Harnessing Resilience I: Stacey Copas #80

Warwick Fairfax

August 24, 2021

What Stacey Copas knows about resilience was born of tragedy: A diving accident at 12 left her a quadriplegic whose spirit was in tatters. But she turned a corner emotionally when she realized “we connect with other people through our adversity, not our success.” Today, in her writing, speaking and coaching, she shares how resilience is a skill that can be learned just like building muscle in the gym.

To learn more about Stacey Copas, visit www.staceycopas.com.

And don’t miss part 2 of “Harnessing Resilience” with guest Katie Foulkes, debuting Aug. 31.

Highlights

  • Her definition of resilience (1:35)
  • Why she struggled to feel qualified talking about resilience (3:35)
  • Her life-changing crucible (4:18)
  • The first few days facing her future as a quadriplegic (8:39)
  • How the injury stripped her of her identity as a teen (15:03)
  • Music’s role in helping her battle through her brokenness (16:30)
  • Wisdom from her book (17:31)
  • How she let go of her anger over the accident (21:05)
  • The importance of gratitude (24:15)
  • How resilience can be learned (32:45)
  • The importance of taking responsibility for your crucible (40:18)
  • Why self-awareness is such a huge part of resilience (44:10)
  • Being careful in choosing people from whom to seek support (51:02)
  • Why she is happy about her accident today (55:05)
  • Stacey’s life of significance (1:01:47)

Transcript

Warwick F:

Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

Gary S:

Welcome to the first episode of our first series, Harnessing Resilience. I’m Gary Schneeberger, co-host of the show. We’re dedicating the next six weeks to this critical topic because without resilience, there is no moving beyond our crucibles. That’s why we’re spotlighting guests who found the resilience to overcome their setbacks and failures, as well as experts who offer practical insights and action steps you can take to bolster your own ability to rise above when the crucibles come. So listen in as Warwick and I talk with Stacey Copas, who was paralyzed in a diving accident at age 12, struggled mightily while living listlessly throughout her teens, then found her path to a life of significance when she harnessed resilience.

Warwick F:

Well, Stacey, thank you so much for being here. Super excited to hear you talk about resilience and love the title of your book, How To Be Resilient: The Blueprint For Getting Results When Things Don’t Go To Plan. And obviously as we’ll get into, you have some experience unfortunately about things not going to plan. But since we’re talking about resilience, before we get into your story, what does resilience mean to you? Because obviously, you have a whole body of thought about it, but if you had to define resilience, how would you define it?

Stacey C:

Look, I probably have a little bit of a different take on resilience to most. And I find that for me, particularly in a business setting, I feel that so often, recently that resilience has become synonymous with coping, which I feel that it sells it short. And even the old bounce back, implies that you just keep coming back to the same place. But for me, I feel that resilience is a growth strategy, it’s a learning strategy and it’s actually the ability to actually grow through challenges rather than just go through them.

Stacey C:

So I see it more of a proactive strategy as well, rather than a reactive one. And I feel that it’s something that using simple practices consistently, then we can build that resilience. Much like going to the gym to build and maintain physical strength, we can actually proactively build resilience so that when we actually need it, then we actually have reserves of it. But yeah. To sum it up, I think it is the ability of how you can actually grow and become stronger through challenging situations.

Warwick F:

I love that phrase, grow through challenges. Wow. I mean, we’re going to dive into that a bit more here in a bit, but some people we’re going to have on are experts on resilience in the sense they’ve got their PhD, they’ve got a whole body of thought, knowledge and research, which is very valuable. But you have also a whole body of knowledge on resilience. But you come at it from a different angle, hard earned unfortunately. So talk about maybe your perspective on resilience in the sense that you’re very qualified. But talk about why unfortunately, you’re so qualified to truly, it’s a signal to talk about your story if you will.

Stacey C:

Well, the funny thing is, is that for so long, I actually didn’t feel that I was qualified to talk about resilience because I wasn’t an academic and I wasn’t a psychologist and I didn’t feel, I guess, traditionally qualified. And for many years when I first started speaking about resilience, I did feel almost a bit of an imposter because, like I said, I didn’t have all these published research on it. And then it was one day in a room full of CEOs, I actually said, “Look, this is how it is, I didn’t think I was qualified. But ultimately I feel that I’ve come through it from life experience.” I say that my approach is backed by life rather than backed by science.

Stacey C:

But for me, I guess the biggest experience that I’ve had that has led me to thinking about resilience is, back when I was 12 years old, I was actually cooling off in a relative’s backyard swimming pool, and it was something that I did quite often. But I wasn’t content with just swimming and spending time with… My brother was there, he was younger and a couple of other younger boys. So what I did every time I visited this pool was I liked to climb up on the edge of the pool and dive in over and over again. And it was an above ground pool, so it was not a deep pool. It wasn’t meant for diving. So I always getting yelled at to stop, but being 12 and bulletproof and invincible, I completely ignored those requests to stop.

Stacey C:

There was just one particular time where I stood on the edge of the pool and I thought that I was splashing too much if I was diving in. So I stopped for a moment and I thought, “Well, what can I do to make a perfect dive where I’m not splashing?” So I stopped for a moment and I thought, “Well, what if I was to hold my feet together and keep my legs straight?” I thought in theory, that would make a splashless dive. So I took a deep breath and I did exactly that. And it felt like any other dive until I went to try and swim up to the surface and I realized I couldn’t move.

Stacey C:

So I didn’t feel any pain, I didn’t feel like anything had gone wrong, but I couldn’t move. I was completely conscious, holding my breath, panicking like anything, trying to get the attention of my brother to help me, which I couldn’t do. So I held my breath as long as I could, but when I couldn’t hold it any longer, I had to give in. And as I gave in and my lungs filled with water, I blacked out and eventually my brother realized something was wrong and they thought I was just mucking around and raised the alarm for help. And it wasn’t until later that night at the third hospital that I was taken to that a doctor told me that I’d actually broken my neck and drowned and that I’d never walk again and that felt like a death sentence to me at the time.

Warwick F:

It’s just amazing how you were just having this ordinary day. I mean, you talk about your story and I love the details of, I think you mentioned that your mom and dad dropped you off and some other kids were going to the cricket center and it’s like, “Do I really want to do that? Swimming sounds a lot more fun.” It was probably a hot day, which-

Stacey C:

Yeah, it was very hot.

