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Resilience: The Must-Have Strength For Entrepreneurs

Resilience: The Must-Have Strength For Entrepreneurs

Becoming a successful entrepreneur is never a straight line. There are lots of ups and downs along the way. As it turns out, how you emotionally handle the downs is key.

Resilience is a one of the defining skills and behaviors of people who make it -- according to Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of Power, and Jim Collins, author of Good to Great -- writes Denise Brosseau, author of Ready to be a Thought Leader? How to Increase Your Influence, Impact, and Success.

Some of you may say that you don’t have the resilience gene. It’s not in your nature to bounce back after adversity. As it turns out, you’re only half right. Fifty percent of our propensity for happiness is based on genetics, which we can’t influence very much. Ten percent is based on life circumstances (such as getting a new client, receiving funding or being mentioned in the media). And, 40% is “intentional activity” that we can influence with our behavior. The mind is a very powerful thing, said Jennifer Gilbert. We all have the power to prevail, said Lauren Manning. Both not only survived but thrived after tragedy.

[Related: My Secrets to Resilience]

A few months ago, I attended a discussion hosted by Ellevate, a networking and education organization. The panel consisted of four women who had overcome adversity. The setbacks in your life may or may not be as dramatic, but these stories are both inspirational and provide lessons that you can apply, no matter the size of the misfortune you face. First, a little about the women.

  • As one of the top women in finance, when Sallie Krawcheck was fired not once, but twice, she made front-page headlines in The Wall Street Journal. Krawcheck is Chair of Ellevate and moderated the panel.
  • Gilbert was followed off the subway and brutally stabbed approximately 37 times with a screwdriver, and left for dead. She is founder of Save the Date, an event-planning company. She is the author of I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag.
  • Manning was a managing director and partner at Cantor Fitzgerald, which was headquartered in the World Trade Center and lost 658 employees on 9/11. Manning survived being swallowed by flames; more than 80% of her body was burned. She is a philanthropist, angel investor and author of Unmeasured Strength.
  • Deborah Norville was TV news’ golden girl. She was hand-picked to replace Jane Pauley on the Today Show in 1990. The media demonized Norville as a schemer who made this happen. She is the anchor of Inside Edition, author of Back on Track: How to Straighten Out Your Life When It Throws You a Curve and Thank You Power: Making the Science of Gratitude Work for You. 

Their experiences taught them lessons they shared:

1) Be grateful for what you have
Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context recommends the American Psychologist Association. Manning knew and cared about so many people who died on 9/11. She felt lucky to be alive. “Appreciate that, as bad as you think you have it, others have it even worse,” said Krawcheck.

Celebrate life’s little wins, advised Norville. That could be just getting out of the house. Research finds that grateful people recover faster from setbacks. Building a practice of gratitude will not only help you personally, but it will help you be a better leader.

2) Be mentally tough
There were times Gilbert didn’t want to live, but she fought past those thoughts. She did this by taking a short-term view of things — she lived life one day at a time. Despite stares from people Norville knew, she sucked it up and showed up for work at the Today Show. However, she did decide not to return after her maternity leave.

“Ask not that events should happen as you will, but let your will be that events should happen as they do, and you shall have peace,” Norville quotes Epictetus, a Greek Philosopher. “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters,” said Krawcheck.

[Related: Is the Risk Worth Taking? Consider these 4 Points]

3) Know your purpose
Norville recommended that everyone write a one-page answer to the question “Who am I?” Knowing who you are should guide all your decisions. For Gilbert, that was bringing people joy. No surprise she became an event-planner, helping people celebrate happy occasions, such as weddings. For Manning, it was her 10-month-old son. “I can’t leave, I can’t leave my son. I haven’t had enough time with him. I worked so hard to have him. I can’t leave him now…” she said.

4) Nurture yourself
Pay attention to your own needs and feelings, says APA. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Taking care of yourself helps keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience. For Krawcheck, having a glass of wine and getting back into exercise was part of her formula.

5) Paint me a survivor, not a victim
Manning felt belittled by stories in the media that referred to her as a victim. Having heard her speak, Manning is a SURVIVOR not a victim. “I didn’t want to be associated with the word ‘victim,’“ said Gilbert.

This article was first published on

How do you find the grit and determination to keep going, when you experience a setback? You can read more articles about women entrepreneurs by Geri Stengel on Forbes.

Photo: Thursday’s Child by greg via Flickr.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.


Continue learning with this Ellevate Playbook: