Radical Resilience: How To Be Mission-Driven When The Odds Are Against You
You must develop a sense of radical resilience in order to bring about a different future.
Dear Friend, Subscriber, and Category Pirate,
Dr. Gladys McGarey began her medical career in the early 1940s, at a time when women couldn’t legally have their own bank accounts.
Getting her degree and training was no easy path.
You see, Dr. Gladys is dyslexic. She was held back in school, and her teachers often told the other kids in class that she was the “dummy.” In medical school, her professors sent her to a psychiatrist (twice) because they thought she was crazy.
But in 1978, Dr. Gladys co-founded the American Holistic Medical Association (now called the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine).
She was also the first medical doctor to practice acupuncture in the US.
Despite the injustice and difficulties she faced, Dr. Gladys co-designed a new category of healthcare. And for the past 60 years, she has helped transform how doctors and patients think about self-care and healing. Today, at 102 years old, she is known as the “Mother of Holistic Medicine.”
(Another way to say Category Queen!)
Dr. Gladys is one of the most brilliant healthcare providers in the history of healthcare providers.
And right before she turned 70 years old, her husband handed her divorce papers.
They had been married for 46 years. They had six children together. And they shared a medical clinic. In an article by The Guardian, Dr. Gladys said it was “the hardest thing” she had ever been through, and it took her 15 years to fully accept what had happened.
As a resilient category designer, how did she overcome it?
As a guest on a Follow Your Different podcast, Dr. Gladys told Pirate Christopher that she never truly trusted her own voice (that is, until she was in her 90s). “It’s not a matter of getting over stuff, it’s a matter of living through it,” she said. “If you can live through the issues that you have been faced with, they become one of your teachers.”
She got through all of the challenges that came her way because of her commitment to a higher purpose.
For her, it was the commitment to believing that Western medicine had gotten a lot of things right but also a lot of things wrong. And people thought she was crazy for most of her life. They thought her belief that doctors should focus on the whole person and prioritize prevention and wellness was crazy. They thought having a baby’s father in the birthing room was crazy. They thought her idea that every patient has a doctor within them was crazy.
But “crazy” often gets confused with “category designer.”
As a category designer, you must develop a sense of radical resilience in order to bring about a different future.
There’s a saying sailors, captains, and pirates rely on when the seas get rowdy:
It means holding tight to the rigging to ride out a storm. You don’t let go or give up. You bear down. You stay the course. As a result, you not only survive the storm—you come out of it stronger.
Any category designer worth their rum will tell you “hold fast” is an essential philosophy if you want to design a new and different category.
You must hold fast when your category is under siege.
You must hold fast when your company is under attack.
You must hold fast when your integrity is questioned.
You must hold fast when the different future you see seems impossible.
If you can’t hold fast, you can’t bring about the future you have in mind.
So in this mini-book, we’re going to share the ways we’ve seen other category designers like Dr. Gladys hold fast, both in business and in life. The goal is not only to encourage you when the ship seems to be sinking and everyone is jumping overboard. It’s also to give you practical tools to steer the ship, no matter what comes your way.
(By the end, you might be inspired to get a “Hold Fast” tattoo like Pirate Christopher’s. Arrrr! 🏴☠️)
Let’s dive in.
The Practice Of Radical Resilience
People who develop radical resilience can withstand incredible challenges, even when they know the odds are against them.
This type of resilience is fidelity to your mission. It’s staying and fighting for what you believe in when everyone else has given up and gone home. It’s fighting for something you believe in, regardless of your chances of success. You do it because you think it is worthwhile. It’s not about winning per se—it’s about doing what must be done.
There are few greater examples of radical resilience than Pastor Evan Mawarire.
Pastor Evan led a small congregation of 50 people in Zimbabwe for over 15 years. Everyone in his “flock” had their own struggles. But they all shared one thing in common—their country was falling apart as a result of an authoritarian government run by Robert Mugabe. In fact, Zimbabwe's economy had collapsed so badly in 2008 that it issued a Z$100 trillion note, the largest legal banknote ever issued in the history of money. That’s a 1 followed by 14 zeros.
But the note was worth less than US $0.50.
(All the while, the country’s leadership was stealing from, terrorizing, and killing its people.)
At the economy’s worst point, hyperinflation hit 231 million percent and a loaf of bread cost 300 billion Zimbabwean dollars. Most people couldn’t afford basic necessities. They watched their retirement savings lose nearly all of its value. (To help wrap your mind around this, imagine having $80,000 US dollars in your bank account—a lot of money in a place like Zimbabwe. Five days later, your $80,000 has turned into $0.25. And by the way, you're 68 years old.)
What do you do?