’s powerful stuff or to say, “How would a more curious version of me deal with this? There’s part of this that’s going to be painful or stressful or difficult or whatever but what about this is interesting? How do I go a little bit deeper on that part of it? Wouldn’t it be cool to find a solution to this thing that’s driving me crazy?” We can imagine the situations where it’s that shift in the way that you approach it that can make a huge difference in how it feels to have that experience.
The catch is that you need to have a little bit of that calm, inner peace, patience or hesitation, that whatever it is, where you can have the moment and say, “Let me take a deep breath. Let me pull back and not engage. Let me not be so reactive,” whatever your default mode is. “Let me take a beat before I re-engage with this thing.” That part is hard. That’s certainly something that I struggled with. Many people struggle with that part of it, but what’s on the other side of that is a lot more fun and enjoyable than dealing with those things the way that we always deal with them.
The way I look at it, Chris, there are two sides of a mountain. The one that you climb, which is difficult, and then the one that you slipped down, which is pretty amazing. The climb is a little difficult. It’s challenging on this side and it’s an uphill battle, but when you’re going down a slope, it’s like, “That was worth it. Let’s do it again.” When you get to the base, there’s another mountain you have to climb, yet you know on the other side of this is joy and reward. To top it all off, as a result of going through this up and down process, you know you’re getting better and that every experience, every mountain that you’ve climbed, every challenge that you’ve overcome put you in a better position to overcome the challenge and to be resilient.
That is what you call personal growth. It’s life teaching you. We go to school, high school, and college, but life is his own teacher. I believe that this is how life teaches us. Without those things, if you would remove every challenge, every sense of resistance from your life, there would be no growth. I don’t think you would have happiness in that. I don’t feel if we lived a life without those things, there will be happiness. Sometimes we find happiness in the ability to overcome and to create, build, and contribute. A lot of times, it’s the figuring out of those things that bring the most joy because there’s a sense of accomplishment and reward. “I can do this.” That builds confidence. It’s a perpetual cycle of growth that is by default when you come into this life. You can magnify that by having the mindset to say, “This is the process of growth. I’m a willing player to go through this process.” That creates the most resilient, awesome, strong and impactful people when we can embody the process of growth, in my opinion.
One thing I would add to it though, is it’s okay that some of these moments suck. Some of this stuff is difficult and it’s okay to struggle with these things, too. We all have a breaking point. You’ve hit that point, I’m sure, in your life. I’ve certainly hit that point where it’s too much to do it on your own and not ask for help, whether that’s your faith, professionals or whatever it is. That’s okay. There’s no shame in that. I think about my own experiences and at times, they’ve been messy. I’ve been at my limit and I’m fortunate to be on the side of it.
I don’t want to glorify this and over-hype it and say that everyone should have these perfect, awesome, and clean experiences where life happens and it’s all good all the time. It’s not like that. There is an opportunity to shift the narrative toward what you’re saying, which is in that moment, can I find something that’s a little bit more positive? Can I look back at something in the past and reframe it and take some good out of it? Can I be a little bit more in that direction of seeing the possibility, the potential in it, as opposed to being totally stuck or largely stuck on that other side, which is struggling with it for whatever reason, fear or anxiety. I want to be fair and clear about it.You need to have patience and inner peace. Click To Tweet
Right now, and in general, some of these conversations are too one-sided. Sometimes it’s too dogmatic. It’s too much. Everything bad that happens to you is in your best interest and it’s all good and you’re going to love it. That’s not true, but there’s always something good in it. There’s always an opportunity to engage with it in a more positive and helpful way overall or even in a single moment. I say that as a bit of a disclaimer, but I know that when you’re at the worst moments, it’s hard to do what we’re talking about here and to shift that mindset. It’s the practice over time that you’re talking about that makes it more second nature. Fortunately or unfortunately, you get a lot of chances to practice this. If you start early and you start to do the work, you do see some of those benefits over time.
I love Les Brown’s quote, “Shoot for the moon. If you don’t make it, at least you’d be among the stars.” That’s such a beautiful quote because there’s always value in trying, no matter how dark it is, no matter how hard it is. I’ve been through some very hard times. One thing that I know for sure, which is a lot to me that I live by and that if I give it effort, I won’t stay in the same place. I may not get where I want to go, there is a possibility, yes, I concur, but if I give it effort, I can make progress.
