Calm Within The Storm With Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe
With everything that’s happened and is still happening for the past two years, talk on resilience has been adamant. But how do we take such a seemingly large undertaking by battling daily problems with everyday resilience? Joining Katherine Twells to talk about that is Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe. Robyne is a multi-award-winning psychology and education instructor specializing in resilience and navigating stress and change leadership in the workplace. This episode gives an honest and much-needed discussion with insights from Robyne’s book, Calm Within The Storm: A Pathway to Everyday Resilience. So, listen in and be empowered to take care of yourself to help create a better world.
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Calm Within The Storm With Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe
A Pathway To Everyday Resilience
On the show, we are going to talk about resiliency. This is such an important and powerful conversation for everything that we have gone through as a collective over the past several years. The question becomes how do we strengthen our inner core so that we can co-create a better world for all of us moving forward?
My guest is an expert in this conversation and her name is Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe. She’s a multi-award-winning psychology and education instructor who specializes not only in resiliency but navigating stress and change, leadership and personal wellness in the workplace. All such important conversations. She is transformational, engaging and thought-provoking.
Her work not only is grounded in global research and case studies but she brings us practical strategies, things that we can do every day to strengthen ourselves on the inside as we weather the storms that arise externally. Her writing and speaking interests include topics such as the intersection of stress, optimal challenge, navigating change and self-identity. She’s worked with post-secondary education in a variety of roles bringing wise practices for professional development, research, learning and authentic change.
Robyne would be the first person to tell you she’s still navigating through all the research and literature, talking with people and exploring how we can develop a deeper understanding of our resiliency. You’ll know in our conversation that her wisdom is hard-won and her commitment to be in the service of the wellbeing of all makes her a true lighthouse, shining the way for others. Please enjoy the conversation with the wise and courageous Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe.
Robyne, thank you so much for taking the time to connect. I am grateful.
Kathy, I’m excited to be here. Thank you for this invitation.
Dr. Robyne’s Beginnings
We have a lot to dig into. We only met but in reading your book, I feel this amazing connection with who you are and your message. What you have to share is so important and powerful for what’s going on in the world. I welcome this conversation. The way we always get started is I will have given your bio and the background, the resume part but there’s a lot more to someone’s story than a resume and it’s their life lived. For you, it’s been impactful and powerful. Will you set the stage with your origin story for our audience?
Thank you for this opportunity to share some of the lived experiences and what I’ve come upon. Sometimes it’s good to know where we are but where did we go and how did we get here? I’m somebody who does a lot of work on human resiliency and wellness strategies to help people manage stress and uncertainty in their lives, whether that be personal or professional. I work with groups worldwide to help them see what they’re capable of doing and how to weather challenging seasons.
That’s where I am. I’ve been teaching the university for many years and have been able to do this work but where the origin story began is somewhere that you wouldn’t think that that trajectory would have brought me to where I am. I share with folks very candidly that I grew up in a traditional household. I had great support and it was that every day what you would anticipate in the middle of the road. I grew up in Ontario, Canada.
Somewhere along the line, as early as kindergarten, I remember that I felt and saw the world differently. I knew there was something different about me sitting there even in circle time but I didn’t know what it was. I worked my way through elementary school, struggling a lot with academics and social relationships but never knowing what was going on because I had, from the outside, all of the things. I had support, caring parents, resources and grew up in privilege.
It was this anomaly. I was feeling unsettled in my life so early. As that happens, people start to feel that they don’t belong. They have this sense of, “Something’s wrong with me. I’m not doing how I should be,” or meeting expectations that weren’t being set by my family system. They were my expectations and that messaging of teachers. There was quite a lot that transpired but ultimately, it came to this crescendo moment when I was in later elementary school and going into high school.
I had this block where I realized this wasn’t for me. I don’t belong here. I remember dropping out of school. In grade eight when I was filling out my forms on what level of education I was going to pursue in high school, I remember a teacher shared with me openly that I should find a level below basic because there was someone like me who was never going to amount to anything.
Sharing that, they thought that I was wasting everyone’s time. I started spiraling and developed a lot of high-risk behaviors. I had all the things going well for me. I was having success in different areas but Kathy, I was spiraling out of control. By grade ten, I dropped out of high school and my mental health challenges started to come forward. At sixteen, I was admitted into an adult psychiatric facility where I stayed because nobody knew what to do.
