Rising Through Resilience: Sivonnia DeBarros of SL DeBarros Law Firm On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Shifting your mindset for success™ removing negative thinking or belief systems that don’t serve you. It’s breaking free from old chains, so to speak, to begin stepping into a new freedom. When we determine that we can do anything, we begin to step into an open world of possibilities and this allows us to move with resilience while operating from a growth mindset.
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 Sivonnia DeBarros, Esq.
Sivonnia DeBarros is a first-generation lawyer, Two-Time Best-Selling Author and Protector of Athletes.™ Since passing the bar in 2013, DeBarros has built a six-figure law firm representing pro athletes from the NFL, MLS, NBA-G League, and Pro-Table Tennis sports, and high net worth small business owners, creatives, & employees. DeBarros’s passion for law is demonstrated through news features like WGN-9 News, CBS-Chicago, ABC Channel 7, and a host of podcasts.
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?
At the tender age of four, I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer and confidently uttered those words to my mom. I’m not sure if my mom ever questioned me about “what being a lawyer meant,” but she never belittled or diminished my dream which gave me an instinctive power to traverse into the world with a strong grip on my dream and knowing that no matter what it took, I would accomplish it.
Fast-forward to my young adult years as I applied for (subsequently attended, and graduated from) law school, I do not think I ever pondered how hard it would be. The opportunities that would be afforded to me — or not, the many doors that would be shut in my face which had nothing to do with my ability to excel, but more about the awkward racial & ethnicity vibes as I interviewed for various positions, and the constant thought that “I didn’t fit the mold” of what they were looking for.
Regardless, I was determined to find and dominate any opportunity afforded to me, even if that meant I had to create my own. And I did. I launched my law firm in February of 2014 which was exceedingly difficult because you realize there are a lot of law schools that do not prepare you for the road ahead. It was my responsibility to find the answers to all my questions.
For example, earlier in my law practice, I had a desire to represent professional athletes but after experiencing rejection, I did what many Americans do … I threw my hands up and said, “maybe I need more training before they listen to me.” Between that time and 2017, I realized that it did not matter what others thought. I had to do what my heart desired.
In 2017, the fire to represent athletes reignited and I began re-shaping my law practice to serve that demographic although I did not have one single athlete client. Something shifted in me. As a former athlete, I understood then — and now — the unique challenges athletes faced and the lack of legal protection that often contributed to their turmoil. I thought, “why not me?” I could be the attorney who provides a voice to this demographic and show them how to legally protect themselves. My next step to representing athletes was engaging in market research to determine the unique needs and struggles of the professional athlete. As a result, I recognized the similarities in struggles, triumphs, environments, and decisions that caused professional athletes to struggle in a myriad of ways post sports. At that moment, I knew I needed to write about it; yet, I was riddled with fear, constantly pondering, “what would people think? Would sports experts negatively criticize me?” Like the shift I experienced earlier on, I stood up to myself and my damaging fears and said, “who cares what they think? Just write the book.” So, I did.
In 2019, I began writing What Are You Sporting About?© (“WAYSA™”). Little did I know the world would shut down months later, allowing me to grab the attention of my desired client, subsequently achieving bestseller status on Amazon.com once published in 2020. By taking a stand and saying “NO to FEAR,” I also published a podcast; authored a second book, Athletes Making Moves©; supported athletes in protecting their businesses and brands through my firm; and have taught hundreds of lawyers, students, and parents about the law and sports.
I would not have achieved the success I have today serving this sports & entertainment community if I did not identify my dreams and go after them, trust myself, move despite fear, and educate myself appropriately on the needs of the demographic I wished to serve.
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 can’t say that what I’m about to share is the most interesting story from my career, but it’s why I’m passionate about helping business owners to thrive.
About four or five years ago, an older couple (in their late 60s or early 70s) presented to my office stating that they needed support recouping money that they had loaned to a friend to which all of the parties signed a promissory note.
After engaging with the opposing party (the friend/s) through their legal counsel, it was clear that we had to file a case, so we did. I filed the complaint, my opposing party answered it, and after several years of litigation (going through motion practice, pre-trial preparation and trial motions), it was time to present this matter to a jury.
The issue around their promissory note (i.e. the contract) turned on whether it was ambiguous or not, leaning towards a different idea of how the parties were to perform. I was able to convince the jury that it wasn’t ambiguous and that based on the parties conduct after signing the promissory note, the opposing parties knew exactly what their obligations were to my clients but thought they could get over on them.