Warwick F:

…this is in Sydney I’m assuming.

Stacey C:

Yeah.

Warwick F:

Now, you mentioned later it was on the North Shore of the hospital. So it’s on the North Shore. Just out of curiosity, what suburb was it? Not that Americans will know but…

Stacey C:

Well, I ended up at Royal North Shore Hospital because they had a spinal injuries’ unit. But I actually grew up in Campbeltown. So southwestern Sydney. So it was absolutely nowhere near where the hospital was.

Warwick F:

Yeah. Familiar with Campbeltown. My parents had a property growing up near Camden and a little small place called Narellan, which you might’ve come across now. It’s a big housing development, which whole nother story. But-

Gary S:

And on behalf of all Americans, let me say, I didn’t understand any of those cities. So you were right Warwick about that.

Warwick F:

So sorry about that but curiosity. Here it is a perfectly normal day, you’re just diving into this pool and one of the other things people here won’t get is, you were wearing a pretty cool swimming costume, as we say. A swimsuit, a Ken Done swimsuit. Now, people in America might not know but he is a fantastic designer, artist. There used to be a shop in the Rocks area near Sydney, which I don’t know if it’s there anymore, but we would get t-shirts and all sorts of things. So I had to believe having a Ken Done swimsuit, that was probably one of your prize possessions, right? Because not everybody does.

Stacey C:

No. And it was very new and I was very excited about it and I think I’d only probably worn it a couple of times. And then having it cut off me in the emergency room wasn’t part of the plan that was for sure.

Warwick F:

I’m guessing those obviously first few days, weeks, talk about that experience because you never get used to these things. But initially, there’s all sorts of denial of what happened or what’s… So talk about those first days and weeks, what was running through your mind and experiencing and…

Stacey C:

Well, the first few days, especially, I was in a very bad way and pretty heavily sedated with morphine. So I think the thing with that is, I didn’t even know if I was awake or asleep half the time. It was just a really, really, really blurry time. But I do remember just feeling like my life was over because prior to that, I was a pretty talented athlete. I had really clear plans what I was going to do with my life. I wanted to be a vet. I’d gotten into one of the, probably a very iconic Sydney selective agricultural school for my secondary schooling. So that was the perfect next step to becoming a vet.

Stacey C:

Everything I identified as, and everything that I was looking forward to, was gone. So that was incredibly tough. And the other thing, I was flat on my back for eight weeks actually with sandbags either side of my head. So you spent a lot of time just staring at the ceiling. And I remember, sometimes, the ceiling particularly in intensive care and stuff where I spent the first few days, had all these little dots in the ceiling and I remember actually just counting one side, this side, multiplying it, just trying to figure out how many dots there were on the ceiling because that was just all there really was in front of me at that time.

Stacey C:

And then, my mom was with me most of the time but for the most part, it was just feeling incredibly sick. But it was a lot of fear as well because it was like, I couldn’t feel or move most of my body at that point in time either. It was definitely a scary and very blurry time.

Warwick F:

I mean, it’s one thing as an adult, but 12 years old, my gosh. I mean, you mentioned you had dreams of becoming a vet, you mentioned you were athletic. I mean, what kind of things did you do beforehand? Did you have some favorite sports or?

Stacey C:

Yeah. So I was the pitcher on the softball team and I was first girl to play soccer for my school. This is in the late ’80s.

Gary S:

Wow.

Warwick F:

Wow.

Stacey C:

Yeah. I represented the school at every distance from the 100 meters through to the cross-country as a runner. So I was very gifted as an athlete. I was incredibly active. It was like I ran everywhere. I’d come home from school and I’d go of an afternoon and run for a couple of, I’ll say kilometers, but miles. But yeah. I pretty much identified as an athlete and then academically it was all about becoming a vet and that was what it was.

Stacey C:

I said all the things that I loved and that wasn’t there. The thing was, for me, it was so difficult to go from being such a fiercely independent active young woman to then being just completely stuck and not even to be able to scratch my head or turn the age of a book or feed myself or do any of those things. It was pretty soul destroying at that time.

Warwick F:

I can imagine. I mean, just when you think of, we all have our self-image. It sounds like at that time if somebody said, “Well, who is Stacey Copas?” “Well, she’s an athlete, she’s independent, takes charge of life, is active, is not passive. Life is meant to be lived, not just idle through. Vet.” That was probably a part of who you were. And then with the accident, well, who is Stacey now? I mean, probably at the time felt like, well, what’s left? Nothing. I mean, there’s the physical pain and that’s a whole story, but just the emotional, soul destroying, self-image pain. Well, who am I now? What’s left?

Stacey C:

Definitely. And I think it’s like going into high school and going into those teenage years, identity, is such a huge part of that journey without that going on. So to go, well, everything that I saw myself as, everything that I wanted to be, having gone, that was definitely incredibly difficult. And as you said, it always comes down to it. It’s like, “What’s the point?” I couldn’t walk, let alone run and play the sports I wanted to do. And particularly with the sporting thing is, when I had those eight weeks on my back, I was pretty angry about not being able to do the things I always wanted to do.

Stacey C:

So I actually made a pact with my 12-year old self at that time that I was never going to play sport again because I couldn’t do it like I used to. I thought I could never be good at something again. And for me, I’d never wanted to do anything that I didn’t think I could be good at because I was and I am driven by excellence. Anything I do, I want to make sure that I can do it to the best of my ability. But also, I’m very competitive. I want to win. I didn’t want to just turn up and get the encouragement award.

Warwick F:

You’re not somebody that wants to get the participation award, right?

Stacey C:

No. I didn’t want to get that one. No, that was not me. And thankfully, I didn’t grow up in the, everyone gets a trophy generation. I’m a little bit older than that. So I don’t think I would have fared well with that one either.

Warwick F:

It’s probably not very Australian I suppose. Australians love sports. That is for sure. So talk about some of that journey and teenage years. I mean, physically talk about the progression. I know you had some challenges in the teenage years where, understandably, it was a pretty dark time. So just talk about the rest of that time before we get to… Things started switching around at some point, but talk about the rest of the teenage years before we get to the turnaround, if you will.

Stacey C:

Look, definitely the teenage years were pretty dark and I was really bitter and angry and resentful. And ultimately, I was in the situation I was in because of the actions that I’d taken. So a lot of that was focused internally, but I was just this real stubborn, would not let anyone in on what was going on. And so I just kept on this whole, getting on with life facade and just acted as if everything was okay. It wasn’t great, but internally I was struggling big time. And much like a lot of teens that aren’t having a great time of things. Then I sought some pretty unhealthy ways of dealing with how I was feeling. And I spent quite a lot of my time drunk and stoned.

Stacey C:

And at the time, they were just outlets or escapes, there were ways of not feeling the reality of what my life was like. So I look at it now and I’m like, well, I created these moments of artificial happiness that in between, you sink deeper and deeper into the pit of depression and fear and anxiety. But as I said again, I just kept up the getting on with the, nothing to see here. So that was incredibly challenging at the time.

Stacey C:

And I think I really didn’t realize until more recently that the thing that really kept me going through that time was music. Music was something that became my outlet. I immersed in music, just as a listener and the coolest part was is that I was at the lowest points in my life in the early to mid ’90s at the height of grunge. And it was the perfect soundtrack through this angry, angsty, the world’s against me type of experience that I was having but it gave me an outlet, it gave me a way to express myself, but I didn’t have the words to do at the time. And then eventually I started getting into going to seeing live music, and then there was just an energy and a sense of community and things like that that came through that. So that was probably the healthier outlet that I had to express some of that anger and frustration I was having.

Gary S:

As we’re talking about resilience, right? The series that we’re launching today is about resilience. I want to read you something from an excellent book I read on the subject called How To Be Resilient: The Blueprint For Getting Results When Things Don’t Go To Plan by Stacey Copas. But one of the things that you wrote in there seems to, perhaps connect to what you were just talking about. You wrote this about why resilience is so important. Have you ever noticed how some people appear to be unflappable even when major things go wrong, whereas other people fall to pieces? And you indicated that you were holding it together. From the outside looking in people would think, “Okay, she’s handled it pretty well.” And then you write this, resilience is this ability to keep it together when faced with a problem or a setback when others would fall apart. It’s the ability and strength to cope when things don’t go according to plan.

Gary S:

Would you say that you really started to feel around in resilience when you discovered music? Was that the first manifestation of that? Or did it come even earlier than that now that you look back?

Stacey C:

The funny with even the word resilience, it was a word that I would never have used. I never even recognized the word. It was something that came very, very much later in the piece but I think doing that reverse engineering of the process, then for me, I think probably the first part of it that really came down to it for me was, I had the opportunity about six months after I first left hospital to go and spend a week at a rehab center because at the time I was only 12 years old. So the doctor said there was no facilities for children that had had injuries like mine. So they just kept me in a hospital for seven months. So I didn’t have access to the really specialized rehabilitation that most people get.

Stacey C:

In my Christmas holidays, I had the chance to go and spend some time at the rehab center. And in the first week I was able to do all these things that I couldn’t do for myself. And part of the what ifs started to kick in. And I was like, “What if I had had this chance earlier, how much better off could I have been?” But that’s when I really had to shift my focus and focus on what I had rather than what I’d lost. And so I think that was probably one of the earliest angles of resilience I think. If I look at it in hindsight, was that ability to go and look, you can’t focus on what you don’t have any more, just focus on what you’ve got.

Stacey C:

And so that little shift in perspective I found was definitely helpful because, again, I now know that if we spend too much time living in the past, then, that’s where depression lives. So it was helpful to just go, “Look, just, focus on what you’ve got, focus on what’s ahead, focus on what you can do rather than the handful of things that you can’t do.”

Warwick F:

So well said. It’s probably worth spending some time on those anchors. I imagine people go through what you’ve gone through in our discussions. There can be a sense of anger at other people, at yourself, “Gosh, why did I have to jump in the pool?” Or, “How come if I’d been 18 or 20 I would’ve got access to.” So angry at the system, at doctors, there’s a list, right? From yourself to others. And it’s easy to dwell in that saying what if, or just be angry.

Warwick F:

So talk about that because I imagine at some point you had to, I don’t know if it’s forgive yourself is the right word or just stop beating yourself up. You’re a 12 year old kid, kids do silly stuff. Most of the time nothing happens, right? They break a leg. You could say, “Well, I was unlucky.” Well, unlucky? That’s not the right word. So talk about how you were able to let go of maybe anger because I’m sure it was one of the principles, both to yourself and to others. How did you manage to do that, to move on from that?

Stacey C:

Look, definitely anger was there. And I must say, the majority of that anger was directed at myself. I realized I had no one to blame. But I think that there’s a bit of a default thing when something goes wrong, what people will do, will put something or someone to blame. But really I had no one to blame except for myself. I was told not to do it, I ignored those warnings and I still went ahead and did it.

Stacey C:

I think that was… I guess, I took ownership of that anger. But yeah. It was getting towards the end of high school where I think things started to really shift and I started to realize that particularly those detractive habits. I was getting incredibly foggy around spending time stoned and stuff like that. And it was starting to spill over into my school work and things like that. And I did have one of those rock bottom moments where, I really just didn’t want to be here at all. And I did have a very close call where really the only thing that stopped me in a moment from ending it was, the fear that someone would find me before I was gone and I’d end up worse than where I was. And if I had a guarantee at that time that that wouldn’t have happened, then I wouldn’t be here today.

Stacey C:

So I’m very grateful that that did kick in to, “Hey, this could be worse.” Personally, I don’t like this whole angle. It’s like, “Oh, someone else has always got it worse off than you.” What does it really matter what’s going on everywhere else?

Warwick F:

Exactly.

Stacey C:

It’s like, take ownership of your own stuff. So there wasn’t that but I didn’t want to end up worse than where I was. And I think that scared me because I found myself in that situation where there’s so much stigma around that, there’s so much judgment around people that consider or do attempt and that sort of stuff. So that was a bit of a wake up call for me. And ultimately I got to the point where, I had to make a decision. And it was that proverbial fork in the road where I had to say, “Well, look, am I going to get on with it or am I give up?” And ultimately I just went, “Well, look, I can’t change what’s happened. It’s a fact. But what I can do is I can change how I feel about it, I can change the story that I tell about it and I can change what I do next.”