During that season, there were so many interventions that people tried. They tried many things. My parents loved me hard but helplessly. What ended up happening was with the last intervention, my family decided to move with the busyness in their lives living in the big city. They thought, “All hands on deck. Our daughter needs this.” We moved to a small community. Kathy, I started to get well, heal, grow and recover. One of the markers of my recovery was getting my driver’s license. That was such a big deal to have this responsibility, especially coming from such a difficult, precarious season of my life.
I share openly in the book that I had that driver’s license for one week. I was driving home late at night by myself on a lonely stretch of road. A snowstorm had rolled in so quickly and I lost control of my car. The car went off the road and embankment. My vehicle crashed through the ice and sank in the Otonabee River with me trapped inside.
Kathy, within seconds this frigid water came punching through the floorboards. I was in tune in this car. One of the things that were so astonishing to me at that moment was I didn’t feel scared or afraid even. At that moment, I felt a little bit of anger. I realized why I was feeling angry was the realization that I couldn’t protect my mom from what was about to happen.
My mother had been my person in my corner championing me through all of this. She used to always say that I could do hard things. Ever since I was a little girl, she said, “Robyne can do hard things. We’re going to find a way through this.” At that moment, when I started to think about my mom, it was like this emotional echo of that confidence and steadfast belief in me that I figured things out. I decided to find a way out of that trap vehicle.
I was wearing boots, a winter coat and jeans. I was able to escape through the window. I didn’t know what to do once I got through to the other side. They estimate the vehicle was about 20 feet underwater. What came to me at that moment was simply to exhale, let go of all of the breadths that I was holding because I knew my bubbles would rise. I remember swimming as hard as I could after those bubbles.When our emotions are allies, we can be unapologetically powerful in terms of what we’re able to do and how we can be of service. Click To Tweet
There was this moment when I thought I was going to make it. It was like a little surge. Something hit my face so hard and I was reeling trying to figure out what it was. It was the ice. The vehicle had punched a hole in the ice farther upstream but I was downstream. At that moment, I remember scrambling to find a way to get out and I was able to get my torso onto the ice.
That night, there was a gentleman by the name of Joseph, a random guy in his 30s driving off from shift work. Joseph happened to see my car tracks in the snow. He drove all along the side of that road to check if he could see anyone. He came upon my body somehow, even in that blizzard. He pulled his pickup truck over and grabbed the wood and a chain from the back of his truck. He used wood to support his body weight. He crawled out onto that ice. He slid out the chain, wrapped it around my body and dragged me to shore. Joseph Todd was awarded the Governor General’s Award for Bravery for risking his life to save a stranger.
I can share it with you. I recall waking up in the hospital and my mom was there. She said, “How did you get yourself out of that?” I did tell my mother, “It’s very much because you told me I could do hard things.” My mother said, “That’s not what we had in mind when we told you but we’re glad it worked in your favor.” That very much was this turning point when I realized that there’s got to be another way to be able to show up and be of service. I’m still here and that means there’s still work to be done.
I read your story in the book but hearing you tell it is even more powerful and stunning. You can hear a story and imagine being in your shoes but yet you can’t know until you walk something like that, what it does to your heart, soul and mind and how that shapes you through your life. There were several things as you were talking about your origin story that I thought were so interesting and worth even more exploration. One is that moment where you feel like you don’t belong.
I did some research on highly sensitive people. It’s 20%, 24% of the population that experience life in such a different way. I think about certainly as children and it carries over into our adulthood. We’ll sit there and think, “Everyone else has got this covered.” We see them on the outside. You had a middle-class stable and loving family. From the outside, everything looks fine but we never know what’s going on with someone on the inside. I wonder with the opportunity of schools or children to be able to talk more openly about the inner landscape. Do you think that’s changing?
I do think there’s more awareness now than there was before. I also think there’s no more opposition to understanding the complexity of our children’s landscapes. It almost seemed as if there was a straight and narrow path. As long as you were on that path, all would be well. There was the socially acceptable way. Now it seems like there are all of these paths and different ways of onboarding ourselves into our adolescence and emerging adulthood but there is a little bit more. Some people are saying, “We have to get back to the basics,” which I don’t think is a service to any of us who experienced the world a little bit differently.
I can share with you some of the extraordinary acceptance that I have come upon. Looking back at how I was feeling and seeing the world, I was a very highly sensitive child. What was interesting is that I wasn’t raised in a house with necessarily highly sensitive people. It’s this fact that I brought something so unique into our family dynamic. I can give you an example of having a family movie night when you’re all little that you look forward to. You have your popcorn while watching a film.
