Savor joy. Life is full of ups and downs. Happiness is not always sustainable. But, we can find moments of simple pleasure that bring us joy. A delicious meal, a good conversation with a friend, watching a dog play, or sharing a laugh with a stranger are all things that connect us and can make us feel alive, even if for a moment. I didn’t realize how much pleasure and joy are connected to healing until I went through my own healing from grief.
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 Rachel Lipton, MPP, CPCC, ACC.
As a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, Rachel empowers women to move through (un)intentional life changes with courage and power. A “multipotentialite,”adventure-seeker, and creative thinker, Rachel has been on her own personal journey of resilience in the wake of an unexpected end to her marriage during the COVID-19 pandemic. She has nearly a decade of experience as a strategy and evaluation consultant for social impact organizations and understands what individuals and organizations need to bounce back from crisis. More about Rachel’s coaching practice can be found at www.rachelliptoncoaching.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?
When I was just out of graduate school and in a toxic work environment, I participated in a peer coaching program and that really helped me through a tough time. I loved it so much that I wanted to make a career out of it; I felt called to the work. I started life, leadership, and career coaching about 4 years ago, received training from Tara Mohr (author of Playing Big), and got certified from the Co-Active Training Institute while working as a learning and evaluation consultant for nonprofits and philanthropic foundations.
My coach training gave me the skills to cope with the sudden loss of the partner I knew and trusted for 13 years. In the fall of 2019, my (now ex-) husband unexpectedly left me. He became a total stranger overnight. It was a confusing, distressing, and traumatic time. I found out he was having a short-lived affair with a co-worker, but he was never honest with me. Because he had filed for divorce so quickly, I was advised not to say anything to him about it until the divorce was finalized. The pain, lack of agency, and loneliness felt unbearable, and it heightened when the lockdown orders came down in March 2020.
I had to learn to move through grief mostly by myself (although I had wonderful support from my family) during a time when anxiety, loneliness, and many other layers of grief were happening for all of us as we lost the world we knew.
It took me over a year to feel like myself again. In fact, I feel more like myself than I did when I was with my ex. My life spirit feels like it’s shining, and I am living the life that I want for myself. Nothing is more powerful than that.
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?
It’s really hard to pick just one moment in time! I think a lot of my big career lessons are from cumulative experiences. Here are some of the five most useful things I’ve learned:
- Know your worth. Having graduated at the time of the 2008 economic crisis and as a young professional hoping to start in the nonprofit sector, I had a really hard time finding work and did a lot of unpaid internships. Some were really positive experiences but others were not either because I wasn’t given substantive work or because I wasn’t treated with respect.
- Presence (not only being able to be present in the moment but also being comfortable in your skin despite external pressures) is one of the most important skills we can cultivate. Presence helps us stay more calm and focused in the job search, interview, and onboarding processes. It gives us the courage to do hard things with grace.
- Sometimes we can’t turn lemons into lemonade. Sometimes it makes sense to transition out of a role or job to be able to grow and step into your own leadership.
- Stay curious. When we have a curious mindset, we are able to move past assumptions and stay in learning mode.
- Pay attention to what qualities make for a good leader. There are lots of people in leadership positions that don’t have the skills required to build teams and lift up people. Be a different kind of leader!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think clients are drawn to coaches that they can see themselves in. That’s why I focus on coaching women going through big changes. (By the way, I’m not opposed to coaching men!). I’ve been through major career, relationship, and leadership changes in my professional career and I think it helps to be guided by someone who’s been through experiences like that.
I also think that what makes my coaching practice unique is that I come from a social impact consulting background, so I have had a bird’s eye view of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to leadership development and organizational effectiveness. In addition, I approach my work with an intersectional social justice lens and see how the systems we operate in affect the way we are seen and show up in the world.
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?
This is so true! I’m really most grateful for my parents. They have been a constant source of support for me personally and professionally. I feel really lucky to have them in my life, and it helps that my mom is a Marriage Family Therapist! I remember feeling so scared and anxious to put in my notice to leave my first job out of grad school (e.g. the toxic work environment), and my mom was the first person I called. She (and my brother actually) talked me through it and I was able to leave, take a week off, and start my new job with their support.
Professionally, I’ve learned to be my own mentor since I’ve lacked strong connections to mentors throughout my professional career. It’s easier to do that in your 30s than in your 20s, because we have more inner resources at that point in our lives and we see that everyone is always learning and growing, even the people that may have at one time felt “untouchable” in our early careers because of their level of influence.
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?
I define resilience as the ability to bounce back from challenges or crises. What are we “bouncing back” to? For individuals, we are coming back to the core of who we are as humans, but that doesn’t always mean we come back to the status quo. Challenges and trauma are major disruptors, but also create opportunities for rebirth. So we grow from those experiences whether we like it or not.
Resilient people have a strong sense of self, are willing to learn new thought patterns and behaviors and unlearn old ones that no longer serve them, and can face the fear of the unknown.
It’s similar for organizations. Organizations grow and adapt based on the individuals that make up the collective (especially leaders) and responses to external changes. Some level of “bouncing back” to financial or operational stability occurs, but the organization is going to be shaped by the collective and cumulative challenges it faces, so resilience is adapting to what’s here now.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
I think these two qualities go hand-in-hand. In order to be resilient, we need to be courageous. Change is hard. Without courage to make change and move through change, we are not able to be fully resilient.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I think of the many social justice activists who have faced real threats against their own lives and families’ lives but are steadfast in their hope and values to make change. I think of people like John Lewis, Nelson Mandela, and the countless leaders and members of organizations doing grassroots advocacy on issues like reproductive, economic, and environmental justice around the world and who maintain hope in a world that opposes their ability to live full and free lives.
