Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing LeAnne Stuver.
LeAnne Stuver, M.Ed., BSN is the Director of Lifelong Learning at the Virtual Brain Health Center (VBHC). She is a registered nurse and an experienced health educator who has taught a wealth of educational programs to both older adults and professional audiences. LeAnne is passionate about educating the community in practical ways they can learn to support their brain health and wellness.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
Ialways knew I wanted to be a nurse. During nursing school, I questioned whether I had made the right career choice. I did not really enjoy my clinical rotations in the hospital. I finally had a rotation in pediatrics, and I knew I had found my calling!
I worked as a pediatric nurse in both hospital and home care settings for 10 years. I learned that my greatest nursing strength was my ability to educate parents about their child’s illness and treatment plan. This skill was not really valued in the hospital setting at that time, so I returned to college to obtain my master’s degree in Health Education. My goal was to find a community health education position after graduation.
I never imagined working in a senior living environment, but I found a position as the Director of Lifelong Learning for a large senior living campus and remained there for 20 years. I was inspired by my mature students and their love of learning. I began researching the benefits of lifelong learning and its benefit on the aging brain. I became the “brain health” expert until years later when my co-founder at the Virtual Brain Health Center (Dr. Krystal Culler) was hired to run a community brain health center on the same senior living campus. We were kindred spirits in our love of learning and brain health!
Krystal and I had stayed in touch once we left the senior living campus and were both between full-time positions when the pandemic began. She called me one day and asked me if I would be interested in joining her to create a “virtual” brain health center. We were both very concerned about older adults being isolated at home due to the pandemic and the consequences that would result to their brain health.
We created our center to provide educational programs based on the scientific research about brain health to teach people practical ways they can choose to improve their brain health through their lifestyle choices.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I have been inspired by so many of my students over the years that have attended my educational programs. There is one woman who currently stands out in my mind. She lives alone in a rural area and is battling cancer. She relies on others to transport her to treatments and doctor appointments. She has attended our VBHC classes since we launched in October 2020 and was thrilled to find us during the pandemic as many of the social programs/services she enjoyed had been cancelled. Although her attendance has dropped off during her treatments, she always reaches out to us to let us know how she is doing. She has used the information she has learned in our classes to advocate for her own self-care and brain health throughout her cancer journey. She always has a smile on her face when she joins us for a class. She even sent us pictures of the day she decided to shave her head — and in the last picture she was wearing a red clown nose along with her beautiful smile and bald head! She demonstrates that our virtual connections can make a huge difference in people’s lives.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our original goal was to target individuals in the northeast Ohio area for our programs and services. We wanted to reach those who were isolated during the pandemic lockdown. We quickly learned that awareness of our programs had reached a much larger audience. To date, we have interacted with students in nearly every U.S. state and at least 50 countries around the world! We are proud that our center has been able to reach so many students around the world in such a short period of time. We pride ourselves on our personal approach with our students and our ability to translate the latest science on brain health into practical steps anyone can use in their daily lives. We believe that brain health is for everyone! Our “virtual” center has removed geographic barriers to help our students get the most out of their brain wellness routine.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I had two wonderful supervisors/mentors (Gloria and Steve) when I was growing the lifelong learning programs on the senior living campus. They encouraged me to “think outside the box” and to experiment with different ways of doing things to make the lives of the campus residents the best that they could be. This gave me the confidence in my abilities to agree to launch this idea of the Virtual Brain Health Center with Krystal. We both had created award winning educational programs before and were confident in our abilities to do it again!
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
To me, resilience means being able to successfully navigate each day of our life — despite the challenges or difficulties we may face along the way. I believe resilient people possess the following traits: optimism, tenacity, the ability to prioritize what is important, the ability to learn from the past, and the ability to anticipate/handle change.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different from resilience?
I think having courage can lead to resilience. Courage allows us to try new things or maybe even ask for help when we cannot face a situation alone. I believe the difference between courage and resilience is action. Someone who is resilient uses their courage to take actions. Courage without action does not necessarily lead to resilience.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
My father was one of the most resilient people I know. He was diagnosed with his first bout of throat cancer at age 57. After surgery and 6 weeks of brutal radiation therapy that impaired his ability to eat, he was cured of the cancer. He returned to work and his normal life. He had a second throat cancer diagnosis when he was 74. He had to have a total laryngectomy to remove the tumor which meant his vocal cords were removed and he would breathe through a tracheostomy for the rest of his life. He also had to have chemotherapy and radiation. Again, he was cured of the cancer. A few years later when he was 78, he was no longer able to eat due to damage to his esophagus from both courses radiation treatments. He had a feeding tube for the remainder of his life.