I remember watching a film once and something happened to one of the animals in the movie. The movie ended and everybody else went on their evening. Kathy, I was frozen. I was reeling. As a child, I was feeling grief for this thing that I had seen on television. It was a Friday and on Tuesday I was still sitting at my desk being like, “I need to talk about somebody about this. Can we talk about this?” My family was like, “When did that happen in the movie? I don’t remember that part.”
I embodied this feeling of helplessness watching something happen to this animal. It’s these passive little moments. For most persons, they’re neutral but there was something about the way that I see the world that created this urgency like, “We got to do something.” I can look back at that wee little one and recognize that there were a lot of the symptoms that I was experienced at work associated with my ADHD. I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t know how I can get that dialed in completely embodied. The experience was a symptom of how ADHD manifests for me.
When you don’t know that as a child, when you don’t understand that there are highly sensitive people and there are different ways to experience the world, you’re not armed with that ability to go, “This is okay.” You think, “I am the only one walking this road.” We’re both mothers and I have twin boys. What’s interesting about twins is they come to the world at the same time, mine was twenty minutes apart, in the same conditions and with the same parents but they’re so different in the way they respond to the world and the events. What happens in their inner landscape is different.
You realize that our level of understanding and evolution to being able to openly talk about this is a road forward that we have to keep investing in because it’s so important. Something else that you mentioned that I’m curious about was when you moved. Your parents sound amazing and their love for you. What a blessing to have them. What was it about moving to the smaller town? Was there something about the pace, energy and intensity? What was it about that that was more healing for you?
In reflection, one of the things that were so instrumental first was having that unconditional presence. My parents were dialed in. A lot of the behavior I’ve been doing had been under the radar. I was very skilled at being maladaptive because I came across as very well adjusted. Although, a lot of the behaviors I was doing with that inner landscape were storming significantly.
First, moving to a smaller community, there were fewer distractions. We were more present and in this moment together. It created a spaciousness where I was able to be outside, not having the same amount of triggers and pressures because there is a different cultural unfolding that happens to depend on where we are.
In retrospect, I didn’t know this at the time but looking back, I was around nature. Nature is a healer. Getting that little bit of spaciousness around my day was key. I also make sure to clarify. It’s not that grass is always greener on the other side type phenomenon. We have to run away and get a fresh start. I did get a fresh start. Kathy, I brought a lot of my problems with me. It wasn’t this TSN Turning Point where all of a sudden we’re good. I brought a lot of my maladaptive behaviors with me. The difference though is I started to do the work. Before, when I lived in the city, I wasn’t doing the work to get better but I started to do the work when I moved.
One of my favorite song lyrics is by Jackson Browne. He says, “No matter how fast I run, I can never seem to get away from me.” We know that no matter where we go, there we are. That inner work is the only pathway to freedom. Be willing to turn around. Face your demons and the things that are bringing you down. That’s where your strength lies. Joseph Campbell talks about the places that you don’t want to go to is where the treasure is. I don’t have the words right on that but the essence is. Going into the shadow and the darkness is where you find your greatest light in the long run.
Understanding The Value Of Having Emotions As Allies
It’s so interesting you bring up nature because I was having my show conversation with Anthony McClain. He talked about as a kid how he used to gaze at the stars and the comfort that he found in the stillness of contemplation. We talked a little bit about our kids with technology, TikTok, YouTube, gaming and all the things able to find the space to get in touch with what they’re feeling. Even in the book, you talk a little bit about emotions. We run away from our emotions. How do you see emotions as tools for understanding and navigating where we are?We are the ones that have to do this work to get to that place where we can start to feel better. Click To Tweet
In terms of emotions and how we manage them, there’s a reality in my work, both professionally and personally. What I see is there’s often this great delta between our intellectual self and emotional self. In Western colonial culture, we very much have put a value on the intellectual self. We know that’s it’s almost like a marker of civilizes that we can logic and think stoic ways of organizing knowledge.
Unfortunately, what happens when it’s going against this idea of emotion and emotion is viewed as almost like a second-class citizen to intellect, this creates this great divide. When you are a feeler and that’s how you communicate with the world, you automatically feel as though you are behind everyone else who can stifle their emotion or be stoic because you feel like you’re a firecracker over here. Everyone else has this calm, steady demeanor so you feel like, “Where do I fit in into this big world?”
I can share insights that we’ve developed in this work on human resiliency. It’s recognizing when we can put some effort towards getting our head and heart in alignment and recognizing that our emotions are teachers and what help us feel fulfilled, it brings us to this place of vitality. We see that it works in partnership with our thinking, critical thinking or problem-solving. That’s where we can get to this amazing place of alignment where we get this congruency and feel steady and strong.
