The Art of Resilience

Last week, my post discussed the importance of resilience in entrepreneurship (and life in general) and how overcoming bullying can help develop this essential trait. This week, I want to share with you a story from my book that illustrates how crucial it is for entrepreneurs to possess this essential quality.

You may have heard of a man by the name of Tom Ford. Today, the Tom Ford brand is ubiquitous in all senses of the word. With a brand that oozes luxury and excellence, the CEO and Head Designer, Tom Ford himself is equally as extravagant. Usually spotted with a freshly tailored blazer, fashionable shades and a flashy smile, Tom exudes the confidence of a high-profile celebrity. However, Tom was not always the self-confident force he is today. In many cases, he was in the limelight. Just for the wrong reasons. Tom grew up in Austin, Texas, the son of two realtors. Texas in the 1960s was a bit different than Austin today.

“If you were a boy, you loved girls, guns and sports, especially football. There was no room for anything or anyone different.”

Unfortunately for Tom, none of these interests suited him. Instead, he loved fashion and clothing and for this, he was ruthlessly bullied.

“I was tortured, absolutely tortured,” he said.

By his early adolescent years, it was very clear that he was different from many of the boys in his school. Tom could usually be found wearing similar clothing as he does today — a blazer and loafers. In the second grade, he swapped out his book bag for an attaché case. While he did not know it to be true at the time, to his parents and many other friends and family, it was clear that Tom was gay. Despite the bullying and teasing, Tom would return home at night to a loving and supportive family who helped him to develop into whatever type of man he chose to be. This was a crucial aspect of Tom’s childhood years, which he described as “mostly happy” amidst all of the turmoil he was facing.

Upon further introspection in his adult life, Tom acknowledges that there are truly post-traumatic effects as a result of his childhood experiences.

“It has taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that actually there’s a lot of pain associated with those moments in life where you didn’t feel safe and you felt vulnerable in a way that felt dangerous,” he said. “I think I shoved them to the back of my mind and didn’t confront them, and I think they’re very present.”

This highlights the important issue of repressing memories and forgetting they happened, something that nearly impossible to do and can have detrimental effects in the future. In Tom’s case, this realization took many years to acknowledge. Now he is able to identify these fears as they have manifested themselves in his adulthood.

“In a crowd, you remember being chased by other kids to get out to your car, before they could grab you and beat you up, to your mom who was waiting for you. And I still sometimes feel that nervousness, which sounds silly coming from a grown man, but these things really stick with you. Still to this day if I walk past a group of kids, they can be eight years old playing soccer, yet if that ball comes toward me, I panic because, ‘My God, I have to kick that ball and they’re all going to laugh because I’m not great at soccer.’ It’s a sort of instant panic.”

In addition to this prolonging anxiety, Tom has outwardly spoken about his lifelong battle with depression. An everyday struggle, this depression has been exacerbated by the fast-paced volatility of his career in the fashion and entertainment industries. In the beginning of his career Tom set out to follow his aspirations of becoming a movie star. But early on, he discovered how much he truly hated being in front of the camera.

“I was super-self-conscious,” he says, “which hasn’t changed. I can’t stand having my picture taken.”

With his first bouts of suicidal thoughts coming as early as age eight, they still have failed to part from his mind.

“Death is all I think about. There is not a day or really an hour that goes by that I don’t think about death. I think you are born a certain way. I think you just come out that way,” Ford said in a 2016 interview in which he addressed his depression.

We often put celebrities on a pedestal, focusing on the carefree lives of glitz and opulence that are portrayed in traditional and social media. Yet, we continuously lose sight of the fact that these individuals are not robots. They are real people, not photoshopped images. They have feelings and families. But most importantly, they have issues; the same ones that we all do as humans. Tom’s story directly exemplifies the rubber band analogy that I shared last article. Although incredibly resilient, Tom still deals with the negative effects of bullying and has never returned to his true “form.” This story serves as a reminder that no matter how great one’s life may seem, you never know what they are really feeling or how their past has influenced them. That is why its so important to be respectful and open-minded in every situation.