The lessons that I learned from this case is that when you’re doing business, it’s always necessary to protect your interests — even more when you’re engaging with family or friends. More importantly, it’s necessary to protect your interests by engaging with counsel every step of the way when you’ve invested over $100,000.00 in money, time, or assets that benefits another.
My clients had gone to the max for their “so-called friends” and yet, those friends were willing to steal it all away from them. Through this experience, I constantly had to communicate mindset beliefs with my clients letting them know that everything will be okay. This instilled resilience in me to move forward as hard as I could to seek justice my clients deserved, and received.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Authenticity, hands down. Every client I’ve serviced knows that I give it to them real — no chaser. Haha. I pride myself and business on being authentic because people want to do business with those they like and know. And in fact, most business I receive is through word of mouth. Therefore, I would not be successful or standout if I suddenly changed what or who they thought I was.
Creativity also helps my business to thrive. Most folks think about the law as black and white but it’s not. Many times, there are ways to use one’s creativity to get the results the client desires. I enjoy using my “legal innovation” and “out-of-the-box” thinking to serve my client’s interests and that helps my business to stand out.
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 bit is emotional for me. My late grandmother, Glovine Smith, always invested time, communication, and lessons in me that I didn’t know I would need at the time. I don’t think we ever do when we’re young and think that life is infinite. My grandmother invested something in me that money cannot buy and I feel her influence and power within me everyday.
My grandmother had a heart for service and in fact, she retired from a service position. Still, she found ways to give to others, to help others, and to love others no matter what may have bothered or hurt her. After my grandmother’s death, I learned that her and one of her sisters were chased as little girls in the woods of our hometown of Gainesville by white men. I never knew about that story and others; however, my grandmother was never a bitter or angry person. She exhibited a level of emotional and spiritual resilience like I’ve never seen before.
Her ability to rise up and not allow traumas of the past to ruin the legacy she built and left behind is simply mesmerizing and I honor her for that. She is the reason behind my success. She always, ALWAYS, believed in me and my dreams and did what it took to help me see them through.
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?
My definition of resilience is the ability to bounce back stronger from adversity and any circumstance that may chip away at your confidence, albeit emotionally, spiritually, or mentally.
I believe that people who are resilient embody the ability of a growth mindset, they are confident but not cocky, and have a keen understanding of self and grounded firmly in their beliefs. These types of people also have a mind-over-matter attitude, knowing that they can do whatever it takes no matter the circumstances. I call that grit!
- Having a growth mindset. Those who exhibit this growth mindset trait welcome the uneasy and unexpected challenges because they know it’ll help them to grow and become better. So yea, although the lesson may be painful, this trait shows up like an athlete getting in the blocks at the start of their race. They know the competition is stiff but every race is different. This race, however, will show me where the weak spots are in my form, my endurance or my technique, if any, which I can learn from and come back better and stronger.
- Confident but not cocky. I found an article that stated “85% of people struggle with low self-esteem.” That’s a HIGH number! But it makes sense. Have you ever seen or dealt with a person who was so cocky but never seemed confident? It’s like they are trying to convince others that they’re confident. Confidence is a silent beast. It knows how to move without seeking attention or entourage. Confidence doesn’t promote arrogance or seek to hurt others. People who are truly confident have a way of utilizing resilience to overcome life’s challenges by knowing “they have what it takes to get through the challenge.”
- I’ve also learned that when people lack knowledge of self — their own identity, it creates unhappiness. An individual that is rooted in their beliefs means that they have reconstructed negative or harmful belief systems into their own beliefs that serve them and the life they want for their future selves. These people have an uncanny ability to reprogram negative thinking about self into positive ones which further fuels their desire to overcome.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Great question. It takes a person who’s willing to face a challenge head on knowing that it will be difficult and that’s why it’s similar to resilience. In fact, I would say resilience and courage are synonymous in that you can’t have one without the other.. Whether you struggle with self-esteem or social anxiety, to name a few, when you decide to take action out of your comfort zone, it will test your courage and resilience is the mechanism that is thrusted in that moment helping you to follow through.
Simply, courage is the vehicle you need to make up your mind that you’re going to move forward and begin taking action. Resilience is the ability to get through that action no matter what the difficulty or hardship may be.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
When I think of resilience, my mother, Iris Bailey, comes to mind. My mom married and had me young. She also found herself in the middle of a divorce with four kids and often, little-to-no money. Never once did I see her complain about what she didn’t have or wanted. I never saw her make excuses for any lack or what had gotten her to that place.
