Conversation with Michelle Auerbach, author of Resilience: The Life Saving Skill of Story

1. What is your book about and why did you write it? 

Resilience: The Life Saving Skill of Story is about how to create change and build a world you want to live in right in the middle of this COVID Crisis. I wanted to write it because now is the time to start listing and telling our stories to support each other and to help each other survive, thrive,  learn and grow right now. While I was writing the book, I interviewed 30 people who are story practitioners around the world and as I was talking to them, I felt better: more empowered, connected, aware, and hopeful. We are going through an unprecedented crisis and there are huge and devastating implications and we need to learn from each other how to care for more people better – and story is how we do that. It is also how we manage our own internal world, and how we build resilience.

2. How would you define resilience? Many psychologists define resilience as an absence of depression or absence of struggle during difficult circumstances, do you agree or disagree? Why?

I define resilience as the capacity to prepare for, recover from, and adapt in the face of challenge, adversity, and stress. Resilience is an individual practice, but it is also a societal practice. We need systems that support people so that they have more capacity. We need communities built on the idea that everyone’s resilience matters. We need to look at the places where people have less resilience and know that we are all responsible for helping raise the baseline in every way we can. When we are individually resilient, that is more possible. When we are part of resilient inclusive communities we are a huge force for good.

3. How can people become more resilient, especially right now given everything people are going through?

People can become more resilient by using story to create capacity. There are dozens of how-to sections in my book where I get resilience story practices from a diverse group or practitioners from chefs to radio producers to activists to experts in healthcare and change. Just by growing our story and listening skills we grow our capabilities to be resilient. I felt it while writing the book – it was like stepping into a different world to conduct the interviews, and I want everyone to be able to step into that world too.

4. What advice would you have for people who do not feel resilient or just are not resilient. For example, they may get fired from a job and go into a state of deep depression or feel so overwhelmed with everything that is going on in their life that they can not function?

The advice I would give is this: There is a story out there that will lift you up. That will help you narrate a better future or a more adaptive present moment. And, it is not your fault in any way that you feel that way. We are in a time of massive change, massive harm, and massive displacement – and you are not alone. Read a little bit of the book and you will find someone who is speaking your story and your language

5. Why do you think some people are resilient during adversity and other people are not. What do you think distinguishes the two groups?

In the book there are several great conversations about who and why we are resilient. So here is a mini list of who and why people are resilient: 1) spirituality helps 2) having experience trauma in the past helps (yes I said it helps) 3) finding the stories that feed your sense of what the would could be helps 4) understanding how your brain works helps 5) understanding the greater context for your situation helps and finally 6) knowing you are not alone and that this is a systemic and global situation right now helps.

6. What is one experience you have gone through in life where you felt like you were not resilient and what is one experience in life where you felt like you were resilient. What were some differences in those two experiences and what did you learn from them.

In the book I tell a lot of stories about my resilience or lack thereof – so this is an easy question. I have been most resilient when I can create a context for what is happening. I feel better when I can narrate my life in a way that shows growth. I lost a job once that I loved, and thought was the only thing I was put on earth to do – it was my dream job and my life goal. And then I had to leave the job. At first I was not at all resilient. I was devastated. I could not talk to anyone with whom I had worked, I could not talk about it, think about it, or hear about it without feeling like an enormous failure. It took years – and learning a lot about story and how it works I was able to see the story differently. Leaving that job allowed me to open a consulting practice, to focus on working with groups and communities and individuals on change, on story, it allowed me to develop relationships around the world that have changed my life. I now see that job, and leaving it, as a training ground for everything I do. Now, It was not easy – and it hurt. The process took a while, but it increased my belief that I have a call in the world and I am called to meet the world where the most need is and to bring my gifts there and to accept that it will change over time as my gifts change and the world changes.

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Resilience: The Life Saving Skill of Story  is currently part of a Resilience Book Series. For more information about the Resilience Book Series please visit https://www.resilience-books.com.

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