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Rising Through Resilience: Dr Reyzan Shali On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Reyzan Shali.

Dr. Reyzan Shali is known for her resilient spirit and her positive attitude. A primary care physician, board-certified in Internal Medicine, she leads her practice in Southern California. A proud daughter of two great Kurdish parents from the Kurdistan region of Iraq, she is a loving mother, wife, sister, aunt, and friend.

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?

My journey is made possible with my friends and family’s love and support as well as the doubters I’ve faced. Moving from Iraq, years ago, leaving my eight brothers and sisters, was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Coming to the United States, raising two wonderful boys, and building my family medical practice have been the most meaningful things I have ever done. And making lifelong connections with people across the globe along the way has been truly fulfilling. As someone who has faced and overcame many challenges in life, I try to focus on positivity rather than negativity. Sharing my story through my writing and speaking, not only helps me be more resilient but helps me to inspire others along the way.

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 had the pleasure of working with many patients and have learned a lot. One time, a patient of mine shared with me that her family was pushing her to put her husband in hospice, but she didn’t want to. Confiding with me, she asked if I could talk with them. She told me that she felt I was part of her family, and that she needed my help. This was a turning point for me. I became a doctor to help people, but here I was with a patient who considered me family. That opened my eyes to how special my relationships are with my patients. They are my family. And I treat them as such.

I think I’ve managed to gain the trust of so many individuals and families due to my work ethic, communication, and non-judgmental approach. This has laid the foundation for many long-lasting relationships. And while my job is to treat patients, they’re often the ones to lift me with their kind words, gratitude, or friendship.

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?

The answer might surprise you. I’m thankful to all those who doubted me, minimized me, or made fun of me in my life. I’ve been knocked down many times. They escorted me to the valley of darkness and I dwelled there longer than necessary. They watched me spiral deeper into self-doubt and were happy to see me there. I’m happy to say I’ve proved them wrong.

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?

As a family physician on the front lines since the start of the pandemic, I had to help my patients be resilient through sickness and unimaginable loss.

I would define resilience as bouncing back from adversity. It’s the ability to stay the course and not give up when facing obstacles, while thriving throughout the process.

I believe that there are at a minimum three traits of resilient people, whether they be my patients, entrepreneurs, students, sons, daughters, or friends, all share.

1. Resilient people thrive in the face of adversity/obstacles. Resilient people are not quick to say “It can’t be done,” instead they make serious efforts to find solutions.

2. Resilient people are adaptable. They change course and find detours when facing roadblocks instead of giving up.

3. Resilient people are not afraid of failures. They welcome failures as opportunities to learn and grow.

Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?

Great question, and it makes me think of a recent personal story. I had to have courage and resilience in the process of leaving my established medical practice and taking the leap to form a new one.

It’s easy to get complacent. To expand my soul and creativity, I need some variety and challenge. After realizing I was complacent at my current practice, I knew it was time for a change.

At first, I thought that moving my practice would be seen as a failure. But then I realized that failing is not such a bad thing; it’s how we grow. Not all of your decisions will lead to positive growth, and that’s OK. Instead of making decisions based on what other people think of you, make changes because you want to make them. To me, that is courage.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

I have to say that the first people who come to mine are the people of Kurdistan. These are the people of my parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts. They embody the beauty of my mother and the kindness of my father. When I’m visiting home, and get to visit with Kurds, I feel cleansed and refreshed. They are people who rehabilitated themselves and turned their land back to beauty and grace after each atrocity committed against their regions. Kurds have had to develop undeniable courage as a result of facing insurmountable challenges. Despite their trials, they never lost their culture and heritage. These are my people, and I believe they epitomize resiliency.

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?

When I first wrote a draft of a chapter in the book that I wanted to write and showed it to some of my close friends and family, I could immediately tell that they thought I was foolish. Venturing into writing and speaking is totally outside my comfort zone. But that’s why I continue to pursue both. They pointed out all of the grammatical and punctuation errors. They didn’t see why I was writing it. They didn’t understand how this book was going to be a tribute to my parents, who both died of cancer. Once again, I had to ignore those who said it was a stupid idea, and I just kept writing. Years later, when the book was published, these same family members congratulated me on the accomplishment.

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?

Just like everyone else, I have faced different obstacles that left varying imprints on me. I managed them at times better than others. A major setback was losing my mother almost five years ago. I remember feeling incapable of moving on. I would think to myself, “How am I going to handle tomorrow?” The pain was too much. I don’t have asthma, but I felt I was going through an asthma attack for days, weeks, months. Breathing was difficult and my heart was so heavy. My chest felt tight constantly. I remember when my patients would ask me how my mother was doing, I would leave the exam room because a choking sensation would overtake me and I couldn’t tell them what had happened to my mother.

I guess time can heal and with a lot of support from friends and family, I came to accept the fact that the transition was what she wanted. For months before her passing, she had asked to be buried next to my dad when the time came. I guess she missed him too much and just wanted to be with him. I miss her terribly but I’m happy for her. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. My sadness has turned to gratitude, as I’m so thankful for all that she did for me.

How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

I believe my resiliency has been built throughout my life’s journey through all my trials and joys. It feels like it took me a lifetime but I’m finally getting to a good mental place. I feel confident in my ability to deal with continuous challenges.

Looking back I think all the bullying, dismissing, and minimizing I’ve faced and continue to face has helped me build more resilience.

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.

1. Build a positive mindset. This continues to be one of the biggest challenges in my life. I continue to be relentless at pursuing it. Especially because I’ve always been a glass-half-empty person.

It took me years but I realized the more I surround myself with and the more I spend time with people who offer a positive mindset, the better I feel about myself. So over the years, I became more intentional with spending time with those who lifted me.

2. Venture outside your comfort zone.

Venturing into writing and speaking is totally outside my comfort zone. But I do it anyway. I’m a regular contributor to Thrive Global and seek regular speaking opportunities.

3. Be aware of your “Why”

I want to make my parents proud of me. I want to be successful to make sure that my boys and extended family live a comfortable life. I want to be successful so I can help as many people as I can. And again, I want to be successful to prove all the bullies and naysayers wrong.

4. Create positive habits

One of the best ways to stay positive is to do things that balance you out. That could be doing yoga, walking your dog, or sitting and reading a good book. Do things that zen and balance you or motivate you without feeling bad about it. I used to feel guilty about trips to visit my sister since I have to take time off work and be away from my family and spend money. But I don’t feel guilty about it anymore, because the time we spend walking and talking rejuvenates my soul and body.

5. Embrace your uniqueness

Understand that being different is unique and positive in so many different ways. It feels like it took me a lifetime, but I am finally getting to a place where I feel that my uniqueness is an asset and not a hindrance.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I want to switch the whole world to a plant-based diet. I want to save beautiful animals and improve their quality of life. In addition, the benefits of people divorcing bacon, and falling in love with vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other plant-based foods, will help them live their healthiest lives (fewer doctor’s visits)!

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 :-)

This is a difficult question, as there are so many fascinating people I would love to have some quality face time with. But, if I had to pick, right now it would be Tyler Perry. Why? Some people embody resilience, and I’d love to hear some of his stories that highlight overcoming obstacles.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can visit shalimd.com, or find and connect with me @ReyzanShali on Twitter and Instagram.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Savio P. Clemente

Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), #1 Best-selling Author, Syndicated Columnist, Podcaster, and Stage 3 Cancer Survivor