My mom embodies the essence of resilience. Rising from a single divorced mom to Mayor. I saw how diligently she worked in her classes and that rubbed off on me as I followed her around the University of Florida’s campus, often making my little legs run as fast as possible to keep up with my fast-walking mother. She illustrated in real time that no matter the circumstances, we can pull from emotional and mental strength — our own resilience — to get through.
I want to make one point though that’s very critical. My mom also received help from various family members. It is imperative to note that having resilience versus self-sabotaging because of pride are different. Some may avoid help because they really think they’re implementing resilience and that’s not the case. Regardless of the hardships and the bad decks that were dealt to my mom, she never avoided receiving help when she knew she needed it. Granted, during those days she had her children to think about without the luxury of appearing greedy or prideful and that’s a type of emotional resilience I commend her for.
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?
You know, not really. But, I do remember my great Uncle saying to me a long time ago when he heard I wanted to be a lawyer and begin asking questions and making statements like:
“That’s a very hard profession.”
“Are you sure that’s what you want to do”?
“ It’s going to take a lot of work.”
I can’t remember how old I was but I remember being in high school. I was so offended and honestly, a little upset at the time. I thought that my uncle didn’t believe I could accomplish that dream.
Years later, I recognized what he was saying. He was simply deposing my thoughts and willpower to finish something I said I wanted to start.
Yet, back then and because I thought he didn’t believe I could accomplish being a lawyer, it did motivate me. But you see, perception is everything and sometimes folks allow their perception to keep them from achieving. I’ve always believed that if I said I wanted to do something, I was going to do it no matter who felt or believed I couldn’t.
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?
Oh my goodness, yes! I remember my very first bench trial hearing as a new lawyer. Mind you, I launched my own firm, learned on the go, and at the time I didn’t have a mentor. I remember my husband came to watch me and it was horrific!
I remember I had fully prepped my client, had the entire file at the table and thought we would be arguing from the table so I’d have all of my exhibits available. This was the first time that I learned all court rooms were not operated the same. The judge ordered the parties to the bench to stand in front of her and literally make arguments and question the witnesses. When I began my questioning, the opposing party objected to literally everything and the Judge sustained the objection even though 80% of them were not valid. I just remember thinking to myself, is this how it’s going to be? Is the system really rigged against me and my client? Long story short, I lost that bench trial and my spirit was so in the dump.
However, I didn’t allow it to stop me from fighting for what I believed in. I went on to become an amazing attorney, helping clients receive six-figure settlements, winning business and contract jury trials, and negotiating & drafting $1M equity contract ventures.
That’s the power of resilience! Not allowing one bad incident to color the remainder of your life/career.
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 have a very determined personality by nature so I know that’s helped a lot. But, one thing I had to learn was “not taking everything personally.” Sometimes we allow other people’s issues, statements, or decisions to be an attack on us when it’s not. That takes learning and an awareness about self to recognize that your confidence must be groomed to avoid wearing issues on your shoulders and allowing it to personally affect you.
Other ways I cultivate resilience is by checking my mental aptitude on the things and determining, is this anxiety that I can overcome or does this really bother me? If the latter, maybe it’s something that I shouldn’t do because it would be misaligned to my core values.
I am constantly cultivating resilience also by rewiring my thinking about issues, beliefs, and who I am. In 2020 that’s when I truly understood and believed how amazing I am! I say that with total confidence, not cockiness. Knowing deeply who you are changes the game moving forward because you’re able to level up in ways you didn’t quite believe you were capable of previously. Saying and knowing are distinct opposites. Many times we’ll say with our mouth, but experience cognitive dissonance because we don’t truly believe what we’re speaking. When that happens, things don’t align and we’re constantly living in a space that feels stagnant wondering why the universe hasn’t shifted in our favor.
TRULY BELIEVING is the alignment that must happen to start on the journey to success, but resilience is the mechanism that will keep developing that belief to accomplish what you desire.
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.
- Identity: Determine who you are and what makes you happy. I said earlier that people are more unhappy when they don’t have an understanding of who they are. In fact, scientists say that this issue causes unhappiness in 80% of people. Sometimes, we focus too much on what society say we should be or do and that’s not beneficial at all. You must strip aways the titles, the roles, the societal standards or customs and look at yourself — I mean truly look at yourself — and figure out “What do I want? Who am I? What makes me happy?