Stacey C:

So there was that element of just having to make a decision. And so often people have gone “Well, it can’t be that simple.” And I’m like, “Well, yeah, it actually was.” It just came to a point where it’s like, you’ve just got to choose to get on with it. And I did. And so what I ended up doing then was I actually then instead of looking back at that accident with negativity, I actually looked back at it with gratitude. And I actually looked at it and I become grateful and I began to look for, how has this changed my life in a positive way? And what are the opportunities that I can have from this? And people think, “How the hell could ending up a quadriplegic and in a wheelchair for the rest of your life be positive?” But I did choose to embrace the positive aspects of it.

Stacey C:

And it’s not to say that I don’t have frustrations. I don’t have days where, I get a little bit angry, where I get frustrated about the things that I can’t do if I’m having a day where the body’s not cooperating with the mind, but at the most part, then that shift has left a lot of that anger behind. And I think once we can get past the anger, then that makes a huge difference because I think that energy, it comes from a place of scarcity whereas if we start to shift into a perspective of gratitude and possibility, then it’s a really abundant and open aspect and open viewpoint. And it’s a place where we can actually look for, as I said, the opportunities and the possibilities and it’s amazing how that opens the world up.

Warwick F:

I mean, just when you talk about gratitude, I think it’s hard for people to understand who haven’t walked in your shoes what you just said. They heard the words, but you hear the words pain for a purpose, right? And it’s like, “Oh yeah, right. Pain for a purpose. Of course, easy for you to say that you’re not.” But the gratitude, my gosh, that’s a whole nother level than pain for a purpose. That is a mind blowing shift in attitude. I don’t know. I think at one point, I think I read you wanted to compete or to compete in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. But in terms of mindset Olympics, my gosh, that’s worthy of a gold medal in my mind, right?

Warwick F:

And you say genuinely, it’s not just a lie. To have gratitude for something like that, I mean, I don’t know. To me, that’s gold metal level and I’m not trying to be flippant here. I mean, I’m serious. That’s an amazing attitude. I mean, people must, when you say that they must, even other people have had physical challenges, they say, “What in the world are you talking about Stacey?” I mean, but you’re right it’s a-

Stacey C:

Yeah. They think that I’ve lost it completely.

Warwick F:

But it’s that choice. I mean, the fact that you’re smiling now, that in itself is a victory, right? I’m guessing that smiling is something you do a fair amount of in your day-to-day life. I mean, it’s hard to believe, but I don’t know, am I correct, most days you’re reasonably up? You have your moments, but you’re not like a morose person most days.

Stacey C:

Most days. Yeah, absolutely most days. My default is to smile. And it’s funny because even when I’m having the flat moments then, or if I’m pushing through a particularly hard workout, particularly and I’m like, “Okay, these last couple of things are really hurting.” But if I actually then smile, it’s incredible how it actually changes your physiology completely. And it does. It just lifts you and people think, “Oh, again, that did sound too simple.” But they are simple.

Stacey C:

And the gratitude piece is again, I don’t think I consciously realized what I was doing at the time until many years afterwards, but that’s what I say to people that in any situation that’s challenging. The first thing to do is just to stop and say, “Thank you.” Because even though it sounds counterintuitive, you can’t actually feel bad about something you’re grateful for, and it just shifts the energy completely, and it just comes back to creating an experience of gratitude. And again, that feeling of gratitude, it just comes from a place of possibility and abundance and it just gives you the right mindset then to be able to look more positively as well and to actually just… If we look around every day, there’s just so much to be in awe about. And they’re the simplest things.

Stacey C:

Sometimes I’ll just sit and I’ll just watch a leaf drift from a tree down to the ground, and just be amazed by how that all happens, amazed that we’re even here at all. It’s, like I said, situational gratitude but I just think it’s worked for me and I said it’s always the first point and I say, if you want to shift yourself out of a challenging situation. I use gratitude mantras now for it. And I just say, “Look, if you’re in that moment,” I just say, “Look, take a moment and just say, look, thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to be who I am, where I am with what I have at this moment in time.” And it just shifts the energy completely.

Warwick F:

I want to shift to some of these key principles in your book. I think you’ve got nine and then some bonus ones, but it’s funny because we’ve been doing this podcast for a little while. One of the things, and I think I want listeners to understand, you might say, “Oh, well, I’ve not gone through what Stacey’s gone through. So who am I to complain?” You almost feel bad that maybe it’s a kid in high school and they’re having trouble with grades or boyfriends or girlfriends. You feel like that’s nothing compared to…

Warwick F:

But one of our earliest podcasts, we chatted to a guy, David Charbonnet, who was a US Navy Seal who was paralyzed in a training accident. He’s one of the best of the best. And I said, “Gosh, what I’ve gone through is nothing compared to what you’ve gone through.” And he shot back and said, “You know what? Your worst day is your worst day.” Everybody we’ve had has had that kind of attitude. The people that have bounced back in a positive. And so that was helpful to me. But it’s not really an analogy at all.

Warwick F:

But in terms of what you’re talking about of gratitude is, Australian listeners will know, I grew up in a very big large family, media business, based in Sydney, 150-year old company, did this $2 billion takeover. It ended. And so I was responsible for ending this family dynasty and still to this day, people say, “Oh, you know, Fairfax papers would have been a lot better if Warwick hadn’t done the takeover.” Still, they write snarky things about me. Even as little ago as, a couple of weeks ago in one of the papers.

Gary S:

Yeah, a couple of weeks ago.

Stacey C:

Wow.

Warwick F:

We won’t mention the paper but it just never ends. But part of the reason I’m talking about this is the gratitude is, to be successful, I think I would have needed to be a Rupert Murdoch media mogul. And I’m basically a reserved, reflective person who would rather listen than pontificate at least, some of the time anyway. But I never could have voluntarily left because I would have thought I let down my dad and grandfather and parents. And there’s no way I could have left. But the gratitude part is, well, the only way I could have left was if I was forced to leave and I was forced to leave. And now I have a wonderful life. My wife, married over 30 years, three wonderful kids from 30 to 20s. And I love what I do now with Crucible Leadership. None of that would have been possible.

Warwick F:

I might’ve been, I don’t know, hundreds of millions of dollars richer. I’m still pretty comfortable but the gratitude part is, that was a gift. But in my case, it wasn’t a physical deal, but I would have been locked into this family company doing something that I didn’t enjoy, but felt obligated to stay there. Couldn’t have left any other way. So I don’t know. I’m a person of faith so I have to believe there’s a grand plan up there somehow. So it’s okay. “Warwick won’t leave? Fine. We’ll figure out a way for him to leave.” I’m not trying to make some analogy or anything. Your story is different than mine but the point is, gratitude is very important.