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?
Yes, this has happened several times in my life. When I was in high school, I was a great student but a bad standardized test taker. (I’m very glad the College Board is doing away with the SAT, by the way!). My senior year English teacher told me I wouldn’t get into UC Berkeley with my test score. Well, he was wrong, and I graduated from Berkeley with two degrees.
There have been many times in my career where I’ve persevered despite being rejected in some way. One funny story is that when I was 18, I called Shape Magazine so many times to check on the status of my internship application that they gave me the job! I have two bylines in a 2003 issue of that magazine (and proud of it!).
I’ve also been told early in my career that my resume had too many diverse experiences so it looked like I couldn’t stick to one thing, so big name nonprofit organizations wouldn’t hire me. I’ve had a successful career in that sector despite that, and as someone who has been on the other side of the hiring table, I really value potential applicants with diverse experiences.
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?
Yes! Earlier in this interview, I described that my ex-husband unexpectedly left me a few months before the pandemic hit. That upended my life, and then it felt doubly so because of the pandemic and all of the uncertainty surrounding that. I’ve never felt such an array of emotions and somatic reactions to those emotions in my life. There were a lot of ups and downs (mostly downs) as I moved through intense loss, confusion, and hopelessness. I still worked full time through it all, saw my family regularly once they became my COVID pod, and did a lot of learning and processing.
I went from not being able to move some days (literally, my body felt like it weighed 1,000 pounds sometimes) and feeling despair about my life and how the pandemic would shape it, to finding joy and living the life that I want. I was able to keep my home, get a dog (in addition to my two middle-aged cats), buy a kayak, and learn how to really enjoy being alone. I just finished a solo work-cation in Hawaii and have a yoga retreat coming up soon too. I’m finally cultivating the community I’ve always wanted and trying new things that feed my soul, including my own coaching practice.
I did that by surrounding myself with people who cared for me, savoring every in-person interaction I had with someone (whether it was a walk with a neighbor or chatting with the grocery store clerk), dancing, singing, and letting myself process and feel my emotions (a lot!). It was exhausting but also necessary. When we get to a point where the emotional pain feels unbearable, it actually makes it easier to surrender to the body and let it move through the feeling rather than push the feeling away.
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 feel really lucky to have not had trauma in my early years. When my marriage ended, I felt like I had joined the ranks of people that have been through intense grief and/or trauma, like I finally understood. I actually found comfort in the fact that grief and loss are part of our shared humanity; everyone will go through it at some point in their life.
Something that comes up for me in response to this question is that I was a relatively shy girl in elementary school. I come from a Jewish background, and I spent a few years preparing for my Bat Mitzvah (a rite of passage where 13 year olds are welcomed into the adult Jewish community by leading a service and preparing a speech). It was at that point in my life I made the choice to be more bold and confident. I ran for Vice President of my Freshman class in high school and that was a big step for me (TLDR: I didn’t win the election!) But the important thing was that I put myself out there, and I kept practicing that skill even when I felt anxious inside. I think it’s really served me well in my career as an adult.
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.
It’s no mistake that the steps I am going to share below about becoming more resilient are also steps toward greater self-love. Why? Because the more we know and trust ourselves and know how to take care of ourselves, we will be more able to be resilient.
- Get to know what is happening in your body and use it. Dance. Sing. Make funny faces. Cry. Rage. When I was at my lowest points, my body took over — it shook, cried, walked like my legs had anvils. It also wanted to sing and jump and dance. And I let it.
- Seek out people who care for you and let go of the ones who don’t show up. If we can’t let go of them (after all, they may be a family member or your boss), don’t use your energy on them. Save your energy for you. I’ve been in work environments that were emotionally draining and I had to tiptoe around mercurial leaders. I knew that I couldn’t change them, but I could change my reaction to them and how much energy I let them take up in my life. A certain level of detachment can be helpful for situations that don’t serve you.
- Set boundaries and be realistic about what you can and cannot do right now. Setting boundaries honors your values and what you need. When we are in crisis, we have limited resources to extend to others, let alone ourselves. Focusing on yourself or the mission in front of you during a crisis will take a lot of energy, so it is important how to use it well so that we don’t burn out.
- Cultivate hope. There were times I felt utterly hopeless and couldn’t see a future for myself. But when we believe that another future is possible, change can happen. I look to the resilient leaders I mentioned working in the face of significant threats because they believe another future is possible. If we don’t believe it, it’s hard to make it happen.
- Savor joy. Life is full of ups and downs. Happiness is not always sustainable. But, we can find moments of simple pleasure that bring us joy. A delicious meal, a good conversation with a friend, watching a dog play, or sharing a laugh with a stranger are all things that connect us and can make us feel alive, even if for a moment. I didn’t realize how much pleasure and joy are connected to healing until I went through my own healing from grief.
Resilience is going to look different for everyone at different times. But there are always lessons in resilience for us when we return to self-love.
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. :-)
Ooh! A juicy question! I would build environmentally, economically sustainable communities where the unhoused would be housed, public spaces would be available for play and recreation, and the community would provide wrap-around services to address basic needs including access to healthy food, medical care, and education. It’s unacceptable that a rich nation like the US has such a large problem with poverty and homelessness. We need to provide people with basic services that enrich their lives and we need to be connected to each other more than ever.
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 :-)
I would love to meet Esther Perel, a renowned psychologist whose work on modern relationships has become even more well-known. She’s a living example of resilience. Her parents were Holocaust survivors and she acknowledges that her birth was in itself an act of resilience. She’s an inspiring public figure (and, Esther, I would be thrilled if your eyeballs were on this right now!)
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I’d be thrilled to connect on these channels:
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!