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Lessons in resilience from a badass mother

Updated: Jul 14, 2019

by Myrrhanda Novak

Badass is a trendy word, especially among millennials. We use it to invoke confidence and images of strength and self-love, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But do we really understand what it takes to be a badass and why it’s important for our well-being?

Our guest this week on the WOMENdontDOthat podcast is Jessica Janzen Olstad, who runs a non-profit foundation in honour of her son Lewiston who passed away in 2016 from a genetic disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). When you listen to our conversation, I think you will agree that Jessica is a resilient badass. Not because she’s beautiful, confident and upbeat (though she definitely is), but because of the choices she’s made to rise again after the most devastating loss.

Since losing my own son two years ago, I’m eager to learn what causes some people to rise strong and others to stay broken. I have enjoyed the privilege of speaking with Jessica and other badass women who are willing to share their stories. Here are seven meaningful lessons from my conversation with Jess on how to be resilient badass:

A badass decides in advance

This is similar to the idea of setting an intention. When confronted with a challenge, a badass decides right from the start that, win or lose, she is going to hold on to joy. Jess expressed this beautifully when she shared with me what her and her husband Ronnie decided in the early moments of their son’s diagnosis: “I was like, you know what, if we are going to die, let’s make this great! Let’s make the moments count and make his life joyful ... We really made a pact that day that no matter what we were going to choose joy.”

A badass shares her story

Sharing our stories of pain and progress can bring light and hope into people’s lives. Sharing our stories can also help us heal and grow through our challenges. Jess opens our conversation on the podcast by saying, “We truly want to own our story because it’s the one that we’ve been gifted with and we know that we have a choice in how we use the experiences that we’ve had to help other people.” A badass owns her story, even the darkest parts, and learns how to use it to empower herself and others.

WOMENdontDOthat guest, Jessica Janzen Olstad.

A badass has a mantra

"Run towards the roar" has become words that Jess lives by. She prints them on clothing and even has them tattooed to her wrist. Mantras help us reprogram our thoughts and change our behaviour by telling our inner self how we have decided to live. Our mantras, whether we're aware of them or not, determine how we show up in the world. The Law of Attraction teaches us that we bring in what we focus on. A badass is intentional about what she attracts and creates a mantra to focus on life-giving truth.


A badass loves herself

Jess shares openly about challenges with her weight and body image and how she has been emboldened by just embracing who she is. I recently wrote about the energy that comes from choosing this healthy mindset. In her book, You are a Badass, Jen Sincero explains the importance of knowing our worth and not worrying about what others think of us. She writes, “When we’re happy and all in love with ourselves, we can’t be bothered with all the bullsh*t.” A resilient badass draws on self-love to give her best even when it feels like she’s living through the worst.

A badass practices gratitude

Life is full of surprises, obstacles and mistakes (yours and everyone else’s), but we can’t give those things the power to derail us. Life is also filled with daily gifts of kindness, beauty and wonder. A true badass gives her attention to all the ways that the universe is cheering her on and giving her what she needs to succeed. Jess and I discuss how there is no power in whining, but there is power in saying thank you for all the gifts and lessons each day brings.

A badass asks for help

We are created to need one another. I used to resent this, but I’m coming to embrace it. We are not meant to, or even capable of, living our best lives without engaging those around us and asking for help. In hearing Jess’s story, it is clear that her family was willing to ask for help all throughout their journey with Lewiston and still today - a key to their resilience. “We allowed other people to help share our burden and carry our load and that made a huge difference,” explains Jess.

A badass tries again

The ultimate sign of resilience is climbing out of the pit you fell in and risking failure all over again. In her bestselling book, Rising Strong, Brene Brown writes: “When I see people stand fully in their truth, or when I see someone fall down, get back up, and say, “Damn. That really hurt, but this is important to me and I’m going in again” – my gut reaction is, “What a badass.”” Jessica recently celebrated the birth of a healthy baby boy, who couldn’t have come into her life if she weren’t willing to try again despite the risks her and her husband face as carriers of SMA. We have all faced loss and failure along our journeys, but resilient women keep hope alive.

If you look at this list, you’ll see that becoming a resilient badass is closely tied to a willingness to be vulnerable. A badass isn't someone who’s tough on the outside and never lets anyone in, it’s someone who has done her inner work and is willing to let her guard down, even without certainty of success or validation. Jess writes in her bio that she has chosen to live her “most authentic, bold, joyful life” and I say that makes her a truly inspiring badass. I’d love to hear your story or thoughts on what makes someone resilient. Share your thoughts in the JOIN THE CONVERSATION section at the bottum of our home page or log in to leave a comment right here on the blog. We love to include comments in the reflection show.

Listen to my interview with Jess here or wherever you listen to podcasts (search womendontdothat).

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