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Episode 66: Building Resilience in Your Life and Consulting Business—PART 1 with Sky Jarrett

Deb Zahn: Hi, I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting podcast. So are you ready to go deep into the topic of resilience? Now this is a really essential topic when it comes to building a successful consulting business and also having a good life. Resilience is essentially your ability to adapt and to respond in the face of adversity, or stress, or threats, or trauma, or crises. Not just so that you can actually get through it, but that on the other side, you come up better than you were before, with more skills to be able to adapt and respond when you face additional adversity.

Deb Zahn: So absolutely critical from a business perspective, definitely in this day and age critical to having a good life, and getting through, and getting stronger in the midst of everything that's happening right now. I brought back absolutely fantastic guest and mindfulness expert, Sky Jarrett, who's going to dive deep into what resilience is. What it means for your life and your business, and how to cultivate it and maintain it so that you can get stronger over time and you get more ability to respond. So much great stuff. This is actually going to be an episode that is split in two because we go really deep into this topic. So let's get started. I want to welcome my guest today, Sky Jarrett. Sky, welcome back to the show.

Sky Jarrett: Thank you, Deb, for having me again.

Deb Zahn:  So let's start off. Remind my listeners, anyone who wasn't fortunate enough to listen to your first podcast. What is it you do?

Sky Jarrett: I am a transformational leadership coach and a mindfulness instructor. So I have the honor and joy of working with very impactful change makers in the world, helping them to live and lead with more impact;, a little bit more ease, and a lot more joy. Just live life a little bit more fully.

Deb Zahn: Oh, that!

Sky Jarrett: Yeah, so that is the work that I get to do in the world.

Deb Zahn: Oh, that's such wonderful work. I know we were talking, and one of the reasons we wanted to do this podcast is we talked about resilience.

Sky Jarrett: Yes.

Deb Zahn: Which, oh my goodness, is always so important, but if it were ever important it would be now. So let's start off. How do you define resilience? And I'm thinking particularly if you think about consultants, which I know you know well, what is resilience in that context?

Sky Jarrett: So resilience to me...And I think it might also be helpful just to set the context that we're in and that I forecast we might continue to be in, right? So welcome to the year of 2020. We are officially into the 21st century. Way, deep into life in the modern society. We are operating in a tsunami of crises, the economic crisis, a global health crisis. Depending on what side of the aisle you're on, we might be able to agree that there is a political crisis, and there's a social crisis that's happening all at the same time. So we are swimming in this tsunami of chaos, and I like to characterize this moment with the acronym of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). Just so that we can characteristically understand, "What are we dealing with? What is a sign of the time?" So to speak. And so VUCA is, funny enough, an acronym that was used to describe the characteristics of war in Afghanistan.

These warlike circumstances that we're now using to describe life for all of us. So we're living in warlike times. Let's just first acknowledge that. Where there is a sense of volatility, a sense that the pace of change is the fastest it has ever been. Life is just moving fast and furious right now for all of us. The changing set of circumstances is happening. Things are changing, facts are changing. Is the virus airborne or is it not? Just as an example. There is a level of uncertainty with COVID-19 and otherwise, just what is life going to be like a week from now, six weeks from now, will we be able to have our summer vacation? Will the kids go back to school in the fall? Will we have a Christmas holiday. Is it reasonable to schedule that offsite in Q1 of next year? Is that feasible, right? What is life going to be like? Can I go to the grocery store without...

There's a level of complexity, all the factors that have to be considered. You cannot jump in your car and just go to the grocery store like we did in the past, three months ago. So that creates a lot of decision fatigue for us, having to decide and remember the mask, and the this, and the that, and all this stuff. Just as a microcosm of what's happening. And there is a sense of ambiguity that we're operating in as well. So take all of this stuff combined, my gosh, what a storm we're in.

Deb Zahn: Right.

Sky Jarrett: And I think we can expect that the waves will keep coming.

Deb Zahn: True.

Sky Jarrett: I'm just the messenger, OK. Don't shoot the messenger!

Deb Zahn: Oh, yeah. All right. Degree in public health: the waves are coming.

Sky Jarrett: Waves will keep coming. And this moment of social justice that we are in is decades of history that has now resurfaced, and we can predict is not going to go away in anytime soon. The economy is going to...It's just all of the areas that we're going to have to recover from, which in a way is analogous to what is resilience. I take a mindfulness perspective. I have my mindfulness lens on here, and I will just share the quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn that says, "You can't stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf."

Deb Zahn: Very nice.

Sky Jarrett: So the waves are going to keep coming, guys, what's going to be your surfboard? That is what it means to create resilience because it's not just about bouncing back, bouncing back from what? There's so much change, and change on so many levels, huge changes, tiny changes. And so this idea of bouncing back when our normal is constantly...There's no going back to anything.

Deb Zahn: Right.

Sky Jarrett: And beyond the bouncing back, can we also tap into and take advantage of the opportunity for growth that's available to us. This post-traumatic growth where we cannot just survive these times, but we can thrive amidst the chaos. That, to me, is what resilience means, it's thriving amidst the chaos. So the difference...Let me just create a differentiating factor. A resilience tactic might look like...A bounce-back tactic might look like, "I'm just going to plug in because we've got a deliverable. We've got a deadline. I'm just going to go for it, and I'm just going to have seven nights of no sleep. Then I'll take a breather so that I can bounce back."

Deb Zahn: Right. Unsustainable, but, OK.

Sky Jarrett: Well, unsustainable, right? So how do we create a sustainable practice of resilience, where we can sustain the high level of performance and we can meet the high level of demands that life is asking of us in every realm of our lives? As a consultant, as a parent, as a spouse, as a child, as a caregiver, how do we create a system of resilience that we can continue to sustain and meet the demand that life is asking of us?

Deb Zahn: That sounds nurturing.

Sky Jarrett: That's right.

Deb Zahn: That's the word that comes to mind because resilience is not, "Turn off the lights and binge watch something with a pint of Haagen-Dazs and a few more in the fridge."

Sky Jarrett:  Right.

Deb Zahn: That's waiting it out, escaping. I'm not saying that ice cream doesn't have its place, but there is a nurturing aspect to resilience that enables you to weather it, but also do the thriving in how you're talking about it.

Sky Jarrett: Beautiful. Yes, that's exactly it. Tara Brach talks about seeking false refuge. The ice cream, the binge watching, the alcohol, the whatever. False refuge, it's not sustainable. As a consultant, as a recovering overachieving perfectionist, as a person that values high-performance...I am a person that believes in excellence, that is what I stand for. I am a believer in creating a sustainable level of high-performance. We've talked about this before, so if you have not seen our prior conversation, go check out that episode where we talk about sustainable high-performance.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Change your life.

Sky Jarrett: But that's what it means to actually cultivate resilience to me, at least. It's more than bouncing back, it's thriving, amidst the chaos.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, and what are some of the techniques to actually cultivating? And actually before you answer, I can't help but say this because I recall talking to someone who was trying to understand what meditation was because I think meditation is obviously one way to cultivate resilience. And he said, "OK, so I think what it is that you just control your mind." And said it just like that. To which I had to reply, "No dude, that's not it." But...So it's not giving up, or the false refuge, but it's not the hyper-I'm-going-to-try-and-control-what-I can-around-me. So where are the ways that you can actually cultivate that beautiful middle place that is actually nurturing?

Sky Jarrett: Yeah, so what you're pointing to is the practice of mindfulness and meditation, and I think that's a big part of it. Mindfulness has become my surfboard. It's the technique that I've chosen to use to cultivate my practice of resilience. So, yeah, I'm an advocate for that. I will scream that from the mountain top because I've experienced how powerful that is, and I've witnessed how powerful that is in other people's lives. I also just want to say that we have to come to our system of resilience in our own way, and create our own systems, and identify what works best for us. Mindfulness and meditation is certainly a huge part of that for many people, but finding what works for each of us is more important than necessarily digging into a mindfulness practice. For some people it's running, for some people it's swimming, for some people it's writing poetry, for some it's dancing or painting. Whatever it is, it's a practice that allows us to find what feels good.

Sky Jarrett: And for me, meditation to your point, is not about getting rid of the thoughts. We have 97,000 thoughts a day, 99% of those are repeated every single day. And of that 99% of repeated thoughts, there's a high percentage of those that are negative thoughts. So let's just start there. Our thoughts shape our reality and shape our experience. It's not the load and the burden that we're all carrying. It's how we're carrying that burden, how we choose to carry that burden. The question that I ask a lot of my clients is, "Do you want to be a mouse that can barely hold a corn kernel, or do you want to be a camel that has the strength and the capacity to carry a heavy load, right?

Deb Zahn: Right.

Sky Jarrett: Our ability to master our mind is a big part of what creates the reality in how we carry that load. Because we have a tendency to catastrophize and simply just to make stuff worse than they actually are.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Sky Jarrett: Right?

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Sky Jarrett: We have this catastrophizing mind and for consultants that might look like we've submitted a deliverable to a client, we haven't heard back negativity bias jumps in. We start catastrophizing, "Oh, crap. They didn't like it. As a matter of fact, she probably hates me. We are going to lose this contract and it's not going to be pretty."

Deb Zahn: "And they're going to tell everybody about how horrible we are."

Sky Jarrett: "And then they're going to tell everyone about how horrible we are. And I'm just going to have to dig a hole and crawl into it." And then we find out that your client's husband, or brother, or whoever was just sick and she didn't see her email.

Deb Zahn: Right.

Sky Jarrett: And you're fine, and you're not being fired, but living through the real experience, the belief that that's what's real. So it might feel real to us, but it's not necessarily true. I make reference to this, Deb, because I think building a resilience mindset or practice is just that, it's a mindset. It's building the mental resilience. It's a muscle that we can actually build through practice. Mindfulness happens to be the very special technology or technique that I've chosen to use to support me in cultivating this mental resilience. So I just want to first establish that it's first acknowledging the importance of that. It's distinguishing between bouncing back and building a sustainable practice of resilience, right?

Deb Zahn: Right.

Sky Jarrett: Cultivating a surfboard. And so let's get into what I would separate, Deb, as the art of cultivating a resilience practice, and then what do we do in moments when stuff gets hard.

Deb Zahn: Right.

Sky Jarrett: When stuff hits the fan.

Deb Zahn: So much for resilience. OK. Now I got to freak out.

Sky Jarrett: Now I'm in a freak-out moment. What do I do? Right?

Deb Zahn: Right.

Sky Jarrett: What does resilience look like in those moments? What does it mean to respond in a way that is resilient in those moments? So that's how I want to separate-

Deb Zahn: If I could, for anyone that's listening, I want to emphasize that this is not just about feeling better. There's emotional payoffs that you get from doing this work. There's mental payoffs you get from doing it, but it's also a really smart business strategy. And I'm reminded of, I was coaching someone recently who's really good, knows her stuff, and she would, similar to the example that you gave, she was trying to get access to certain clients through colleagues, and she would send them an email and they would never respond. And because of the habits of thinking she had around creating the narrative about why, she would never follow up because she just assumed they were like, "Ugh, there she goes again bugging me. How do I get away from her?"

She had a whole thing built up. And when she was able to get past that, she found, first of all there are a lot of reasons they didn't get back, but they were excited by what she was talking about and absolutely delighted to help her. This was all about success related to being a consultant, but because she had locked into a particular narrative and had not cultivated that resilience mindset, or questioned her narratives, or whatever, it was actually holding her back from being successful.

Sky Jarrett: Yeah.

Deb Zahn: Painfully so.

