Interview with Eileen McDargh: On cultivating growth-oriented resilience

Vera: Resilience can mean different things to different people. What’s your definition and in your view and what are its potential benefits?

 Eileen: Unlike the dictionary definition, I believe human resiliency and organizational resiliency are not about bouncing “back”. There is no going back. Instead, resiliency is about growing through challenge or opportunity to end up better on the other side.


Vera: You kind of align two notions in your book- one of Resilience and the other of growth potential. Does resilience always bring growth? 

Eileen: Growth—moving to a new place of insight and wisdom is always the outcome of real resiliency.  However, it might take some time before an individual realizes the growth that she experienced. For example, Jane went through a divorce. She felt beaten down and emotionally battered. Three years later, with distance, she understood what changes she needed to make in herself and what she really wanted in a relationship. As she stated to me; “Unless I had gone through my first marriage, I would never have found and treasured the wonderful husband I now have.” They have been married now 37 years.

Vera: I like the concept of ‘Presilience’- nurturing now the capacity to be resilient as one can never prepare too much for change. What disciplines does this entail cultivating?  

Eileen: The first discipline (and it does require cultivating) is intelligent optimism—reframing something in a way so that one sees what is possible vs. impossible. This is not easy and requires a real diligence to catch oneself in a negative mindset.  Start small: for example, a bad hair day becomes a great hat day! An illness that requires me to stay in bed for a few days is reframed as a time to heal, breathe. Even burnt toast can be reframed as an opportunity to feed it to my birds and a chance to grab yogurt instead of bread!


Vera: The resilience journey as you indicate starts with defining where one is right now. If one is going through a bad patch, how do they ensure this assessment is honest and as balanced as possible?

Eileen: I don’t think “balance” is what ones looks for. And “honest” can only be determined by the person in “the bad patch”.  Journaling the “NOW” of one’s life can be instructive. Write what is happening NOW. Emotions, thoughts, physical symptoms can all be described. Put it all out on paper. Wallow in it. And then literally write, “How long do I want to stay here?“What small step can I take to begin to move me out of this ‘bad patch’?”


Vera: Physical resilience is arguably easier to develop. How about mentally- How does one deal with what you call ANTs (Automatic Negative thoughts) –so that things don’t look/feel worse?

Eileen: First- catch yourself when the ANT appears. It also helps to have an “ant-catcher”—someone who maybe holds up a hand and says “Stop”. You’ll probably get mad at the person who does that so make sure you have asked them to catch you.  You are seeking another way of viewing it.  And if you don’t have a person you can ask, think of someone living or dead, alive or fictional, whom you admire and whose words you would listen to.  For example, it might be your grandmother, Mother Teresa, a former teacher—whomever. What would that person say to you?


Vera: You present ‘laugh-ability’ as a resiliency skill- which is almost counterintuitive. How does one keep a sense of humor when overwhelmed and probably not seeing clear?  

Eileen: Look for the funny around you. It is always there. Let people bring you “the funny”—whether a silly You Tube video or a funny book. In fact, practice looking for “the funny” now, before you need it. I collect pictures of signs and sayings that just make me laugh. If you lose your hair to chemo, ask friends to think up all the things you could do with a bald head—the sillier, the better. This is not to diminish the seriousness of situation but rather to give you a moment of relief. Laughter increases the endorphins in the body—all essential for healing. Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the horrid Civil War, would find comic relief in making puns, creating a joke and was quoted “In the midst of this horror, if I didn’t laugh- I would cry.”


Vera: What are some of the big ‘no-no’s that people tend to do that makes it hard to move forward in a challenging situation or to grow?

Eileen: First-is a word to friends who think they are being helpful when they say “I know you will get over this.”  Or “snap out of this”. Some events will never be truly over. Rather they are transformed and take a different place in our heart. There is no timetable for grief or recovery.  Second—allow yourself time. Don’t compare yourself to others. One person who snaps back from divorce and marries two years later does not mean that another person must follow the same path.  Be gentle with yourself.


Vera: There’s the belief that you come back stronger when you deal with and work through challenging times (you know the ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ mantra). Any views on that?

Eileen: I often ask groups to think back to a time in their life when some event seemed particularly difficult or challenging and yet—they got through it.   We often forget the strength we developed. There are individual triumphs—large and small. Recalling those can be very instructive. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, stated that when humans get stuck, it’s because we think the situation is permanent, pervasive, and/or personal.   In reality, it is rarely all three.


Vera: One of the tools you share is ‘recalculating questions’- what are these and how does one know what questions to ask?

Eileen: A good journalist knows the power of questions: Who? What” When” Why” Where?  And then How?  When we feel stuck, any of these questions might move us forward. Why is always powerful—don’t even think about ‘how” until you are clear why you want to do something.


Vera: No doubt you take your own advice- what are you able to do better now that wouldn’t have been possible if you had not honed your presilience over the years?

Eileen: I teach what I need to learn. Presilience is a life-long skill that continues to be honed. It’s one thing to take an exercise class. However, unless you keep it up, the body loses its muscle tone and weight creeps back.  Somedays I am better at resiliency than others. Other times, I stink!  I’m better now at reframing as well as asking for help.  I’m better at finding the funny. I’m better at asking recalculating questions.  And school is never out for me.


Eileen’s profile

Eileen McDargh, CSP, CPAE is CEO  (Chief Energy Officer) of the Resiliency Group. Since starting her consultancy practice in 1980, Eileen McDargh has become known as a master facilitator, an award- winning author, and an internationally recognized keynoter and executive coach. She’s the author of seven books, including her latest, ‘Your Resiliency GPS, A Guide for Growing Through Life & Work’. Her book, ‘Gifts from the Mountain’, won the Ben Franklin Gold Award from which she produced an award-winning training film. Eileen writes articles for a curated web site as part of their ‘League of Extraordinary Thinkers.” In 2017 Gurus International, ranked her 4th of the World’s Top 30 Communication Gurus following a global survey of 22,000 business professionals. Eileen is a certified speaking professional (CSP) and elected into the CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame. She’s also listed as a recommended expert through the Sloan Work and Family Research Network. Her most recent endeavor is a movement to improve public discourse. To this end, she and two colleagues have created a global outreach called True Leader Creed & Code of Conduct. You can read about it here:

More of Eileen’s work at


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