I give myself the opportunity of possibility to create something different. That’s what we’re talking about here. In doing so, you’re executing resilience. To stay the same and give up because it’s too hard adds no value to the situation at all. It devalues the situation. That’s what it does. You’re either moving forward or going backwards. To produce effort creates energy for the possibility of progress. That’s worth it. I remember when the doctors had given up with me walking again and I had a pastor. I couldn’t stand. She would come to my house and she would make me get up.
She would get a walker, make me get up and make me put my hands on the walker. I had to get my dad and my neighbor next door. They would come over. She did this for months at the same time, every single day. She would make me get up. She would say a prayer for me. I had them hold me up, put my hands on the walker, and she would say, “Walk.” She was standing in front of me about 2 to 3 feet back and say, “Walk to me.” When we first started this process, Chris, do you know hours would go by and I will be in the same spot having not taken a step? I was trying with everything that I had, my legs were shaking.
You could see my foot want to come up off the ground, but it would not. I didn’t have the strength and the neurological function to move my foot off the ground. This went on for months. It reminds me of the Chinese bamboo, where you water this thing, you cultivate the seed in the ground for weeks, and nothing happens. You’re like, “Is it going to come out of ground?” You almost want to dig it up and say, “Is this still here?” That’s what it was like for me. It’s like, “Is this going to work?” She would continue. Until one day, just one step, that’s it. That was all that it took to start a snowball effect. The time between when she first started that and I took that one step, was so long that I could have given up. If I didn’t have the right people around me, people would have said it was okay but I have warriors that were not going to allow me to give up. We try.
I can’t imagine how good that first step felt. For everybody else, it’s one step. We take a million steps a day. For you, at that moment after months, years, tell me, not to turn this around on you, but what did that feel like to take that one step?
I was grateful like, “I did it.” Immediately I’m like, “Can we do this again? Can we get the next leg to take a step?”
Thanks for sharing that.
That’s what it was for me. It was like, “Finally, can we do this again? Can we repeat this process on the other leg?” What I’ve seen was a possibility and that got me excited. I wanted to keep going. I was feeling grateful for the fact that my leg would move. It didn’t take a step. Before I was able to take a step, the fact that it was attempting to come off the ground and progress forward. I knew that if I kept going if I kept trying, if I stayed at this, and if I kept visualizing and praying, potentially if I could get this thing to move from one spot to the next forward, what can I do then? I can master that. What can I do with that?
There’s so much power in that. It’s like, “If I can do this thing, look out because I can do anything else.” That confidence in yourself is hard-earned. No one can give you that. You have to have those experiences where you put in the work. It is like the bamboo, where you’re like, “Is this thing working? Is this broken?” It’s not going to come up, but you keep going and showing up. That’s hard. I was a sprinter when I was an athlete. I was used to having a very focused high effort in a short period of time. Now when I do things, being able to show up over a long period of time is challenging but I also realized that’s where a lot of the value is.
On the podcast, for example, I called it 100 Inspiring Voices as a way to lock myself in. The show is about interviewing 100 people who inspire me, who’ve gone through adversity, and who’ve gotten to a place where their setbacks have transformed their life for the better. I love those stories. There’s so much we can learn from those stories. For me, choosing and putting that out there and saying, “It’s going to be 100,” was meaningful. It was a commitment device to keep me in it for two years to go through that process. You’ve done way more than that. You know how hard it is to show up every single time and keep doing that and keep putting it out there but that’s also where a lot of the value comes from. A lot of people obviously started podcasts, most of them end after seven episodes. I know when I get to 100, that’s going to be a fantastic feeling because I showed up a lot and there are a lot of days I didn’t feel like it but that’s part of the joy that comes out of doing something hard.
One thing I want to highlight here that you mentioned is commitment. You made a commitment for 100. I don’t know why shows end after seven but what I do know is that when you commit to something personally, it creates a level of energy within you that allows you to overcome a lot of obstacles, distractions and emotional distress, such as being tired or not feeling like it to meet that commitment. That’s a part of being resilient as well. Since we’re telling stories, one of the things that kept me going was to be in a position to do a podcast, to write a book, to be a speaker and to be an inspiration to people.