Gary S:

And I will make an analogy or I will make a connection.

Warwick F:

Please.

Gary S:

I’ll take my co-host prerogative and I’ll make a connection between both of your stories as different as they are. And we find this all the time on the show is that the circumstances are different, but the emotions can be the same. And again, this is something from your book Stacey that I think speaks to both of your stories and you wrote this, the reality is that resilience is a skill that can be learned just like building muscle in the gym. The more you practice it, the more resilient you will become.

Gary S:

Both of your journeys back from your crucibles, there’s evidence of that in your lives. But there are a couple of things I love in your book. This, I’ve just decided is the thing I love most about what you write and you say this and listener, get a pen out, get a pencil out, get chalk out, draw it in chocolate on something. But you wrote this, another way to visualize this is to think of jumping on a trampoline, the lower down it goes, the higher up you are launched.

Gary S:

That is some powerful insight into what resilience really allows you to do. And that idea that we were talking about there, Warwick, about your own pain is your own pain, your worst experience is your worst. Don’t compare, right? The lower down you go, that you get to determine that. But you also get to determine as you practice resilience, how high you go. And I think that’s the example that both of you set and hopefully our listeners hear that and draw hope from that.

Warwick F:

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, for you, how would you apply that principle to you? The lower down you go to the higher you… How was that for you?

Stacey C:

Well, I think it’s definitely been that way. And I guess, a similar analogy I look at is if you’re looking at an archer, it’s like the tighter you pull that bow, then when you let it go, the faster the arrows propel forward. So I do that. I do remind myself for those times where things feel overwhelming or challenging that, they’re the opportunities. I mean, the times where we’re under the most pressure, the most resistance, the most uncomfortable, then they’re those amazing opportunities for growth and learning. And also connecting.

Stacey C:

I think this is the thing, and this is why I love that you’re sharing stories in this way is that, we’re going to connect with other people through our adversity, not through our success. And I feel that it’s easier to connect with somebody on that level because I think if we’ve shared… As you said, we haven’t shared the exact same thing, but our experiences have been similar in how we’ve looked at it, experienced it and moved on from it.

Stacey C:

But yeah, I always look at it. I find the times where… And that’s where I come back to the gratitude because I don’t know in that moment, I know it feels awful at the time but I don’t know how it’s going to then grow, what’s going to be the lesson that comes from it but I just know that it is and that’s what sometimes I ask myself. It’s like, first of all, it’s saying thank you that opportunity to experience that even if it doesn’t feel like something to be grateful for, but then the next seed that I plant is, “Well, what is the opportunity in this? What’s the lesson in this?” And you don’t always have that answer straight away. And sometimes it can take years to realize, well, what was the lesson in that?

Stacey C:

And I like that you said to Warwick that, from being a person of faith, that you feel that there is a greater plan. And it’s interesting for me because I wasn’t somebody that was, and I think that if anything, at the time, the experience I had probably pushed me further away from faith. But I still felt that there was some reason, there was some kind of divine intervention in what happened to me because while I was a talented athlete and all those sort of things. Then, I was starting to hang out with some people that would probably have the tendency that I may have gone off track. And I was very curious about, probably just exploring everything that probably wasn’t healthy for me to explore.

Stacey C:

And I know that as a teenager, I spent a lot of time drunk and stoned, had I not have had the injury I had and became so aware of my body, I would have taken everything just to experience it. I think that there’s been a lot of parts of my journey where there’s been a greater being and, again, I’m at this point in my life now where it’s really interesting because I have a boyfriend that is somebody that’s very driven by faith. So it’s been quite interesting to be a person who isn’t, but then starting to look at all these things and recognizing that there are so many things that have happened in my life that I can’t explain that you feel that there is something.

Stacey C:

And I do trust myself, but I also trust that there is some kind of greater energy or greater being or something like that, that knows that I’m on a path. And that’s the thing is I look at it now with the gratitude for the adversity I’ve experienced, because it’s given me the opportunity to experience what I have that then I can then share and I can share it with other people and I can share how people can learn and grow from, but not happy to go through crisis in their life.

Stacey C:

So it’s such a great thing to have experienced that. Now, the more challenging the situation, the more likely I am to go, “Wow, this could be something really great from this.” And even as recent as last week. We’re in week five of a pretty hard lockdown here in Sydney again. And I’m probably one of the most capable and equipped people to deal with that. I had a meltdown last week. I had a meltdown. I did lose it a bit. I got incredibly emotional about it and I realized there was a number of other things that all collided.

Stacey C:

But I just thought, well, look, if I’m experiencing this and I’ve got all these skills that I’m positive and resilient and all these sort of stuff, then that also then reminded me that I’m needed more than ever to share what I share to help others to just see that, we’re bigger than our circumstances. And just because things are challenging right now, we all have the ability to grow and get beyond it and become better people and be able to help people more as a result of the challenging experiences that we’ve had.

Warwick F:

Absolutely. Well, I want to touch on some of these principles, but one just as you talk. Certainly for me, when you’ve made mistakes, which in my case, a $2 billion mistake is a pretty big one. It’s not small. It gives you some degree of, forgive me, almost like English, Australian understatement. Gives you a lot of potential for humility. It’s funny. I just tend to say things like some degree of humility, well, you’ll be able to translate that but the American audience might not. But it can make you humble, not judgmental, compassionate. I mean, who am I to judge somebody else given the colossally dumb things I’ve done? And I don’t know. I mean, that can be certainly a gift.

Warwick F:

But talk about some of these principles. The first one you mentioned is responsibility. And we’ve really talked about this in not so many words, but why is that the first principle in terms of building this resilience muscle? For whatever crucible setback failure you’ve gone through, why is that the first step, would you say responsibility?

Stacey C:

I feel it is the first step because we’ve really got to take ownership. You’ve got to take ownership of where you’re at. And even if the situation that you’re in was a result of some external factors then, being in a place of blame again, is that real negative energy. And it’s an energy of scarcity and it’s very closed. So if you can come back and just say, “Well, look, I’m going to take responsibility for what happens next.” I look at it and if you can take responsibility for finding solutions rather than focusing on problems, again, that just opens up the possibility for moving on.