Sky Jarrett: Absolutely. Wherever you go, there you are.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Sky Jarrett: Right? So whatever patterns of thought, emotional patterns, just conditioning, we are all products of our conditioning. So it's important to know what those conditionings are. Knowing what our tendencies are, how do we respond to moments? And let me just say, let me highlight that in this moment of the tsunami of crises, when we are operating in a perpetual state of threat, this is an amazingly opportune time to evaluate what those reactive tendencies are. What do we do when we find ourselves in a stressful moment? The brain registers threat, we fall into fear, fear equates to very reactive, very unproductive behavioral patterns, emotional patterns.

How are we showing up right now? Can we just check in with ourselves, check in with those that we are experiencing this moment with and see, "How am I showing up? What are my tendencies when stuff gets hard and I get really stressed out?" And from that place of knowing you're better positioned to manage what needs to be managed. You know what to expect, you what your triggers are, what makes you just spiral. Knowing where those grenades are, we can know how to navigate around them.

Deb Zahn: That's right, and right now you don't have to wait a couple months until the next one shows up because it'll be here in an hour or two.

Sky Jarrett: That's exactly right. So whatever we're seeing in one aspect of our lives, I think to your point will show up in our business, in our consulting, in our coaching , it will show up in all the aspects of our life. These are patterns, this is who we are, this is how we show up. So just noticing that, I think is very rich data that we can then know what to do with once we collect that data.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Sky Jarrett: As a consultant, we go in, we do as is, we want to know, "What is the current state."

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Sky Jarrett: Well, do an as is assessment on yourself, "What is my conditioning as an individual?" Do that as is assessment because then you know where you're operating from.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Oh, I love that. That's wonderful. Well, so let's get into the nitty gritty of how you want to talk about resilience and how it works.

Sky Jarrett: So I'm going to talk about the mindset, and how do you cultivate the practice? And then the second piece is, what do you do in the moment?

Deb Zahn: Great.

Sky Jarrett: When you're like, "Oh, no, this is a moment." And the methodology is the same, what it looks like is a little bit different. The first thing that I want to say is accepting that stuff happens, that life is just lifey, and we got to learn how to bless the mess, just...I saw a post the other day that says, "When stuff doesn't go as planned, just say, 'Plot twist' and keep it moving."

Deb Zahn: That's right. Or my favorite is, "Tacos fall apart, and we still love them."

Sky Jarrett: That's right. The stuff's just...The ice cream is going to fall off the cone, and what do we do? It's just expecting the unexpected because we have to just acknowledge that a lot of the suffering that we impose on ourselves comes from wishing that life wasn't the way it was. That circumstances weren't there, it's resisting what is. It's the difference between trying to row a boat up the river against the tide, and just letting go of the...Just going with the flow, just rolling. So many times, especially for us as consultants who like to...Especially now, Deb...In a moment of uncertainty, when we feel so out of control, we try to grab on to what we can control. And that gripping, that grabbing creates a resistance that creates tension, that creates the stress that makes it difficult to manage.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Sky Jarrett: We make it worse for ourselves. So let's just...When the crap happens, just say, "This is really funny. Here is the crap."

Deb Zahn: Welcome.

Sky Jarrett: Let's go, welcome. Yeah, and the practice of saying, "Yes." By the way, for people who either practice mindfulness meditation, who are interested, what I love about this practice is it's a way of training my mind. It's a way of cultivating my resilience muscle. And so what we practice in meditation becomes more easily accessible to us in everyday life. Let me give you a very clear example. We're talking about what it means to resist an experience and how that resistance creates tension, that creates stress, that makes it more difficult. We practice this when we're sitting in meditation. If we experience something that we don't like so much, maybe our thoughts and our mind is really cluttered today, or maybe really scattered and we're not finding the peace and calm that we were expecting to have. The meditation isn't going our way, just as life doesn't always go our way.

Deb Zahn: Damn it.

Sky Jarrett: …meditation, how is that a moment for us to practice? "The meditation is not as delicious as I was hoping it to be, now what do I do? Do I just get up and just go on with the rest of my day?" No, we sit in it. We practice what it's like to be OK with things not being OK, to be comfortable in the discomfort, right?