That was my driving force. That made me want to get up, do the exercises, do the twitching, and do the visualization. You don’t have to do something until you want to. When you want to, you don’t have to anymore. I wanted to do everything that was necessary to get me to a different place. It was the same as football. I wanted to be a football star, so I would do these crazy things. People thought I was crazy doing these things because it was unheard of, some of the stuff that I was doing, or the way I would train and eat at that age. They ask me why I’m doing it, I’m like, “I want to get drafted. I want to get a scholarship. I want to be a star.” I was doing those things at a very young age and I took that same framework with me after I got hurt.
What would give me the possibility? How could I create the opportunity to walk again, to be an inspiration? Even if it wasn’t walking again, how can you be an inspiration? How can you take your situation and flip it around to make it something valuable and useful? Not only for yourself, but for those around you. Can you be that guy? I said, “I can be that guy. What does that look like? How can I do that?” I would ask myself these questions and come up with my own plan as I did with football, being a football star, a football player.Self-confidence is hard-earned. Click To Tweet
I was creating a container to hold the things that I wanted in my life. When you create the structure, the framework in your thinking, behavior, team, friends and associates, if it’s fitting a framework, that’s going to hold what it is that you want then, you give yourself the opportunity to overcome and create something beyond where you are. I’m not saying that every person’s going to walk again and get a spinal cord injury. I’m not saying that every person that gets cancer, they’re going to get healed or have a stroke. They’re going to get back to 100%. I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying is doing these things creates an opportunity for positive things to happen. That’s what I mean by your positive potential. There is a positive potential. I’m not saying that it’s going to happen, but the potential of something happening is worth creating the space for it to happen.
It’s not just in the aftermath of severe trauma or major setbacks or anything like that. Everything you’re saying is true in how you show up in life. If there’s something you care about, whether it’s wanting to be a fantastic parent, wanting to start a business, getting healthy, and running when you haven’t run in years, whatever it is. Everything you’re talking about, about that commitment, and creating the container. Showing up and having that expectation that you’re going to keep going, that’s where a lot of the goodness comes from. Unfortunately, the hard part a lot of the time is getting that motivation and commitment. There are things we can do where we can get help from other people. We can trick ourselves into doing it. We can make ourselves accountable in different ways. There’s so much we can do to kickstart that process. What I’m finding is as you do more and you have more success with it, then that confidence builds. As that confidence grows, it becomes easier to do more of that.
Let’s have this conversation, Chris. What’s coming up for me is the idea of it’s hard. There’s challenge and difficulty. What is that? By definition, life is hard. There are times in life where it’s emotionally, physically and financially challenging. It’s hard. “It’s hard,” to me is not an excuse. Hard isn’t a reason to not do a thing. I will acknowledge that it’s challenging and that it’s hard. That just means it’s requiring a little bit more energy than perhaps I was willing to put out that I committed to put in that, unconsciously because I didn’t know what I was going to put out, but something happened. That’s going to take me to a place where I probably didn’t want to go and is painful.
Getting up with your kid in the middle of the night is hard consecutively, but you do it because you love your kid and you’re not going to let the kid sit there and cry because he’s red or she wants something to eat or something like that. That’s hard. What’s on the other side of hard? I think about the Kobe Bryants and the Michael Jordans and the Tom Bradys and some of the great people in the world. When you look at the work ethic, what they’ve accomplished and how they were able to accomplish what they accomplished, it was hard.
When I was investing in real estate, I went to a real estate investment seminar. I can’t remember the gentleman’s name, but he was teaching how to invest. Someone had mentioned something to him about it being hard. Do you know what his response was? “Do it anyway.” I believe Les Brown says, “If it’s hard, do it hard.” I’m only speaking about this because I believe people have enormous potential. I believe in people in what they are capable of overcoming. I feel that at times because something shows up that is seemingly bigger than them or makes them feel that they can’t overcome it because of the space between where they are and overcoming it seems insurmountable and hard, but it only is hard by definition because it hasn’t been done by you yet.
Hard doesn’t mean impossible. Hard means I’m perhaps maybe unfamiliar or I haven’t developed the muscle to do it yet. Hard made me, “I got to go through a process first. I got to do things that I haven’t done that I don’t like to do. If I do those things, then yes, I’ll be able to do this.” There’s not a period that comes at the hard for me, perhaps a comma, but not a period because hard isn’t the end all be all. For some people, every day is hard by definition. To wake up and face another day, it’s challenging beyond what you and I have ever experienced. It’ll make the way we live, the fact that we’re here having this conversation, that’s luxury for them. It’s not even a possibility for them. They are not even looking for that as a possibility. They’re trying to get the next breath, digest food and go to the bathroom in peace without feeling pain, but that’s hard.
