Thoughtful Conversation with Paula Davis-Laack

Posted by on June 20, 2012

Today, Paula is sharing with us about perseverance.  I first connected with her on Twitter after I read a few of her posts on the Psychology Today site.  I really admire her accomplishments and  think of her as a mentor. I am excited she has decided to participate in this series.  Thanks Paula! You have really encouraged me to persevere.

Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP is a lawyer turned stress and resilience expert who helps high achievers and organizations improve performance, increase well-being, and manage stress by mastering a set of skills proven to enhance resilience, build mental toughness, develop leadership, and promote strong relationships.  She calls her philosophy, “Find Your Strong”ˢͫ.Paula writes extensively about resilience, stress management, and work/life balance for Psychology Today (www.psychologytoday.com/blog/pressure-proof), The Huffington Post, Ms. JD and others. Connect with Paula via: her website,  on Facebook, and on Twitter. Read Paula’s interview below!

Image (c) Paula Davis-Laack

(c)Paula Davis-Laack

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? Who did you receive it from? 

My grandparents taught me the importance of working hard.  My parents owned their own business, and it was truly a family endeavor.  I was finishing up my work at the end of a shift, and I sat down to relax.  My grandpa (Walter Davis) noticed this and came over to me and handed me a broom.  He said, “If you’re done with your part, you can always pick up a broom and sweep.”  It speaks not only to work ethic, but also going the extra mile.   

How important is mentorship in terms of your success? 

Mentorship is important, but good mentors are hard to find.  I was lucky to have one during my seven years practicing law.  As I’ve grown my business, I continue to seek out other like-minded business owners who I can call with questions and concerns.  I will admit that my “I can handle this on my own” mindset can interfere with asking for help, but I’m a work in progress.

What has been the best moment in your life so far? 

It’s a blend of several.  Knowing that I have a phenomenal family who supports and loves me.  Having the courage to leave a job that I had burned out from to start a new business and a new path in life for myself.  Also, the day I got married.  We picked my grandmother’s birthday as our wedding day as a way to honor her memory.  It was a mid-October day that was sunny and in the mid-70’s.  I felt her presence all day.

What tips would you have for living a healthy life? 

Exercise, exercise, exercise.  I played three sports in high school and continued to play sports at different levels in college and beyond.  When I get overly stressed, I get panic attacks.  Regular exercise keeps me sane, both physically and mentally.   In addition, make sure to laugh often and stay connected to people you love.

How do you motivate yourself to persist despite setbacks?  

I just remember that no matter how bad it gets, there are other people who are worse off than I am.  I keep putting one foot in front of the other and stay focused on what I’m grateful for.  I also have a very strong mission, so that helps to push me beyond the setbacks.

What has been your biggest setback? How did you deal with it? What did you learn from it? 

There have been two.  In 1999, my then-fiance showed up at my door (3 weeks before my finals during my first year of law school, and 3 months before we were to be married) and told me he wasn’t ready to get married…and, that he was breaking up with me.  I fell apart for awhile, left school for a week, leaned on my friends and family, took the following year off of school, and recalibrated.  That was the first big crisis I had faced in my life, and I learned that I was so much stronger than I thought I was.  Then in 2008-2009, I went through a burnout in my career.  The phrase “I’m so burned out” is commonplace in our crazy, busy world, but true burnout is awful.  For me, it involved panic attacks on a near weekly basis,  getting sick every time I closed a real estate deal (which was a couple of times a month) and three trips to the emergency room with stomach and digestive issues.  It forced me to do a great deal of soul searching and my business was born during this time.  I was also accepted into the positive psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania, which changed my life.  The lesson I learned here is that going for what you truly want can be very scary, but you can’t imagine the wonderful doors that will open for you when you do.  I was reminded of this when a friend of mine posted the following quote on Facebook:  “You don’t have to see the whole staircase – just take the first step.”  Steve Jobs talked about this as well during his famous graduation speech at Stanford – you can’t connect the dots looking forward.  You can only connect them looking back.  This is so true.

How do you deal with critics? 

I put my head down and keep moving forward.  If you stay true to the mission you have for yourself and your life, then it becomes much easier to handle.  There are also two kinds of criticism – constructive criticism and everything else.  Constructive criticism is delivered in a way that helps you improve who you are and up your game.  The other stuff is meant to tear you down and generally comes from people who are profoundly unhappy with their own lives, jealous, or dealing with their own issues.  All of that is outside of my control, so I don’t spend much time focusing on it.  Really great people want you to be great too.

How important is social support in overcoming obstacles? 

My master’s program in positive psychology confirmed for me what I’ve known all my life.  You won’t be your most resilient or happy best or have truly optimal levels of well-being without having strong relationships.  The research shows that you don’t need a whole gaggle of friends, but having one or two people who you know you can count on makes all the difference in your quality of life.

What advice would you give others about goal setting? 

There is a whole science of goal setting, and it’s pretty clear that people who set the right kinds of goals achieve some pretty big things in their lives.  I love coming up with big ideas, and often forget to put the specifics (the actual step-by-step goals) in place to get where I want to go.  In addition to making sure your goals are realistic, time-focused, and challenging, you need to anticipate the setbacks that may occur on your path to goal accomplishment.  If you’re setting challenging enough goals, you’ll encounter setbacks and roadblocks, and you increase your chances of accomplishing your goal if you plan for those setbacks ahead of time.

What life lesson have you learned that you would like to pass along to others? 

When I was in 5th grade, I participated in a music contest, which was a district-wide music competition.  I played the clarinet and had worked so hard on my piece.  I entered my assigned room to give my performance, and it was packed (probably about 30 people, which is packed to a 5th grader).  I started to play and the noises that came out of my clarinet sounded like squawking birds.  What I soon realized was that my reed was cracked and I didn’t have a back up.  The judge excused me, and I was determined to run home and hide under my covers.  I was so embarrassed.  But, my dad told me that I had to fix this and try again.  I thought he was crazy.  With his help and the help of my band instructor, we drove back to my school and got additional reeds.  I returned to the classroom to play again, and this time, the only people there to watch me were my parents, the judge, and my band instructor.  I played the piece perfectly.  The judge shook my hand and congratulated me on coming back to play the piece.  I received a gold medal, but the lessons I learned were far more important.  They were: 

  • Never quit.  There will be setbacks, large and small in your life.  You need to “embrace the suck” and get back in the game.
  • I so wished the other 25 people in that room could have seen my triumph, but at the end of the day, the victory was for me and that’s all that mattered.
  • When the going gets tough, reach out for help.  People are always willing to lend a helping hand.

Thanks, Paula, for sharing your insight with us! So glad I reached out and asked you to be part of the series! You really have inspired and encouraged me!  Keep up the amazing work you are doing! 

Thank you for reading and your presence at this beach retreat. You Rock! I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comment section below.

See you at the beach!

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4 Responses to Thoughtful Conversation with Paula Davis-Laack

  1. kindredspirit23

    Well done! I am also impressed to see a person of law go into the field of positive psychology. I am not being hard on lawyers, I just know that is quite a mind-set change from the courtroom.

  2. ls

    So wonderful that you gave such personal and practical advice. Working hard and appreciating true family and friends are so important. Thank you for the reminder, and to keep walking no matter what!

  3. sl

    Paula did her undergrad in Psychology. Not all lawyers are in courtrooms either.

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