Stacey C:

Because I think I touched on that. There’s a tendency and again, we have a default reaction and it is looking for something or someone to blame, but then it’s taking a moment and going again, that gap between the reaction and the response and then going, “Well, okay. Well, what am I going to do next?” But I feel if you can… But for me, I’ve really looked at it and it’s been more recent to realize that the only way forward is inward. Is we can’t always be looking for the answers outside of ourselves and this is where it comes back to personal responsibility. Is it’s going a little bit. What’s that old saying? If it is to be, it is up to me and it’s coming back to that.

Stacey C:

Really when we look at it, no one’s coming to save us as much as people would like to think that. And if we get past that and realize that we just have to own this and ownership is the first part because you can’t then go off, and even if you’ve got this plan on how you’re going to get past the situation, if you haven’t owned it and accepted it, then it’s always going to be there, it’s always going to be straight under the surface. It’s going to blow up down the track. And that’s why I think you start with owning a situation and owning that you’re going to get past it, then that really helps to have that good energy and the focus that you need on what’s coming up ahead.

Warwick F:

Responsibility and excuses the next are probably related, but it’s like in relationships is a classic thing. “Oh, he’s awful.” “She’s awful.” “It’s all her fault.” “All his fault.” Right? It’s never mine, it’s always the other persons. And sometimes there are cases of abuse where it seems like, well, sure it seemed like 99% his problem or whatever. I do get that. But in many cases, it isn’t quite that black and white. Or in business, “Gee, I was fired. Well, my boss is an idiot clearly.” Well, maybe I’m not communicating well, maybe everybody works for me is scared. Maybe I don’t show up on time, maybe I don’t always get things done, maybe some of that could be factors why I was fired. How about little internal analysis? Sometimes we deserve to be fired.

Warwick F:

But most of us don’t take responsibility. We double down, we triple down and it’s always somebody else’s fault. It’s never ours. But that internal analysis, I think is what you’re saying is important, right? It’s not always everybody else’s fault. Sometimes it could be, but it’s a little simplistic to say we have no contribution, right? We have no responsibility.

Stacey C:

It’s easier to blame everybody else. And I think that also too, I think that if we’re looking broadly across a lot of society, then I think a lot of people are blaming. It’s always everyone else’s fault. And I think that’s the thing is when there is that thing where you’re looking at… Self-awareness is such a huge part of resilience. And if people are having that situation where they’re going, “Oh, this is this person’s fault.” Or they’re angry at somebody, it’s just to stop and just ask themselves, “What part have I played in this?” And always coming back to, what is it about that person or that situation that’s triggering me and what do I need to look at internally to go, “Where am I maybe projecting that?” And then I’m having that reflected back at me in the form of a mirror.

Stacey C:

And I find that that is just super powerful. And it’s uncomfortable. And I think this is why a lot of people do go, “No, no, no, no, it’s all out there. It’s out there. It’s out there, look away.” Kind of thing. But I think the thing I say if we can always look at experiences that we have in life as a mirror and go, “Okay, well, what part have I played? What can I learn from this? How am I showing up? How have I contributed to what I’ve just received back?” Then that can just make a huge difference. And I think also too what is linked to that is, a lot of people have an element of entitlement. It’s almost like the world owes me a favor or someone needs to do this for me or someone owes me something.

Stacey C:

And for me, I look at it and I’m just like, well, I actually flip it around completely. I’m like, “If anything, we owe the world a debt of gratitude.” We owe the world so much. And if we can come back to not so much about what can we get, what can we give? And then what we can then grow and experience in return. I think that, if I was to look at what’s my number one enemy or nemesis, it’ll be the entitlement attitude.

Warwick F:

Sure. No, that makes sense. I know you talk about expand, which I think is probably giving and all that. But, you mentioned, the internal and often, we think, “Oh, I’m going to be happy when I get that top job or I have the nice house, the big boat, the…” Maybe for people with physical challenges, “If I could get fully better,” in the early days you probably don’t know, “Then I’d be happy.” Right? It’s happy if, if, if. And I often think happiness is really a state of mind. It’s really what you said before and it sounds as if you can choose to be happy, you clearly have chosen again, overall to be happy, which sounds like you’re pretty successful, not every second, but overall, which is again amazing.

Warwick F:

But part of it is just this journey within. Things won’t make you happy, accomplishments won’t make you happy but you don’t find your self-esteem in success, accolades, even Olympic gold medals, as wonderful as it is. It’s an internal state of being. I don’t know if any of this makes sense, but part of the resilience is, learning that happiness isn’t found elsewhere. So it’s just more of an internal journey. I don’t know if any of that makes sense based on what you’re thinking.

Stacey C:

Yeah, it absolutely does. And I think that you mentioned before relationships, and I think that this is an area where it is probably the most important and apparent is that there’s so often people then almost looking to that other person for their happiness. And I think that that’s something that I’ve always looked at.

Stacey C:

Once I was aware that I am the only person that’s responsible for my own happiness, then that was such a shift. You can actually then show up in interactions with other people and again, not looking for what you can get from them, but just looking about how you can be present with them and how much you can add value to them. And it also then, when you’re in a relationship with somebody or you’re in a business partnership or a friendship with somebody, and that person knows that you’re not depending on them, or you’re not putting pressure on them to make you happy, when that weight is lifted, it’s just such an incredible experience.

Stacey C:

So I think that the happiness thing is huge. And people are always again, chasing it rather than, as you said, cruising it. It’s like when you open your eyes in the morning, the biggest part of whether you’re going to have a good day or a bad day is what you decide as soon as you wake up.

Warwick F:

Right. I mean, just another brief beat on this. Just being fully present. I mean, we’re normally in Maryland but we’re in far Northern Michigan where it never gets that warm, which, everybody else here in America is frying. But just taking a walk in the woods and listening to the winds through the trees and the smells, the sounds, the lapping of the water, just simple little things and being grateful and saying, “This is amazing.” Beautiful moonlight across the water or whatever it is. There’s a lot that can fill you with joy if you choose to look at it the right way.

Warwick F:

A couple of other things. You’ve got one on support that I find fascinating. Who to let in and who not to let in. So clearly some people are probably not helpful. So talk a bit about part of resilience is you need a team, right? As much as most of us would like to do it all on ourselves, “I got it. I got it. I don’t need a help. I’m good,” right? “I’m good.” So talk about how it’s not just about getting help but some people can be helpful, other people maybe, you don’t want to really let help you. Why is that important?