This sounds like a very disheartening story; however, my dad was never sad or depressed. He rolled with the punches every step of the way. After losing his vocal cords, he could only speak with an electronic device. Since he really couldn’t cheer for my sons at their soccer games, we got him a cow bell he could ring instead. When my younger son got married, one of his groomsmen who was a former soccer teammate encouraged my dad to bring the bell to the wedding to ring at the end of the ceremony — which he did! Even though he was no longer able to eat food, my dad sat at the table with us for every meal. He never complained that his day consisted of rounds of medications through his feeding tube and carrying around a backpack holding the pump and his formula that kept him nourished.
My dad loved spending time with his family and following his grandson’s exploits both in person and virtually (even before the pandemic). He was more socially connected to people via email after he lost his voice, than he was prior to the surgery. He was an inspiration to all of us to be resilient in the face of challenges.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
I honestly cannot think of a situation that fits your question. I am sure there are times that it may have happened, but they were not significant enough for me to remember them. I have never been one to rely on what others think or say about me. I am confident in my decision-making ability and can adjust on the fly if needed. I suppose that is my resiliency at work.
Did you have a time in your life when you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
My life changed in a huge way with my dad’s second cancer diagnosis. He and my mother lived with us and that was the turning point when I became a caregiver to my parents. He needed so much support both physically and mentally at that time. There was so much medical information that bombarded us daily. I became his advocate with all his medical providers. My career priorities were set aside, although I continued to work part-time, and my patient education abilities came into full focus. With my assistance, my dad learned to do all his trach care independently. He also managed most of his medications and feeding tube care alone. I was always there to lend a helping hand or to help trouble shoot any problems, but he remained independent despite the challenges, until a few months before he died.
I resigned my position on the senior living campus when my parents’ health situations began to decline, and they needed more daily assistance. This allowed me to become an independent contractor as a health educator and schedule my work as my caregiver role allowed. Although it was a difficult transition at the time, it prepared me to launch the Virtual Brain Health Center with Krystal.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I think I was raised to be resilient. I had strong female role models in my mother and both grandmothers. They were all very optimistic and determined women and I learned how to handle difficult life experiences by watching them. I probably didn’t describe it as resilience at the time but looking back that is certainly a character trait that they all possessed.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
I agree that everyone can work to improve their resilience. Here are 5 things that anyone can use to become more resilient.
- Look at the difficulties in your life as a challenge rather than a roadblock. Change your self-talk from being negative about a situation to being positive of what you are going to do about it. Setting goals or outlining steps you can take can be motivating.
- Identify the right problem and focus on what you can do about it. Don’t obsess on the past or with things that you cannot change. Instead, identify a situation you can change, make a list of possible solutions and then take action. If your first attempt doesn’t work, then try something else. Being experimental is very important in solving problems.
- Anticipate change. We can remain more positive and resilient if we plan ahead for difficulties or possible failures. We should be prepared to be flexible when we face challenges and be willing to try new solutions.
- Ask for help. We all need help at times. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Resilient people have the wisdom to know when they need help and the strength to ask for it.
- Learn from your past experiences. Reflect on how you have dealt with challenging situations in the past. Avoid using techniques that didn’t work for you and instead focus on strategies that were successful.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to see more people “paying it forward”. We often think about it at the holidays, but I would like it to become a regular practice we try to do at least once each day. I think by helping others, we help ourselves become more positive and resilient. We show others how to be kind, positive and resilient by our actions.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I would love to meet Dr. Sanjay Gupta. I have always enjoyed his medical reporting on CNN and I am a huge fan of his book “Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age”.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Our Virtual Brain Health Center can be found online at virtualbrainhealthcenter.com
We can be found on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook: @VirtualBrainHealthCenter
We can be found on Twitter: @VirtualBrainCtr
Our classes and events can be found on Eventbrite: Virtual Brain Health Center
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!