Interview with Mark Black: On Developing Resilience for Challenging Times

mark-800Vera: Your book ‘’Live from the heart’’ is an inspiring read with strategies for living one’s passion and purpose. How does one discover these (passion and purpose) and how should the two work together for optimal effect?

Mark: Discovering your passion and purpose is a process. That’s why I say you “discover” them. It won’t happen instantly. To help you identify your passion and purpose, ask yourself these questions:

  • What are your values?
  • What matters most to you?
  • What are you really good at?
  • What do you LOVE to do?
  • Where do you want to be in 20 years?
  • What does the combination of skills, abilities, and experiences you’ve had, point you to?

Vera: One of your fundamental beliefs is that ‘’life is supposed to be hard’’, how does this perspective enable one to live their out their fullest potential?

Mark: First I want to be clear that it is NOT that you should make your life hard on purpose. By all means, be smart, make good decisions, and make your life as simple as you can. However, life will still be hard sometimes. No matter how much planning you do, no matter how many good decisions you make, sometimes crap will still happen.
If you can learn to start with the premise that sometimes crap will happen, it will ultimately save you a lot of grief. A lot of our pain and suffering in life comes not from the actual stuff that happens in our lives, but from the disappointment and frustration we have from those things. So if you can change your expectations, you can change the impact. When you believe that life is supposed to be hard, you stop getting frustrated and angry and when life is hard. You understand that’s “just the way it is”. Then you can spend your time and energy on trying to make it better rather than spinning your wheels in frustration.

Vera: Your other assertion is that being vulnerable may not necessarily be a bad thing, what do you consider to be the benefits of accepting one’s vulnerability?

Mark: This is linked with the last question. It goes back to expectations. If I expect myself to be perfect (and many of us do) then I will inevitably cause myself suffering when I encounter times when I fail to be perfect (which will happen often because none of us is perfect). If instead I can accept that I am not perfect, and that I’m not supposed to be, I can find greater peace amidst my failures. Being vulnerable means being honest about your weaknesses before others. Again, this provides freedom from anxiety and stress.  If you are always concerned about preserving a perfect image for others, you’ll always be stressed about what they see and about every mistake you make. If instead you can be honest about your weaknesses before others, then you won’t have anything to worry about. When you make a mistake, you can simply ask for forgiveness, and move on.

Vera: Your experience is the highest form of personal resilience. How do you approach resilience in a corporate environment in your work with clients?

Mark: Resilience in a corporate environment is not any different from resilience at home. For corporations to be more resilient, they have to be concerned with the resilience of their people. If your people aren’t resilient, your company won’t be either.  A workforce of people with very low resilience results in a number of problems:

  • Absenteeism: You have people missing work all the time because they have too many personal problems to handle to be able to get to work.
  • Low Productivity: When people are at work, they are so pre-occupied with the issues and problems they face there and at home, they can’t focus on the job they have to do.
  • High Turnover: People who aren’t resilient can’t handle pressure. When stress and challenge hit the workplace, which they inevitably do, people who aren’t resilient will leave in search of something easier.
    Obsolescence: Companies that don’t grow, adapt and change in reaction to a changing market, will fail. If you have people who are not resilient, they will hold the company back from making the adaptations required to stay on top.

Vera: ‘’Life changing’’ is one of those terms that have come to be used rather loosely these days. What are some of the genuinely life changing insights you help clients to grasp to help them cope with and transcend adversity?

Mark: Some of the key insights are;

Easy is the Enemy of Excellence: Life is supposed to be hard and if you try to take the easy way out all the time, you will never be as good as you could be.

Live Today: Most of us spend far too much time focused on the mistakes we’ve made and the problems we may, or may not, have to face, when the only thing we can control is this moment. Live this moment well repeatedly, and life takes care of itself.

Persistence Pays: Nothing worth doing is easy. Those who give up will never win. But those who refuse to quit no matter what happens will never fail.

Reasonable Goals Create Mediocre Results: We’re often admonished to set reasonable goals under the premise that you’ll be motivated to achieve the goal because you think you can reach it. The problem is what happens when you succeed? You’ve achieved a reasonable goal. So what? Where would we be if everyone set “reasonable goals”? We’d have no airplanes, we would have never cured diseases, and racism and social injustice would be even worse than they are. Instead, don’t set reasonable goals, set audacious goals. Set scary goals. Push yourself to do and try things that you never thought possible. Your rate of success may be lower, but when you do succeed, it will be more than worth it!

Vera: You are expert on fostering a new way of looking at change. Talk me though what this new fresh perspective/approach is?

Mark: Our default position as human beings looking at change is to resist it. We like familiarity. We like it so much that we will stay in bad situations because they are familiar rather than trying something new.  The way to effectively deal with change is to resist your resistance. Learn to embrace change. Learn to expect change to be good – because it often is. This will help you to better enjoy the positive changes in your life as well as to cope more effectively with the more difficult ones.

Vera: You obviously live every day the message you teach about living life fully. If someone came to you saying they wanted to live big but afraid to do so or didn’t know where to begin what would your response to them be?

Mark: I’d ask what they are afraid of? I think we all want to live life fully, we’re just afraid. Afraid of what others will think; afraid of failing; afraid to let someone down; afraid of the unknown. We have to cast out fear. Dare to try. The rewards are too good not to try.

Vera: Arguably, mental strength tends to be the most challenging for most people as they go through rough times. How does one develop mental toughness?
Mark: 1. Understand that you can develop mental toughness: Too many people don’t even try to be mentally tough because they assume it’s an inherent characteristic and something they just weren’t “born with”. The truth is that mental toughness can be learned and practiced.
2. Practice: You build muscular strength by lifting weights. You build aerobic fitness by exercise. You stress the system and then it responds with growth. The same is true of your brain. Practice calmness amidst stress. Practice seeing the good in a bad situation. Practice getting back up when you fall down. The more you practice, the more it becomes part of who you are.
3. Allow Yourself to Fail: No one has perfect resilience all the time. The people who you look at from a distance and see as being “unstoppable” have their bad days too. We are all human. It’s okay to have a bad day.

Vera: As a heart and double lung transport recipient turned 4 time marathon runner, bestselling author and life coach; what are you most proud of achieving to date?

Mark: I’ve been blessed with so much: a great family, a second chance at life, strong faith, renewed health, a great career, etc etc etc. I can’t name all of the things I’ve been blessed with. I haven’t achieved anything on my own. So it’s hard to say what I’m most proud of because I don’t think I get to claim any of it. God has given it to me and I try to make good use of it. The thing I most value would be my family. The accomplishments are nice. I’m proud of having run some marathons. But my family is what I cherish.

Vera: You encourage people to get focused on the one most important thing. What is that one thing you focus on daily that has the potential to optimize your impact?

Mark: God. My faith is THE most important thing in my life. It shapes everything else that I do. It establishes my priorities and guides my decisions. My whole life is about trying to fulfill the plan God has for my life.

Mark’s profile

Mark Black is a keynote speaker, author and life strategy coach. He works with organizations of all sizes to help them build resilience, stop complaining and start celebrating. Learn more at

For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development and excellence building, click here.