Stacey C:

Look, it’s interesting too because having the team and asking for help has probably been one of the ones that I’ve been the worst at. And because it’s like, “Oh, I just want to do it, I’ll do it, I’ll do it.” And I think for me personally, because I’d lost so much physical independence, I probably overcompensated in areas that I could and then I really struggle to let people in. But ultimately the support piece is that, we really need to have people that are going to support and encourage us rather than try and suck the life out of whatever we’re doing.

Stacey C:

The way I like to look at it is, if you imagine you’re the sun in the middle of the solar system, and you’ve got some stars that shine light into your world, then you got the black holes that suck the life out of it as well. So it’s always looking at, well, here are the people that you can have around you that are going to actually then add the value, are going to lift you, are going to make you feel more positive.

Stacey C:

But the difficulty is often the most negative people that we deal with are the people that are closest to us. It can be family, it could be a partner, it could be that friend we’ve had since high school that you just feel obliged to keep around. It could be a close work colleague. And then as far as that goes, then it’s having to be conscious about what you share with them. So if you know somebody that’s the dream stealer people, then you don’t go to that person all excited about a win you’ve had in your business or a big goal that you have that you want to work towards because they will suck the life out of it.

Stacey C:

And so it’s just being really conscious about who you let in. And sometimes it is an element of needing to let people go and just completely cut them a drift completely. And sometimes that could be family as well. If you know that someone is not going to add value to your life, then I just say, “Well, let them go.” But it does make the world of difference, but then also too, then, it’s also recognizing it’s not all one way traffic as well. And coming back to that self-awareness piece, it’s having the self-awareness to go, “What impact is my energy and behavior having in the people around me as well?” And going, “Well, where am I showing up as a black hole or a star as well?” And how could then I then take again that responsibility for the energy that you have and how you actually interact with people and the impact that has whether it is positive or negative. But owning that and having the awareness to say, “Look, it’s a two way street.”

Warwick F:

I mean, that’s very helpful because some people may be like flowers in your life, others may be like weeds. We don’t need weeds that suck the life out of us. Black holes is a wonderful expression. I mean, if they’re family, it’s not like you can just not see them, but at least as you say, be careful what you share and there are others and I’ve certainly had these in my life and family of the should people. “You know what Stacey you should do. I’ve got this great idea.” And then you say, “Well, thanks for that.” “No, but Stacey, you don’t understand. You really should do this.” “Thank you.” And then eventually that doesn’t work. And so it’s almost you have to go to, “I heard what you said, but no.”

Warwick F:

I mean, sometimes politeness doesn’t work but you’ve really got to be guarded about who you let into your life. You want people that support you that are nonjudgmental. But suggestions are okay. But we don’t need an endless list of you should do A or B. We all have those. That’s not life-affirming. And that means for us, we should stop doing that to other people, right? “You know what? I wrote this book and based on my book, How To Be Resilient, I know I’ve got a specific blueprint for your life. I don’t mean a general one, but I’ll write you a five page paper, and it will tell you exactly what you need to do. I’ve got it all mapped out.” Right? It’d be easy to go there, especially for somebody you deeply care about. But it’s like, “Well, you’re the king or queen of your own life, but not of other people’s lives.” Anyway, but that all make sense, I imagine, right? Just be careful who you have around you.

Stacey C:

It makes a huge difference. And I think that going back to that urge to sometimes want to go… Because your outside eyes always see things differently. So that whole thing about, you can’t read the label from inside the jar.

Warwick F:

Absolutely.

Stacey C:

But there’s a tendency to want to do that. But then a big learning that I’ve had, I think since I’ve started doing the work I’m doing, I’ve been doing this for about nine, 10 years now, but there was two things that I learned that really helped was that I can’t care about somebody else’s problems more than they care about themselves. And sometimes the biggest gift we can give somebody is the consequences of their own actions and decisions and just letting that happen. Because if we look at our crucible moments, right? Imagine if something had have intervened or prevented that from happening and we had robbed of the gift of the experience we’ve had. And that’s where I think that being able to step back, even if we could see something externally, it’s like, again, we don’t want to rob someone from the experience of that situation.

Gary S:

And that’s a powerful thing for you to say, and I’ll echo what Warwick said there because in your book you say this about that very subject. Most people find it hard to believe that ending up a quadriplegic and needing to use a wheelchair for the rest of my life is a positive thing. But after spending some time with me, they quickly realize that I am truly happy about it.

Gary S:

Listen to that listener, truly happy about everything that we’ve talked about that has happened to her physically. And here’s how Stacey ended that paragraph in her book. I have done things with my life that I can say with certainty, I never would have done otherwise. That dovetails so nicely with a core concept of Crucible Leadership. And that is, learning from your crucible, how when you learn the lessons of your crucible and you move beyond your crucible, as the title of this podcast is, you then are launched into what Warwick has called, a life of significance. And based on what you’re talking about, Stacey, I think you believe for sure you’re living a life of significance right now, right?

Stacey C:

Yeah, completely, completely. And I love that now because at first I felt I had what I called little old me syndrome that there was nothing special about me. I’m just getting on with life, don’t even bother asking. But as I started to grow and evolve through this process, and the more I shared my story once I got past the whole, and I think it’s a very Aussie thing Warwick, I was brought up to not stand out, to not say that we were good. So when I was encouraged to share my story, I thought, “No, everyone will think I’m a total wanker for talking about myself. And I didn’t want to do that.

Warwick F:

For an American audience, is there a polite way of translating wanker.

Gary S:

Oh, I think they know what that means. I know what that means. Yes. That’s the first time on Beyond the Crucible, we have had the word wanker. So that you Stacey for that.

Stacey C:

I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing. But I don’t know. That’s how I felt. But I had a mentor that said to me, “Look, Stacey, with an experience like yours, if you don’t share you’re being selfish.” Then once I started to then take those little first steps in sharing my story and then getting that feedback about how much of an impact me sharing my story and the specific lessons I learned and how that could help somebody else. Then that gave me that confidence to go, “Wow, I actually feel a deep moral responsibility now to share more, but also just to…” I found that if I focus just on, showing up the best I can to continue to learn and grow and evolve personally and then share that with others, then again, I can have a significant impact. And it excites me now rather than feel like it was something that I either wasn’t worthy of or something that I felt weighted down by.