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Sky Jarrett: That is a practice that we can harness in meditation so that when stuff goes wrong in our lives, when we feel like everything is not OK. When things get really uncomfortable, that we've now cultivated that practice. We've built that muscle, and so we can meet the life experience with a little bit more resourcefulness, right?

Deb Zahn: That's right, and what you described happens to consultants all the time. So even if you set aside what's happening in the world in your own personal life, that's what consulting engagements can often be. Having uncomfortable, difficult things happen, and you need to act appropriately, but you can't do that if you cannot face and sit with what's actually happening.

Sky Jarrett: That's right, and that is what will make the difference between a consultant who presents this facade of...This composure, "I've got this, we have it under control." And on the inside we're like ducks paddling underwater. Those of us who can actually have some balance, some synergy between what we're projecting on the outside and what we're experiencing on the inside. It's that the external stress is there, but what is the internal condition that we're meeting that stress with? Are we going nuts, or do we actually have a sense of calm and composure on the inside as well? And the significance of that is, again, these are the things that distinguishes the mouse that can barely carry a kernel versus what makes a camel. It's having that internal regulation that we can meet the chaos with calm and composure. It's just such a critical piece, a foundational piece of this.

Deb Zahn: Well... And I think what you said that's really resonating with me is, in a sense you can't wait till the moment and then suddenly you're going to develop those skills, and ability, and that immediate muscle memory. That's not how it works. You want to develop them ahead of time so you can draw upon them when they're needed.

Sky Jarrett: That's right. You're preparing to run a marathon, you train for that marathon. You build the muscle memory, you build the endurance before you get to the marathon. So that brings me to arming yourself with the resourcefulness that you can thrive. What is that training that you're going to do now because you're preparing for the marathon? The marathon is the waves of chaos, and complexity, and VUCA that's going to keep coming, that we can expect will only get exponentially faster. The pace of change is the fastest it has ever been and the slowest it will ever be. So get ready, let's get ready. That's the marathon we're training for. And we have to train our minds to be resilience. I love the term muscle...We've got to build the muscle memory in our minds to be resilient for the marathon that's ahead.

Deb Zahn: That's right. And there was always some kind of a marathon, particularly if you're a consultant, that's part of what it is. But now it's a marathon in the middle of three or four hurricanes.

Sky Jarrett: It's a marathon in the middle of three or four hurricanes that, oh, by the way, we weren't expecting. You sign up for a marathon, you know when that date's coming and you can prepare, you have time to prepare. The way that life is right now, there is no... We don't get a heads up.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, it's get on the course now.

Sky Jarrett: We don't get to sign up for the marathon. The marathon is here and we got to go.

Deb Zahn:  That's right.

Sky Jarrett: Which brings me to my next point, which is we have to armor up. We started the conversation by just characterizing that we're living in warlike conditions. I didn't coin that, the experts are telling us that life right now feels like warlike conditions. And so would you go to war without your ammunition, without your bulletproof vest? Would you go unprepared?

Deb Zahn: Not for long.

Sky Jarrett: Well, you might go, but you won't survive for very long, right?

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Sky Jarrett: So these are the things that make the difference between thriving, that enable us to thrive. It's armoring up. I'll give you an example. I shared with you, Deb, that at the beginning of COVID when states were being shut down, I came to Florida. My mom had to do brain surgery and her recovery has been a rocky road ever since. That shift in itself for me was very difficult because I was living the life of liberation and traveling everywhere for work. And here am I, I'm literally physically grounded and feeling like a teenager that can't leave the house. So my soul was struggling with that, and also just responding to the emergencies that kept coming up. I'm in a three o'clock meeting and my sister knocks on the door and says, "I need the fever gun." "Why do you need the fever gun?" "Mom has a fever." "What do you mean mom has a fever?" Fast forward, we think she has COVID.

Deb Zahn: Oh, wow.