I feel that sometimes we take hard and we apply it to things and we remove the responsibility part of this. It’s a privilege and a responsibility piece. To get a harvest from the land, you have to till the ground. You have fertile land. We all have potential, but in order to get it out, you got to turn the soil over. You got to plant and water the seeds. That’s the work part of it. It’s hard work. It’s not fun, but everyone loves to eat and harvest.
It’s helpful to realize though that we all have a breaking point. We all have a point at which something becomes too much. Being able to say out loud, “This is hard,” is okay. It’s better when that’s not the end of the sentence when it’s, “This is hard, but it’s going to feel amazing when I get to the other side. This is hard but I’m up for the challenge. This is hard but I’m not alone.” Having that little bit that comes after it can be powerful. I also know that there’s a lot of people out there where if you say, “Go hard, run through walls,” that doesn’t resonate with them in the same way. For some people, that’s all they need to have a little bit of a kick in the backside. For other people though, that’s maybe not what motivates them. There’s a little bit of that nuance in that being sensitive to how people need to process things and what type of motivation they need. Most of the good things are on the other side of hard and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.
You have written a failure resume. I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone writing a failure resume. Most people write resumes, highlighting their accomplishments. What is the thought process behind a failure resume?
I’m sure I’m not the one who invented it. It came from a couple of things that happened in my life. I was working for some consulting firms and one of the things I noticed was we spent very little time talking about what didn’t go well. We delivered a project. Maybe the client did or didn’t do what we thought they should do. We almost never sat down and said, “How could we have done this better? What happened? Why aren’t we continually improving? Why did this happen in this instance?” I thought that was odd because there’s a lot of things that those companies do well. They tend to be pretty well run, but no one was talking about failure. I filed that away and I tried to get some people to do it.
It never went anywhere. I had my own experiences where I felt like these things that were happening to me, they look like failures, having to leave jobs in unceremonious terms, and broken physically, that felt a lot like a failure. I was thinking about failure more. In the process of spending more time thinking about it, I started to realize my failures and my successes were intertwined. Something would happen, I’d have a setback and as a result of that setback, I’d have the space to think about something that I was more interested in. I’d have the license to do something different. It was hard to separate out the successes and the failures, whatever those were.
The third thing that happened is I started doing workshops and trainings with people and I’d introduce myself. I would say like, “Here’s my resume. Here’s what I do.” It was all the good stuff. I started to realize, “That’s not right.” You can’t just talk about the good stuff, you got to talk about the bad stuff, too, because it also got me there. It’s part of the story. I started doing presentations and say, “Here’s what you see on LinkedIn. Here’s the professional stuff. Here’s the other stuff. Here’s how they fit together.” It was in that process, I said, “I should put this out there. I should sit down and write it.”
I wrote my failure resume and some of it was professional. Some of it was things that people said about me at work, bosses, coworkers, saying, “I’m going to put it out there because I know we all have these stories.” I published it. The response has been amazing. Everyone identifies with feeling like we don’t talk about these things, but they’re part of life. It’s liberating to be able to name these things and say, “This happened. I did this. This happened to me, but that’s not me. That’s something that happened to me.” It’s a super cool practice and I would encourage other people to sit down. I would love to see people spend more time thinking about their failure resume and what good came from that, as opposed to polishing that professional resume. We all know how those work. It’s the very best stuff.
Failure and challenges are necessary. You can look at someone’s experience, if you want to call it their failure experience, that’s fine. You can almost understand their growth. By looking at what they’ve gone through, you can see where they are, what they’ve been able to overcome, and learn from those experiences. We get the opportunity to go through experiences. I am sensitive to the people and the emotions that come up when you go through these experiences, being someone who has been through those things. It sucks sometimes. I’ve trained myself to look at the positive side of things at all times.Your failures and successes are intertwined. Click To Tweet
It seems to come to help me keep myself in a very positive mental state when I’m going through those things because if not, you can get swept into feeling defeated. That’s not what I want for my readers, myself and you. Being able to go back and look at those failures and the key is to remember what we’ve learned from them that can be very motivating and inspiring for us. You mentioned your podcast. Why did you start the podcast? What’s the story behind your podcast?