- Implement the Have Your S.A.E.™ Framework which means shifting your mindset for success, achieving through accountability, and excelling through education™. Shifting your mindset for success™ removing negative thinking or belief systems that don’t serve you. It’s breaking free from old chains, so to speak, to begin stepping into a new freedom. When we determine that we can do anything, we begin to step into an open world of possibilities and this allows us to move with resilience while operating from a growth mindset. Only then are we able to move the next step — the A in S.A.E.
- Achieve through accountability™ — one way we can flex the resilience muscle is by recognizing our lack of accountability to self and others. Think about what you said you wanted to do back when you allowed yourself to dream. Think about the degree you wanted to earn, or why your child/ren aren’t doing something that you asked them to do. We must take a hard look at the man/woman in the mirror as the late Michael Jackson said. The achievements we want begin with us. It’s up to us to start taking responsibility for our shortcomings and missteps and stop blaming others for our failures. This will help us to develop emotional and mental resilience and we’ll begin to see the achievements that we want. Next, is the E in S.A.E.
- Excelling through education™ — and no I don’t mean actual school. We can excel at anything in this life but we must take the time to learn about ourselves and about the things we want to achieve (i.e. a particular industry or audience, etc.). Think about it, if 80% of people are unhappy because they don’t know who they are, are probably stuck in dead-end jobs, stopped dreaming, and live from a fixed mindset that they can never do anything differently, well … They aren’t taking the time to educate themselves.
Once you begin to engage in this three-step process with anything that arises in your life, I can assure you that you will begin to create a level of resilience you didn’t know you had.
- Implement my M.O.M. Method™ — Mind Over Matter™. I attribute this method to my high school track coach who used to yell at me, “Sivonnia, mind over matter.” It wasn’t until I grew up and learned that Mind over Matter is the determined spirit/factor you need to keep pushing through and ultimately using resilience to overcome.
When you know who you are, are able to shift your mind to deal with any circumstance, take responsibility for your own actions or inactions, and learn why or how things are happening the way that they are, you’re able to dig deeper with Mind Over Matter™ as you’ll be equipped to overcome no matter the challenge.
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 inspire a movement of people to ask and implement this question: What Are You Sporting About? We are all athletes of life, on a mission to find and conquer our purpose. Yet, some have gotten lost along the way by ceasing dreaming, losing themselves in others or work, or lacking the confidence to hone all of their power.
When we strip away all of the things that have clogged our full understanding and belief of self which creates the mindset that we don’t have the luxury to dream, it keeps us stricken from the ability to flourish with our own might.
Therefore, ask yourself: what am I sporting about? What did I sport about five or ten years ago? What made my heart race with excitement to get out there and live within my purpose? Once you can answer this question, you will begin to unlock all of the possibilities to your life’s greatest success.
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’d love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama is not only a successful attorney, mother and wife, but she embodies the very essence of resilience. I can’t imagine growing up in a time when she did where the levels were never equal. I mean, even now they aren’t really, so you know what I’m talking about. Always having to be the best and do better than your competitors can have a massive impact on a child, good or bad. It appears that Mrs. Obama’s impact was the former.
In fact, her excellence propelled her on a trajectory that I feel was further spiritually ordained which put her in the position she is today — loved, admired, and thanked by many. The saying goes that behind every man is a strong woman, and Mrs. Obama embodies that ten-fold.
So yes, it would be a pleasure to meet, break bread with, and learn from Mrs. Obama and hopefully take the wisdom she shares into my own life to continue achieving and excelling at what seems to be the impossible for a Black Woman in America
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can subscribe to my law firm website to receive free legal information by visiting sldebarros.com, purchase any of my books on Amazon.com, or head to JoJo’s Legal Adventures to inspire the next generation of their legal freedoms and rights.
If you’re a reader who loves sports, sport business, are an athlete or entrepreneur who supports athletes, I encourage you to get my books from Amazon but also sign up for our newsletters on prosportlawyer.com, subscribe to our podcast, get connected with Athletes Making Moves™.
If you want to dive more into understanding how to create a solid business, ramp up your legal protections, and create a legacy, join the inaugural class of the Athletes Making Moves Course™ or apply to work with the Protector of Athletes™ through a VIP Day session to ramp up your business at sldebarros.com/apply.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!