01 Grandmothers’ Glory
When fear rushed in, I learned how to hear my heart racing but refused to allow my feelings to sway me. That resilience came from my family. It flowed through our bloodline.”
--Coretta Scott King, civil rights leader
Never underestimate the power of the ancient art of storytelling. Before feeding posts and amassing views, like it or love it, happiness was a fire, a piece of bread and a good story. Can you smell the bread baking? Warm and fragrant just out of the oven?
My two grandmothers had a huge impact on my life. They were born at the beginning of the century. One lived through both World Wars. Her house was bombarded, so she lost her home. The other one was kidnapped by the cossacks. Her story is one of selflessness and people helping each other. She only knew one word in the language of the kidnappers: “teacher.” When she said the word, the soldiers took her to the district school rather than prison, because they wanted the principal to verify that she was a teacher. The principal, who had seen her only once before, confirmed her version of the facts. They let her go because there was wide respect for teachers. Teachers are givers, caretakers. It doesn’t matter where you are or where you’re from, or even the situation you’re in, people respect leadership as a service. They help. That is innate in everyone.
My other grandmother worked as a maid in a boarding school in Switzerland. Her father died when she was very young, and she was the oldest sister, so she had to leave school to care for the ten-strong family. She put my father through university. She was a widow and never remarried. She lived through two World Wars, the Spanish Flu, and the bombing of her hometown.
One grandmother used to tell me, "Enrico, love your family and care for your neighbours; everything will be all right.”
The other said, “Enrico, when one door closes, look for the two which opened.”
Giovanna and Nila had it all figured out well before Harvard University, McKinsey, the Internet and all those memes about leadership. They taught me how to be resilient. Both outstanding women drank a glass of wine a day and lived to ninety-seven and one hundred respectively.
No job descriptions list “resiliency” as a task or skill; however, it’s a
critical life skill.
During the height of COVID-19, I was always thinking back to them. Here I was complaining about having to stay near home (not even locked inside), and I could go to the supermarket, watch Netflix, communicate via social media. This privileged quarantine dragged on a few months. Well, my grandmother lived under bombing for four years. Who was I to complain? Candidly, sheltering in place and binging on modern amenities was not easy, and my teenage daughter was suffering due to isolation from her friends. But really, Enrico?
Let It Resonate!
Summon Your Resilient Ancestors
You can learn from others and every experience. If you want to recover quickly from difficulties, you can, too, by following in their footsteps. They did not have the conveniences or speed of technologies in communication, food production, banking, travel, logistics, and more of modern life nectars. Focus on what you can control. Face fear with a willingness to learn through enduring. Some things you simply cannot run from anyway. Don’t burn your energy contemplating escape from the inevitable, like deliverables, deadlines, goal completion, and problems to solve.
Without resilience, no team will be able to run the marathon of change.
Build resilience by taking care of yourself, especially in good times. This is not a new concept; I must have had an ancestor back in Rome who used to say to his kids, “Mens sana in corpore sano.” ("A healthy mind in a healthy body.”) So many distinguished minds are known to exercise their brains by reading dozens of books per year. “How?” you might ask. “They must be super-human! I certainly have no time for that.” Trust me—they are not. We always take time for what is important, and they prioritize reading over other stuff. Check your phone statistics. Cut your screen time by 50% and you will give yourself back the time to read fifty books per year. It works; I did it.
Another way to build resilience is to exercise at least thirty minutes per day. Find your sport, which will quite literally become your drug, as exercise produces dopamine. This neurochemical boosts mood, motivation, and attention, and helps regulate learning and emotional responses. It cannot be taken in pill form—as most worthy things in life, it takes hard work.
The last advice on how to build resilience and be resilient is focus entirely on what you can control. You are the master of your own destiny, the orchestrator of your fate. You will not stop a pandemic or influence global geopolitics (maybe some of you eventually will), but now, you can influence yourself and more importantly, people around you.