“Barn’s burnt down—now I can see the moon.”
While it may sound like a tragic country music ditty, consider it a one-line masterclass on resilience by 17th-century Japanese poet and samurai, Mizuta Masahide.
For some, it can feel like we’ve lived in brace position for so long. Our very posture finds us steeled for the idea of impact: shoulders tense and jaw locked, with a white-knuckled grip on reality.
To be clear, the future has always been uncertain. But there’s what we planned and then there’s life, which finds a way.
Self-advocating with Serena Adsit
Singaporean Serena Adsit, model and founder of Mint Management defines resilience as “the stickability to keep going” and “rise above your trauma, to forgive, reset and start afresh”.
The late actress Carrie Fisher advised us to take our broken hearts and turn them into art. Adsit calls it transmuting the pain into lessons.
At the tender age of 10, Adsit took her power back by standing up to a trusted adult male who was abusing her. Reflecting on her sense of agency, she shares: “From the depths of my existence I finally found the courage to speak out and put my foot down after being in denial that what he was doing was hurtful to me.”
As young Adsit learnt to self-advocate, she discovered that “fighting for yourself gets easier”.
With feelings of low self-worth, extreme shyness and loneliness, shw remembers a time when she was her own saboteur. “When I got to my lowest point, I had no more negativity left so I went in search of help in the form of counselling, healing and other spiritual courses that taught me about who I really was underneath the drama and pain.”
Despite hating confrontation, Adsit stresses the importance of facing issues head-on. “We need to take responsibility and be accountable for everything that happens in our life. No shortcuts there.”
Dr Barbara Sturm on betting on yourself
“I was once in a toxic work situation that ended with me getting bullied out of a clinic. At first it was terribly hard, but it made me realise that if I wanted to follow my own values, I would have to start my own business,” shares Dr Barbara Sturm, founder of Dr Barbara Sturm Molecular Cosmetics, available at Net-a-Porter.
Her cult beauty brand now enjoys a +5,300 percent growth rate based on 2019 versus its launch in 2014.
The former orthopaedic surgeon was part of a medical team that pioneered a new treatment that uses a patient’s blood cells to produce inflammation-reducing proteins and help heal joint tissue. Sturm’s passion for healing bodies led her quest for practical applications in aesthetic medicine.
She shows her grit by taking bold risks and staying on-mission with a “knife-sharp determination” even when things appear to be impossible.
“What makes you go further is the strength of your belief paired with an inner optimism that pushes you to run this thing to the end.”
Sturm uses moments of uncertainty as fuel for disruption. “I like to be challenged because it demands your creativity to do something that hasn’t been done before, to think out of the box and come up with something unexpected and new,” she says.
“Every down is followed by an up and within every bad situation is something good. When something bad happens, you have to believe it happens for a reason; you always have to believe, even if you can’t see what the point is yet.”
Rixo: fashioning their story
“Even to this day, people, mainly men in suits wanting a piece of our business, said we couldn’t do it on our own—that we weren’t old enough, experienced enough and didn’t have enough contacts or money to succeed,” says Henrietta Rix, co-founder (with Orlagh McCloskey) of Rixo, which made its global debut on Net-a-Porter in 2016.
The vintage-inspired line began in the shared university living room of Rix and McCloskey, eventually bootstrapping its way to being an upwards of +1,200 percent growth in 2019 since 2016, according to Net-a-Porter.
“Net-a-Porter was the first wholesaler to really believe in us and pick up our collection,” says Rix, who made it on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for 2020. “At the time, we were two young 20-something female founders running Rixo completely on our own,” she adds.
Without any investors, an executive board, big budgets, the luxury of an office or team, the duo—guided by logic and intuition—threw out notions of work-life balance and worked day and night.
“The journey so far has taught us to follow our gut and not let other people’s negative thoughts or opinions deter us. There will always be people out there that will want you to fail or to break you down to take a part of what is yours to benefit themselves,” cautions McCloskey
While self-doubt is part and parcel of life and entrepreneurship, Rix adds that staying headstrong was the best decision of all. “Not having investors meant we retained control of our business, could remain agile, make decisions quickly and do what we know in our gut is genuinely right for Rixo.”
To this day, Rixo remains privately owned, completely self-funded and female-led.
“Launching Rixo has taught us that as people we are very resilient, but also that you have to be completely passionate about your brand. Otherwise the long hours and sacrifices you have to make will get the better of you,” Rix adds.
As we toggle between fear and faith, it’s easy to be overwhelmed.
Keeping spirits and mental health buoyant amidst all that’s happening is an energetic workout in itself.
Senior clinical psychologist at Adam Road Medical Centre, Dr Jamie Lee, likens resilience to a muscle “that grows and strengthens through intense exercise”.
“The trauma from torn muscle fibres trigger a process of healing and recovery. Similarly, adversity and setbacks, though painful, are necessary to grow resilience,” says Lee.
Mindfulness coach, Tan Cheen Chong, associates life’s challenges to equipment in the mind’s gym. “Just like lifting heavier weights at the gym builds muscle tone and strength, unpleasant circumstances add more ‘resistance’ to make us mentally stronger.”
When it comes to weathering life’s storms, Tan says it’s all about being the “CEO of me” and making decisions from a place of self-care instead of fear.
“With practice, you realise that you can choose to stay indoors, use a raincoat or dance in the rain. You have more control than you think”
Pauline Howard, a former mediation and alternative dispute resolution lawyer turned certified life coach, weighs in: “Resilience is a balanced mix of flexibility and stability, with a pinch of acceptance.”
Howard, founder of Bloom Coaching, paints an evocative image of a piece of bamboo dancing in the wind. “It moves gracefully. It bends to the whims of the weather while remaining firmly rooted and holding onto its natural ability to bounce back.”
Having lived in London, New York, Tokyo and now Singapore, the Paris-born life coach is no stranger to the challenges of transition and adaptation.
“My coaching journey began seven years ago in Japan, where I was trained and worked for TELL [Tokyo English Life Line], Japan’s only English-speaking helpline, providing confidential support to callers on a wide variety of personal issues,” says Howard, who saw a spectrum of issues ranging from loneliness, to depression, abuse and even suicide.
Howard underscores the importance of being surrounded by people with whom we can be our true and authentic selves. “Having someone to talk to, whoever that person may be, tends to be the most fertile ground for overcoming adversity. With a bit of help and hope, people seem to be able to bounce back from the worst of places.”
Making mental health a priority
“Aside from caring for our bodies by eating, sleeping and exercising well, your resilience toolbox should also include caring for your mental health. We tend to have our own unique patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving which can either help us or bring us down in the face of adversity,” says Lee.
So you didn’t run a half marathon today, but you took a walk around the block. You might not have landed that dream job yet, but you took a leap and sent your resume.
Instead of beating yourself up for your shortcomings, reframe your negative self-talk by celebrating what you’ve achieved.
Focus on the “small steps you can engage in that are within your control,” reminds Lee.