In our culture, certain emotions are socially appropriate or even celebrated. The other ones are the shadow ones. We don’t want to talk about those like jealousy, insecurity, fear and loneliness but the emotions that I grew up and learned about in my culture were very much the good ones such as productivity and exhaustion. It’s as long as you were feeling productive or exhausted.
What I think sometimes happens is we develop these systems on how we live our lives, these habits, rituals and routines. We finally stop but we haven’t processed any of the emotions. We get hit with this big tsunami of feelings. We are a feeling factory. We feel hundreds of thousands of things every day. Many of us don’t know what to do with that restlessness and sadness that creeps up like, “What is this? I might as well go back to work.”
We don’t know how to sit with the emotion. It’s because we put so much morality into what emotions are good and bad. The reality is it’s part of the lived experience and what makes us who we are. The way we feel is entrenched in our memories and stories. It’s important. In my work, I want to try, especially when I’m working with young children, to let them know that there’s a place for emotion. It’s not the enemy. When our emotions are allies, we can be unapologetically powerful in terms of what we’re able to do and how we can be of service.
That’s so powerful because our emotions are part of our navigators. They’re pointing to something. They’re saying, “Look at this. This is part of your inner work and inner journal to understand what’s going on with you.” I also was thinking as you were talking about the boys. My kids are boys and the masculine like, “Pull it together. Don’t cry and feel.” That’s been instilled for generations. I think about the men reading this conversation and how difficult it can be for men to have to come to terms with those emotions.
It’s that head-heart alignment. Neuroscience has even found that we have the cognitive in our head, heart and gut. We’re meant to go to all of those energy centers for our lived experiences but you’re right. The Western culture is all about strategy and the mind. This alignment you talk about is a power foul place that we need to go to.
It almost levels the playing field because we all don’t see the world with the same lenses. I do believe the lived experience when we tap into our emotions, whether it be our emotional health or wellness, is universal in the sense of we know what it feels like to feel that sense of devotion, love, values, courage or bravery. Those are all the things that make us feel so authentic in terms of who we are, what we’re about, what we want to do and how we can do the work. It’s not just how we problem-solve or think our way.
One of the things I can share with you I’m seeing so often, especially with high performers and leaders is that they are trying hard to out-think stress. They’re planning and upping it. Stress is manifested in your body. You have to do the hard work to work through the stress. You can’t outthink and time manage stress away. It’s this idea of recognizing that our bodies need rest. They need to repair. Those feelings are giving you indicators saying, “We need some attention. Look at this. This stuff matters.”
As I was talking about some of the challenges with boys, men and emotion, in leadership there’s often been this myth of, “You have to have it all together all the time because you’re the leader and everyone’s following you.” It’s wonderful that in the business world, we are starting to embrace this greater understanding of lived experience whether leader or follower.
Everyone’s a leader of self, trying to figure this thing out. We spend a lot of time at work. When we can come together in the workplace and have honest, authentic conversations about this, that’s an unlock to having a greater connection, productivity and results but it’s a journey that we have to go on.
Unpacking The Impact Of The Fear Narrative
Robyne, let’s talk a little bit about fear because when you think about the last couple of years and everything that has been happening with this pandemic, we have our fears and traumas and then we have collective trauma and unbelievable challenge. You mentioned we’re hundreds of days in. This is not one and done. This is an ongoing process. How is this fear affecting us? What can we do to tackle it?
One of the things that we think about is that fear comes from our nervous system. Our nervous system is what’s queued up to be able to produce the fear and get those ideas of what’s going on. One of the things I’ve been sharing in my work is the idea that our nervous system is so underdeveloped for what we’re asking it to do. It can’t be told for years that the world is dangerous, scary, not a safe place and then say, “Let’s go do reentry.” Our nervous system is struggling to keep up.
What’s amazing about that underdeveloped nervous system that’s feeling all of the feels and we’re feeling a sense of overwhelm is that it is keeping us safe. It’s letting us know that there are things that are out there that we need to be mindful of but the part where we’re in that precious place of co-creating this future is when we recognize that the nervous system’s job is to keep us safe. Its job isn’t to make us feel happy, joyous, productive or connected. It’s doing its job, which is keeping us safe.
It’s overtime but what that does is it allows us to recognize, “I feel the feelings. It’s my responsibility to go out and find ways to start to feel better because no one’s going to do that for me.” No one’s going to rescue us or all of a sudden make those fear go away. We are the ones. A very dear colleague of mine always says, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for that have to do this work to get to that place where we can start to feel better.”
