Mother and daughter Stephanie and Ama Marston have overcome challenges that most would buckle under. And not only did they overcome them, but they used the hardship as an opportunity to grow and work with others to turn their challenges into opportunities in their own lives, leadership, and businesses, and in tackling today’s biggest global challenges.
Stephanie, now a renowned psychotherapist and author, and Ama, a recognized leadership and strategy expert, teach us how we too can be this resilient in their book, Type R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World. They share their own experience and lessons, plus many other inspiring stories and the science and data behind it all.
Given the times we live in and how critical resilience is to success, this book is a must read.
1. Why did the two of you decide to write this book and why together? How was that experience?
After a handful of years that were particularly challenging for both of us personally and professionally, in 2013 our conversations began to crystallize into the idea for this book. We had begun to discuss how dramatically the world has changed from the one the Boomers were born into. Now the challenges we face are often not just personal, but global. We talked about how Ama’s generation, Gen X, as well as Millennials have been impacted by the ubiquity of digital technology and social media along with the multiple crises—global terrorism, climate change and the financial crisis—that have shaped the way they experience everyday events and have sent shock waves through all aspects of their lives.
But we also came to the conclusion that while resilience is important, it’s not enough. There’s no going back to who or where we were before challenging times. “Bouncing back” is not only a poor choice, it’s often not possible. For us it was clear that the only choice was to use these challenges to our advantage and continue to grow—in other words, Transformative Resilience (TR).
This book is a culmination of our personal and professional interests and significant expertise in how stresses have converged in a unique and challenging way and yet why so many people don’t just cope with, but grow from adversity.
2. You mention how resilience resembles what used to be considered female traits. Do you think women find it easier to be resilient?
As we mentioned before, we are talking about Transformative Resilience and the notion that we turn our challenges into opportunities, innovation and growth while acknowledging the difficulties we’ve faced. This is something both men and women are able to do. We see individual women and men as well as groups, business, and communities cultivate the Type R skills that enable TR.
That said, to this day many cultural norms emphasize women and girls’ communication and self-reflection skills while often discouraging or downplaying those of men and boys. Given that these skills are integrally linked to Type R and TR it may be that some women and men that have strong skills in these areas will have a more advanced starting point for things like reframing, reflecting, continually learning by talking over their challenges with others, and leveraging external support and resources. But, both men and women have the capacity for Transformative Resilience
3. How did you come up with the 6 characteristics Type Rs need (adaptability, healthy relationship to control, sense of purpose, active engagement, leveraging support, continual learning)? Why 6 and were there any additional ones you considered?
In studying these patterns along with working with hundreds if not thousands of clients over the 30 plus years of my career as a clinician, as well as my daughter’s extensive experience as an international strategy and leadership consultant, we identified six important characteristics for turning adversity into growth.
We also underwent an intensive research process. We looked at peer reviewed studies and grey literature and did a mapping across a range of fields from psychology to neuroscience, medicine, business, political and social science and the natural sciences to identify patterns and choose the most convincing evidence-base for what enables Type Rs to cultivate TR.
4. One of the 6 characteristics is continual learning. As an avid reader and student, I’m curious if some types of learning makes one more resilient than others? Is there any type of “learning” that doesn’t help at all?
All learning is valuable in that it keeps us curious and engaged. Curious brains are dynamic brains, and dynamic brains become smart brains. The more we learn, the more we desire to learn.
That said, we can “learn” poor patterns and habits that we then have to work with. There are also habits or methods of coping that may have helped us to operate in our personal lives, businesses, or in our local, national, or global landscapes for a period of time. But they can become outdated at which point we have to identify the fact that they have become our defaults and unlearn them to allow for newer, more relevant beliefs, skills, and behaviors.
5. You mention that a certain amount of stress is actually beneficial but too much and for too long is not. Is there such a thing as being too resilient? If so, can you give us an example and why you think this happened?
There is really no such thing as too much Transformative Resilience. However, no matter who we are or what our abilities are today, we can always increase them tomorrow. Transformative Resilience is an endlessly renewable resource that we can call upon whether for everyday challenges such as making time for our children while managing a demanding career, having to make difficult financial decisions or facing the overwhelming difficulties that confront the world.
While we learn increasing skills for adapting to and being Type R in the face of challenges we also have to continue to address the root causes and structural problems that are at the source of the increasing disruptive change and shocks we face. This isn’t about coping with anything and everything that comes your way regardless of what it is. Knowing your limits is still a valuable skill. And, we have to continue to address our sources of stress and challenges to the best of our abilities—whether those be related to our own health and habits, or whether they be related to growing economic inequality, climate change, or existing social inequities and discrimination.
6. What is the one action we can take today to become more of a Type R?
One action we can take for becoming more Type R is to become aware of our mindset. Increasingly research indicates that mindset is one of the most critical factors. Our mindset is the filter through which we see everything both as individuals and collectively. It’s comprised of our assumptions, beliefs, and expectations, and it guides our actions. Our mindset informs how we react to adversity, from the emotions we experience to how we cope with a situation. It significantly impacts whether we thrive in the face of challenge or succumb to depression and despair. What we believe about our potential for change influences how we frame things, what motivates us, and ultimately contributes to how resilient we are. Shifting the way we think about stressful life events and disruptive change can transform everyday hassles as well as how we approach and relate to life’s significant challenges and shocks. And we convince ourselves that our interpretation of circumstances and events is accurate because it’s framed through an overarching attitude that is so pervasive it shapes all aspects of our lives.