I’ve been thinking a lot about failures, adversity, resilience and reinvention, all these things, partly because of my own experiences, but as it turns out, that’s the work that I was doing with my clients. I was working with organizations that wanted to figure out, “How do I grow? How do I deal with adversity, a competitor, and the market change? My customer is not wanting my stuff anymore.” I was doing the same work professionally and those two worlds collided. My personal work started to become intertwined in my professional. That’s where I am now.
The podcast was something that I’ve been thinking about and I honestly had spent about a year talking about it with other people. I knew I wanted to do it. I wanted to hear more stories. I felt like I could learn more from other people. Part of what got me there was I had a conversation with another cancer survivor and I felt how liberating it was to talk to someone who knew that experience who could talk about how it changed your life. We had the same shorthand. We were both there. That was amazing, that experience. I remember fondly. I started thinking about, “What would it be like to talk to other people?”
I also started to realize everyone’s experiences are different. Your experience, Rodney, is very different from mine. There are things that obviously are similar and we’re talking about some of that, but what you went through is also quite different than what I went through. That’s more true than not. People go through a huge range of things, including the people you’re talking about, where both of us would look at this and say, “I don’t want any part of this. What you’re going through is so much worse than me.” It was born out of curiosity and out of personally wanting to go there, wanting to have a license to go and have these conversations with people and talk about what is the good that can come out of some of these difficult things and what can other people do and take from those experiences.
That’s proven to be a cool set of experiences. Frankly, I would think of it as a privilege where I get to talk to people that are inspiring to me and hear about their stories. I learned something every single week. I learned something about, how do you get through it? How do you change your life afterward? How do you support other people who are going through adversity in their life? That is such a blessing. I’m thankful for the format. Podcasts are amazing for going deep on something. It creates a sense of intimacy that you don’t get in a lot of other formats. I’m lucky that people are willing to share their stories and be vulnerable with me.
Chris, thank you for coming to the show. How can people connect with you if they wanted to learn more about you?
The best place to go is my website. It’s ChrisBordoni.com. You can certainly learn more about my story, but I have a section called Resilience 101 for people who want to go deeper. If you want a workbook for practices that you can start incorporating into your life a few minutes a day if you want to go deeper on the theory. Also, if you want to know about books, articles, and things that you can read, it’s all there in one place for people who want to do a little bit more exploring. You can sign up for The Newsletter and check out the podcast. There are tons of stuff there. Go to the website and see what inspires you and curious to learn a little bit more about.
Thank you for that, Chris. If there was one thing that you would want people to know about resilience and practice whenever they’re feeling somewhat defeated or feeling some resistance in their life, what would that one thing be?
The biggest thing is that the path is different for everyone. We didn’t talk about this too much, but there are five protective factors broadly. Things like your mental habits, faith, purpose and meaning in life, relationships and then your resources. Those are the five big things. The combination and what you lean on are different for each person. A lot of times, we become dogmatic. If you want to be more resilient, it’s like, “Go practice gratitude. Start a gratitude journal. Do Headspace. Go run.” That works for some people and that’s great, but for other people, that’s not the way. The biggest message for me is to figure out what works for you. Try things, explore and test stuff. There are hundreds of practices out there that can make you more resilient if you have the motivation to go and try. If you’ve done things in the past and gotten discouraged, I would say, that’s not an excuse. Those are data points that you can use to go and find new things to try. Eventually, everyone will find their path as they keep moving forward.
Thank you so much, Chris.
Thanks so much, Rodney.
It’s another successful episode. What I got from all of this, especially with what Chris said in his closing remarks is this is a marathon. This is not a quick-fix type of race that we’re running, the journey that we’re on. We’re going to make mistakes. We got to figure some things out. A lot of the figuring it out is trying stuff and finding what works for you. I want to encourage you, if you’re reading this, to stay in the game. If you haven’t found that thing that flips your switch, turns you on and puts you back in the game, keep trying and looking for it. When you do find it, it’s going to make you a stronger, better person. You’re going to understand what it is that you need or you can do to get back in the game and win. Until next time. Peace and love.
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About Chris Bordoni
Chris Bordoni is an expert in resilience, reinvention, and personal growth. He is an executive coach and teaches at American University’s Kogod School of Business. Chris is also the creator and host of the 100 Inspiring Voices podcast.
Chris holds a B.S. from Cornell University and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and daughter.