Using Stress To Strengthen And The Five Pillars Of Resiliency
I find it so interesting how you hear people saying, “I want to go back to normal.” What was normal? As if before this, we were all sailing along without any challenges. It’s interesting in the book how you talk about stress and all of our associations with stress. I’ve had many conversations with people through this pandemic about all the ways they’ve grown and changed. They found space. They’ve looked at their families and lives. In all challenges, there are beautiful gifts that are given to us. How can we use stress to strengthen ourselves without going over too far into that sustained stress? Can you share some about that?Learning is actually a stressful thing. Learning is meant to be disruptive when we’re growing. It’s discomfort. Click To Tweet
What we do know is that learning is a stressful thing. Learning is meant to be disruptive. When we’re growing, it is some discomfort. I do appreciate there are so many injustices in terms of how the pandemic affected different people. We can overlook some of these grave injustices especially from a socioeconomic perspective. We know this. Also, especially women had started to carry most of this invisible labor. We’re seeing in terms of their career trajectories that it’s been negatively impacted. We know that that’s real. People are still struggling with real grief, loss and all these micro and macro traumas. All of that is there.
What we also know is that this experience is this collective knowledge. We’re knowledge holders of what the pandemic was like in our world. There’ll be times when they’re going to be teaching about this in future history classes. People will come to us and say, “Tell me what this was like. What was this about?” Having this new knowledge can help us set a course about making what matters most. That’s what you’re speaking to this clarity that some people have been able to experience in terms of what matters most and how do they want to change or shift or work towards new goals, perhaps.
The other piece that I would also share on that note too is that we start working with our stress as an ally. Working with our stress is recognizing, “This motivates me. It gives me energy and focus,” but then recognizing when it gets too much and we move into what we call the distress stage, that’s when we have to get so serious about our recovery and take a rest.
It’s not like badges for hustle. There are no badges for the person who neglected their family the most at the end of the day, yet we live our lives with some of these priorities that are skewed. Unfortunately, sometimes something bad happens for people to have that awakening of what matters most and what we want to change about it.
Sometimes our wisdom is a hard one and it’s the way it has to be. I also love the distinction that you make around resilience. We can utilize everything that happens to us to create this. Let’s talk a little bit about how you speak of resilience, how people can build that and use everything that’s happened to them in the last years in their entire lives to build a stronger future.
When I first started setting human resiliency years ago, a lot of folks were talking about things like mental toughness and grit. It was popular. Hardiness, resourcefulness, all these things. It was this idea of, “You got to get so tough. Pull up your bootstraps. It was for resilient people and reserved for these folks with Herculean ability to show up in the face of adversity.”
It’s intimidating because you see these people that are like, “I’m biohacking and doing this. I’m not wasting a minute.” You’re like, “What?”
You’re sitting there saying, “Those aren’t my people.” One of the things I also noticed is the narrative. You’re right about that image. A lot of those big books were written by Navy SEALs. They’re talking about resiliency to get through hell week. I’m thinking like, “I’m trying to get through my day. I’m not trying to have people test me.”
I work with our military so I hold them with such high esteem and reverence. I don’t mean to be at all dismissing of the work they do. I looked at one of those strategies and thought, “This isn’t what I’m seeing. This isn’t what I know from my lived experience but also the folks that I am in charge of, supporting and helping. They aren’t these people who are like bulletproof.” We started to explore. “What are they about? What is different about this person?” That’s where we came upon the five pillars. Those were the themes that we saw that persons who navigated challenges were able to build a foundation from. The big idea first is that resiliency is about being okay.
It’s getting to that place where you’re okay and you trust. You have that steadfast confidence that you’re going to be okay and okay is enough. We don’t need to be faster, smarter, richer, better, skinnier or any of the things. It’s the idea that we have that steadfast knowing that we’re good. I also try to encourage people to realize that resiliency isn’t isolation. It’s not a one-and-done thing. We need it every single day at different degrees or ratios. Why I call it everyday resiliency is it’s something we constantly have to be working on and fostering. Why that’s important is because we can teach, foster, cultivate and build it.
Talking about the 5 pillars, number 1 is belonging. We need a home team. Number two, it’s our perspective. It’s that alignment between our head and heart. Number three is acceptance, recognizing that there are some things that we cannot control and so often what happens and we saw this a lot in the last few years is people see these things that are out of their control, yet they put all of their energy trying to change it. If it’s not something that can be moved or changed but you’re depleting yourself, we get stuck in this cycle. Many folks are asking, “Why is this happening to me? Why am I going through this?” The real question is, “What are you going to do about it? How do you show up even in these hard parts?”