Sky Jarrett: I've got a mom who's going through cancer treatment for lung cancer and we think she has COVID? What happens? My catastrophizing mind starts to go off, "What if she has to go into the hospital? Oh my gosh. What if we never see her again?" It's the catastrophizing mind, and I know that my mind has that tendency. I know that as an overachieving perfectionist...Recovering overachieving perfectionist, that my mind tends to plan because I want to be able to forecast the worst that could happen so that I can plan.

Well, sometimes that takes me down a spiral into a very dark place. And so I can notice my mind going there and say, "But hold up. All of that is possible. The possibility of that feels real, but what's true right now in this moment? She does not have COVID as far as we know, you're going to have to go to the doctor and get the test and then figure out what you do from there. But right now, just be in the here and now. Be present, get to the doctor's office and then figure it out."

Sky Jarrett: I can have by one, acknowledging the tendency of my mind and where it tends to go. Taking control and taking reins of where my mind is going, creating alternate realities. This reality seems very possible that she could have COVID, she could end up in the hospital, but asking ourselves the question when we find ourselves catastrophizing, "What else could be true?" Well, she could not have COVID and she could be fine.

By doing that we're cultivating more resourcefulness, but it starts with armoring up. It starts with preparing for the unexpected that can happen in the day. It starts with...And for me, and I know you have your own routine, but how are we priming ourselves for the day ahead? How are we armoring up for the day ahead? How are we getting ready to put our bulletproof vest on and say, "Life, bring it. I'm ready for you." And genuinely feel that way. Resourcefulness in many ways is the feeling and the belief that we have what we need to get through whatever comes our way. That belief in and of itself makes us resilient because we're mentally prepared.

Deb Zahn: I want to contrast that with fake resilience, which is...And I know a lot of folks who grew up in very unpredictable childhood situations, this can be really difficult. Or folks with PTSD, but preparing for what could happen doesn't mean that you anticipate every bad thing that could possibly happen and hold on to that as truth. It is being comfortable in the uncertainty, but being prepared regardless of what comes. But not trying to control everything because out of control is too scary.

Sky Jarrett: Yes, and here's an important distinction that I will offer to that as well, Deb. It's not preparing for the worst that could happen because it's not the business of making sure that we have everything in place. I think there is some value to mitigating risk, identifying risk and mitigating that.

Deb Zahn: Right.

Sky Jarrett: It's a very important part of being truly resilient and being truly resourceful. It's like, I'm in Florida right now. It's hurricane season, I'm not going to ignore that I need to think about what we need as a family to be safe. So there is value in that, but the important distinction is allowing the imagined chaos, and living in that space of the uncertainty and the worst that could happen, and spiralling, getting caught in the spiral of that and never getting out of it, number one. And number two, never planning for it, not using that risk identification constructively by mitigating the risk.

Sky Jarrett: That is what preparation looks like. What I'm talking...And I think that's important, a very important part of this...What we're talking about here as well is, is priming ourselves for the unexpected that could happen. That we, within ourselves have a level of grounded-ness. It's like the difference between if you're standing firm on two feet and someone tries to push you over, versus standing on one leg and they've tried to push you. In which scenario are you more likely to tip over?

Deb Zahn: Right.

Sky Jarrett: When you're only standing on one foot. What I'm talking about here is to create systems that allow us to be grounded, that we have both feet firmly planted on the floor. So that when life tries to push us over we can stand our ground, and we can stand in our resourcefulness, and we can stand and operate from a place of power and not from a place of being victim to the circumstance that we weren't expecting to happen.

Deb Zahn: Right, or panic.

Sky Jarrett: Or panic. Because preparation assumes that we know the crap that's going to come. We have to scenario plan. The way life is right now. We don't know what we're preparing for it, but we're preparing. So how do you prepare when you don't know what you're preparing for?

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Sky Jarrett: You get grounded.

Deb Zahn: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of The Craft of Consulting podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode, or if you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up and a lot of other great content and I don't want you to miss anything. But the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is, one, is if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those.

And then the last thing is, again, if you've gotten something out of this, share it. Share it with somebody you know who's a consultant, or thinking about being a consultant and make sure that they also have access to all this great content and all the other great content that's going to be coming up.

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