Gary S:

I’m going to use this opportunity to make a segue. It’s a perfect segue to, I like to say on the show here, the captain’s turned on the fasten seatbelt signs and it’s getting to the time that we have to land the plane. But Warwick will ask a couple more questions. But before we get to that part, I just want to give you the chance, because you’re talking about helping people. How can people Stacey find out more about you and what you can do for them to help them manifest and understand that resilience better? How can they find you online?

Stacey C:

Look, if you Google me, there’ll be about 10 pages of stuff to keep you busy. Look, I think I’m most active on LinkedIn, and also on Instagram. I manage all my own stuff. So I’m always open to somebody sending me a private message if they’ve got a specific question. But to engage with me that way or through my website. And if anyone wants to get a copy of, How To Be Resilient, there’s a free download on howtoberesilient.com.au on the end of that one. But yeah. Look, I really welcome people connecting with me and that’s what drives me. If I can be of service in some way, then I absolutely love doing so.

Gary S:

And that is a life of significance for sure. Warwick?

Warwick F:

Yeah. Well, I mean, I guess speaking of significance, what I’m hearing you say is, we define a life significance as a life focused on serving others and dedicated to a higher purpose, whatever that may be for you. Something that’s more than just yourself and you’re living that life with your message of resilience and helping people grow that muscle and bounce back from adversity. And I’ve found in my own life that as I do that, it’s really a path to joy and fulfillment when you feel like you’re making a difference. Why am I here? Why is Stacey Copas here?

Warwick F:

Well, one reason is the impact you’re having on people around you. Why did this happen to me? I don’t know, but at least I’m using it for good and I know for me, I don’t know some of the podcasts guests we’ve had on, a place where people can be vulnerable and a safe place and all that. I mean, that matters more to me than, I’ve got a book coming out in October, whether I sell 10,000, one or zero. That’s frankly, not my motivation. But if I feel like I’m helping people, I’m sure like you, that means everything to me. I mean, it really does.

Warwick F:

And so I imagine you can relate. So as you’re helping people and people are saying thank you or whatever. Obviously I realize there’s no physical healing but just emotionally, spiritually, talk about the difference that makes to you when you feel like you’re having an impact in people’s lives. What does that do for you as a human being?

Stacey C:

Oh, look, it makes the world of difference. And even just the other day, it was a couple of days ago. I’d had a day where I was exhausted. I was just so tired. I didn’t sleep much. And then I had a coaching call with a client that I was helping with some career coaching and showed up and was completely present with her. And at the end of it, she spent several minutes saying about how much of a difference it made, how helpful it was, how I completely shifted her perspective. And just so many specific ways that the 45 minutes that we’d spent prior to that had completely shifted the way she looked at some different things in her career. And it does, it makes the world of difference.

Stacey C:

And then also I love that from time to time, I might get an email or a message on social media from somebody that perhaps saw me speak years ago, and that comes back and say, “Because you said this, I did this and this is the impact it made.” And sometimes it’ll be, I don’t even remember saying that specific thing, but that person picked it up at that time and that then made a difference in their life.

Stacey C:

Now I use that. And even when I’m going out to speak, I still have this whole, there’s a nerves thing that goes on. But what I actually do is, I picture one person in the audience that is struggling with something in their lives and I know that by me showing up as fully as I can in the moment and is completely present and then gives everything I have for that hour that that could change that person’s life. And that drives me. It fills my cup to get the feedback that, because I said something or shared something that that changed someone’s life in some way. And I’m like, “What a gift.”

Gary S:

That beautiful story that you just described Stacey, go back to that 12 year old girl, lying in the bed, with the sandbags on the sides of her head, counting the dots in the ceiling. What do you think that 12-year old girl would think of that story that you just said that if she wouldn’t have known that that would be who she’d grew up to be. Someone who offers that kind of hope and encouragement in talking about and helping them manifest resilience to other people.

Stacey C:

I don’t think she would have believed it. That’s for sure. But also too, I think that, look, absolutely, she wouldn’t have believed it. But then also my perspective on it is that if any second was different, then right now would be different. So I think she needed to have those doubts, she needed to have those fears, she needed to have experienced all of those things of the worthiness of, what’s the point? In order to then have become the woman that I am now to then be able to do what I have because I’ve been at the depths and then was able to work through that consciously or unconsciously. I think a lot of it was unconscious, but that then gives me the ability to be able to connect with people that are at the lowest points as well.

Stacey C:

And not just at the lowest points, just even at a, it could be just a bit of a confidence tip. It could be just that in the world we’re in now, it’s the overwhelming uncertainty that people find themselves in. But just gives me the ability to relate and relate and connect. And also then like I said earlier, provide hope to go well, wow, I’ve been able to turn around my life from that to where I am now, and there hasn’t been anything special about it. It’s just been, I’ve been incredibly resourceful and the experience that I’ve had have just been the result of the decisions I’ve made. And then that’s brought me to where I am now, and then I can help out and help others do the same.

Warwick F:

Well, thank you, Stacey. That is a powerful story of resilience. I love what you said. I mean, you made a series of choices throughout your life from 12 on, and it is possible. In your darkest moment, you can be resilient, you can be happy, fulfilled, filled with joy like Stacey. It is possible. And I think Stacey provides a blueprint to that. So you may not believe that, especially if you’re a 12-year old girl in the hospital, I get that. But it’s possible. Believe what Stacey said, believe her life, the example of her countenance. You can’t fake a countenance, you can’t fake that presence. It’s real.

Warwick F:

So resilience coming back from your darkest days, it is possible. And Stacey is a very good example. So thank you so much for sharing your story and some of the keys of how you do live a life of resilience and a life of joy.

Stacey C:

Thank you. It’s been an absolute pleasure to share with you today.

Gary S:

And that sound is the plane landing. The captain’s the plane on the ground. But here’s the good news listener, we’re taken off again, because this was only part one of our series on resilience. And next time we gather, we will hear from dual Olympian, Katie Foulkes, who wait til you hear what her story of resilience is. Wait til you hear, I’ll give you a little bit of a hint. The prime minister of Australia, yes another Aussie. The prime minister of Australia said that what she and her fellow Olympians on the rowing team did was “un-Australian”. That’s next time on Beyond the Crucible. Thanks for spending your time with us.

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