The fourth variable we talk about is hope. Choosing to live in hope with others is the most powerful place that we can occupy, trusting that we’re going to find a way through this. Better days are ahead. The last variable, which is the wee bit of the wild card in the mix is this idea about humor like joy, play, laughter and lightheartedness even in the most difficult, challenging seasons.
The person who is still able to hold that little spark of those things is going to get a bit of a natural reprieve. For example, when you laugh, your body releases natural tranquilizers. For that moment in time, your pain receptors are blocked. You can get that moment reprieve. We show up and keep making the next right choice.
As you talk, Robyne, it’s almost like this big exhale. It’s okay because we’ve talked about the intensity of, “I have to be better and be this.” It’s great to have these aspirations to be a high performer. These are all wonderful things as long as you can hold them lightly. I’ve had conversations with people. They look at what’s happening on the world stage, in Ukraine or continue dynamic. “How can I be light?”
How To Balance Empathy For Others And Ourselves
Your joy contributes to healing the wounds. It’s you being over here. Not that you should ignore the challenges because that’s against the other thing we talked about. We don’t want to bury things away. We have to take a look at everything that’s happening. The more we can bring healing into that is where we have our power. It’s through kindness, connection and laughter. Enjoy as we navigate this crazy wild ride.
It’s amazing because I hear so often people especially when we have the privilege and we’re in a place of safety, say things like, “This is also serious. We shouldn’t take moments. I can’t feel sorry for myself and have a bad day. Look what’s happening to all those people.” What’s interesting is when we think about that notion of empathy. To be able to have empathy, compassion and be feeling that need to be of service and help respond to these hurts in the world, what’s amazing is that we sometimes don’t allow ourselves to have empathy for ourselves.
We feel that selfish. There’s always somebody who has it worse than we do but what we see in the research and the lived experience is when you shut down holding empathy for yourself and taking away those things, your moments of joy and little things that matter most to you, what happens is instead of saving it up for you to then give it to others, those people who need it more than you do, you cut everybody off. We start to see cynicism, burnout and this idea of helplessness and hopelessness.
We start practicing empathy for ourselves and say, “It’s hard to live in this situation where we know people are hurting. I’m still showing up for work and doing the best I can with the tools and resources.” here are a lot of things that are wobbly and unsteady. What I can do to the best of my ability is to be regulated and be part of the solution practicing kindness. That empathy flows through you and then goes out in a bigger, broader way to the people who need it the most. Allowing ourselves to take some of that reprieve and still make what matters most for us while also being cognizant and aware of what’s going on in the world is key because that’s what’s going to keep us in a place of action.
When people get burned out, they get that learned helplessness feeling. Dr. Figley writes about compassion fatigue. It’s the cost of caring. If you can’t do anything with it, you block it out and eventually and you go numb and don’t do anything. I don’t want this generation, especially of our youth and young adults, when they see what’s going on on the world stage to become desensitized to it. They have to still be aware but look after themselves in the meantime.Resilience isn't an isolation. It isn't just a one-and-done thing. We need it every single day at different degrees or ratios. Click To Tweet
You could see how that desensitized feeling could happen because it does start to overwhelm you. I feel like it’s the greatest self-work, the journey to self-acceptance and self-love. You’ve talked about being okay. Resilience is fundamentally knowing that you are grounded in this space that you stand in that imperfect, messy space. I wrote some quotes down and I want to share them in the conversation because it’s so beautiful.
I love what you said in the book. I’m going to read this, “Nothing is ever truly Black or White. It’s more like river water. Sometimes it’s clear and you can see perfectly to the bottom. Other times, the sediment has been churned up and you can’t see anything but murky clouds.” I feel like the essence of what we are talking about, Robyne, for everyone with us, wherever you are in the world reading this is to say that we all have messiness. Sometimes we have moments of clarity and moments of our superpowers activated in which we feel amazing. Other times, we feel like we can’t do anything right. That’s a shared experience and the nature of our journey.
Kathy, thank you for sharing that part of the book. Every time I hear other people share the words, it makes my heart smile. It makes me feel so connected with persons and their lived experiences. Please know it’s an honor to hear those words shared by you. That means a lot to me. Thank you for that. On that note, I could share with you in terms of the messiness that I still remember vividly.
I still remember when our oldest was born. I remember looking at this wee little face and I said to Hunter, “I am so not even going to try to be a perfect mom for you. I’m going to screw up and make mistakes but I promise I’ll keep trying. I promise that we’ll figure it out together and I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be patient with you as you figure out this big world. Please be patient with me, little one, as I trigger out how to be a parent. This is new to me too.”
Every year on his birthday, I always remind Hunter and the other children as well like, “Remember I promised that I wasn’t going to get this right.” Hunter says, “Mommy, you promised me. You remind me every year. You’re doing the best you can. I get that. Mom, keep showing up.” Sometimes the most resilient, bravest thing we can do is we keep showing up because there’s this tendency that we want to escape and avoid it all. We don’t want to even go there but the bravest thing we can do is keep trying. Keep showing up and doing the best you can.
It’s such an important message. I was talking to my son on his way to soccer. He’s playing on a club team and he feels like his skills are not up to snuff on this club team. He’s very intimidated, nervous and also a sensitive kid. I turned to him and said, “Dylan, sometimes it’s about showing up. All you need to do is show up.” He did well and held his own. Every time any one of us does that, we strengthen our muscles knowing that we have to show up and do the best that we can. It’s powerful.
Isn’t it ironic as parents how we want to be perfect and we want our children’s lives to be perfect with this bubble of happiness, safety and security? Unless we model perfection, they’re not going to understand that that’s a part of the journey and unless they experience it, they can’t grow. There’s this funny irony in what we want and need.
I see that so often. When I talk to parents, we often talk about this distinction between being a rescuer versus a supporter. What our children need are supporters. There are times we do need to rescue our children if they’re in harm’s way. We’re not going to let life wall up them too much but it’s this idea of recognizing the kindest thing that we can do is have confidence in them. They don’t have to do it alone. “I’m going to hold space for you while you figure it out. Those are going to be skills that you can carry into your future.”
We talk about this as like Zamboni parents. When I talk to folks in the South, we call them Lawnmower parents but the Zamboni analogy doesn’t work down far South. There used to be helicopter parents who are always hovering, getting ready to jump in and rescue. This happened while we were seeing this at high heights even before the pandemic. What a lot of parents are feeling the need to do is get out in front of the child and clear this perfect path so they don’t even know that there are any obstacles, to begin with. At least with the helicopter parents, they knew their obstacles and then they would look for their rescuers.
What’s happening is children don’t even know what they’re being shielded and protected from. We want to share information with them that’s age and developmental stage appropriate. We want to make sure that they have the tools and resources to be able to know how to show up, do relationship repair, bounce back, hold the courage to walk into that soccer match or practice and be able to take the pitch. Those are skills that will serve them so well versus rescuing them from it and saying, “We’re not going to let you feel that discomfort.”
It’s true for leadership too. Parenting and leadership are different conversations and there are distinctions there but as leaders, it is not to create a perfect world or pave the way perfectly. It is to allow our teams to fail, learn, discover and have the freedom to be creators themselves. It’s a very similar conversation.
I can share with you quickly one of my go-to’s. It’s something that I could speak about that inter the relationship between parenting and leading sometimes. When the children come home, for example, they’ve had a bad day or they’re upset. What I usually do when they tell me before would be jumping into problem-solving mode. They’d be telling me their problem and I will already be reloading in my head, “How can I fix this? How can I solve this for you?”
The new strategy I adopted several years ago was when the kids came home and they were about to tell me something, I would pause and say, “What’s my role in this? Do you need me to listen, offer advice or intervene? You let me know what my role is.” I’ll share with you 9 times out of 10, the children want you to listen. One of the things we’ve been adapting is that strategy to use with leaders. When your teammates come and say, “This is the problem,” ask them, “Do you need me to listen? Do you need advice or intervention? Do you need me to get involved?”
What’s amazing so often when we use that strategy in a workshop, after the leaders had a chance to field test, they came back and said, “People want to be heard and share what’s going on.” We have this tendency that we always want to jump in and problem solve. We’ve broken down our social capital for connection. We need to hold space to have those conversations and talk about how we’re doing. What’s amazing is that even in the short-term, it feels like a bigger investment of our time. If we get people to where they need to go and they feel heard and validated, that’s going to increase their performance and productivity. It’s a win-win.
We’ve talked about the presence and you talked about when you moved to the smaller town, the fact that there was this palpable presence of your family. It’s so true in all of our relationships. Sometimes we need to show up, be there and listen. That’s so much power. Robyne, I want to be very mindful of your time. A couple more questions to round out this beautiful conversation.
What Is Our Job On The Planet?
In the book, you talk about this question that Buckminster Fuller talks about. This is the question that I know you know well. “What is my job on the planet? What is it that needs doing that I know something about that probably won’t happen unless I take responsibility for it?” This is such a great question for all of us to ask ourselves. Can you share a little bit about why you pose that in the book? Why do we all need to do some thinking around that?Sometimes, the most resilient, bravest thing we can do is just keep showing up. Click To Tweet
That is one of my favorite quotes. The reason I brought that into the book close to the end was very much thinking of this as a call to action. I had struggled for a long time to find my voice in this conversation about resiliency and wellness especially as someone who has stickhandled some darker days and seasons. Who am I to come into this conversation? It’s
One of the things that I found is when I heard that quote the very first time, I remember reflecting on it thinking, “I know something about resiliency from the lived experience and I know something about resiliency from these more than ten years I’ve spent in the university learning getting my degrees. I wonder how many people have both viewpoints?” I was curious because I didn’t see a lot of my colleagues talking openly about things like mental health, being high school dropouts and struggling with relationships and marriages. They weren’t talking about those things.
I always saw this image of having it all together. I know what it’s like to be on both sides and what it’s like to experience success in the academy. I’ve been very fortunate with my career in the academy. I also know what it feels like when the school bell rings and all the kids go to school but you don’t go to school anymore because you’re more interested in doing some risk-taking behaviors. There’s loneliness on both sides in what’s perceived as adaptive coping, doing good work, always being busy and in maladaptive behavior.
What I felt that I could contribute that I knew something about that I wanted to take responsibility for was to shine some light on this idea of the big whole lived experience. Our resiliency isn’t one and done. It’s something that we do every day. We can find ways to persist, show up and make what matters most matter.
Robyne, your light shines very brightly. You are indeed a lighthouse for many. You talked about the alignment of the head and the heart. Your knowledge and lived experience bring the head and the heart together. That’s why your voice is needed and powerful because we need to be having these conversations in all domains so that we can rise together to build and co-create a better world where we understand not only our outer world but our inner world as well.
I want to thank you for all that you’re doing. We’re so excited because you’re going to join us at the Coca-Cola Compassion Lab as the speaker on April 6th, 2022 but how else can people find your work? There is your book Calm Within the Storm that I would highly encourage people to pick up because it’s amazing and beautiful. How else can people interact and learn more?
Thank you so much for your kind words. You honor me with your feedback and support. Please know that. It’s been a joy to be able to chat with you. I could chat with you for days. In terms of the best way to get ahold of is the website or the socials. It’s RobyneHD.ca in Canada. The social is LinkedIn, Dr. Robyne HD and the HD stands Hanley-Dafoe, not High Definition despite what my children say. Please reach out. I welcome these conversations to continue. I’m honored to be coming to your event in April 2022. I look forward to our paths crossing again. Thank you.
I do as well. Thank you. I always leave it with any last parting words. There’s already been so much wisdom shared in this show while we keep talking for hours. We’re not lacking anything but any last parting words for our audience as we conclude our conversation?
My gentle last parting words are to permit yourself to feel good and to do the things that you need to do to recharge, recalibrate and rest, whatever that looks like for you. Find your favorite song, make your favorite muffins. Do whatever it is within the scope of you that makes you feel like your best because every one of us deserves the right to be well. Take care of yourself whatever that looks like for you. You do you unapologetically.
I can certainly get behind that. It’s beautifully said. Thank you so much, Robyne.
It’s my pleasure. Thank you, Kathy. Be well.
About Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe
Robyne’s writing and speaking interests focus on resiliency and wellness including topics such as the intersections of stress, optimal challenge, navigating change and self-identity, in her own backyard and around the world. She has worked within post-secondary education in a variety of roles bringing wise practices for professional development, research, learning and authentic change.
Robyne is committed to finding innovative solutions for creating positive learning relationships and environments for students, teachers, families, and organizations. Robyne would be the first person to tell you she is still navigating her way through all research and literature, talking with people, and exploring, with the intention of developing a deeper understanding of resiliency. Robyne’s refreshing approach looks at resiliency from multiple vantage points with the aim of being fully accessible to everyone. Regardless of your background or prior knowledge, Robyne’s work is relatable, approachable, and rooted in honest personal reflect and humour. She brings you along with the research informed best practices that you can adapt and adopt in your own life.
She lives in central east Ontario with her husband and three amazing children who remind her each day that she still has a lot to learn about everything!
ADHD, emotions, mental health, near-death experience, pandemic, stress management