Can you Learn to be Resilient?

Mission Lane card members share insights about building resilience.


Tiffany Verbeck

After talking with more than twenty Mission Lane card members about their financial journeys, it quickly became clear that while each member has a unique tale to tell, many of their stories share common threads.

Above all, we noticed that many members have an extremely high capacity for resilience: an ability to endure hard times, recover from problems, and grow through hardship. 

In awe of their strength and grit, we wondered: is resilience something that you’re born with, or something you can learn over time? (If the latter, we’d like a hefty serving, please).

While genes do play a part in how resilient you are, research shows you can actively boost your resilience by making small changes to daily behaviors.

In the hopes of helping you through whatever struggles you may be experiencing, we’d like to share some of the lessons our card members have taught us about building resilience. 

Before we do, though, note that being resilient doesn’t mean we are immune to bad feelings or fears. Instead, it helps us develop tools like acceptance and flexibility that make life a little easier (no one needs more stress right now), and can be the difference between not just surviving, but thriving through adversity. 

Choose to be in Control

A number of years ago, Mission Lane member Randy and his wife were hit with more than $100,000 of medical debt after helping a family member with a medical emergency. “We never planned on having to file bankruptcy, but you know things happen and we had to look at it: Do we want to take a hit with our finances, or do we want to save our family member’s life? That’s an easy choice.” 

Instead of shutting down, Randy recognized that much of his situation was out of control (no easy task), and started to identify the resources he had to control what he could.

Together, Randy and his wife came up with a plan to build back their finances, one step at a time: step 1, find a credit card that would allow him to rebuild his credit, step 2, continue to pay all of their bills on time, and step 3, work toward a promotion at his job. 

By setting these small goals and being patient with himself as he went, Randy was able to get their credit scores back into the 700s, and rebuild their finances despite what felt like insurmountable odds. 

Use Coping Skills That Work for you

Illustration by Kyle Duong

For Mission Lane member Anona, staying balanced was essential to being resilient through hardship. But she didn’t learn this overnight. Growing up in Jamaica, Queens, she saw a family member try to relieve stress by spending money they didn’t have.  

“Sometimes we would go on shopping sprees and sometimes we would have nothing,” says Anona, emphasizing what she learned from her family member's mistakes. “Having that imbalance was not healthy and I don’t want my kids to have that imbalance.” 

Today, one way Anona maintains her financial balance is by paying herself first. She saves a set amount of money from each paycheck that allows her to more easily cope with unexpected money issues. Knowing she’s put a safety net in place gives her a sense of security and the confidence to weather any future financial storms.

Choose Kindness for Yourself and Others

Karen found that kindness and humility were key to resilience. Having spent more than forty years in the medical field, Karen was humbled by the suffering she witnessed. Although she was facing her own financial and health issues, she constantly reminded herself of what she did have

“It was a great life experience, because you think that your life is rough, but you always meet someone who has it worse off than you do. And if you can make someone smile and make their day, it's worth it."

Karen learned that treating others well not only felt good, but also increased her ability to bear her physical and financial hurdles. “I think that just being good to people is rewarding.” 

Build Confidence Over Time With Habits

Illustration by Kyle Duong

Through speaking with our members, we learned that developing healthy financial habits made them feel they could achieve their goals. Even if progress was slow, seeing their hard work pay off really boosted their ability to keep going, and overcome. 

For example, Randy used a whiteboard to write down his goals so they were visible to him and his wife. He enjoyed the satisfaction of drawing a line through each goal once it was accomplished. 

Karen used auto-pay for her bills and scheduled them to be paid at the same time she received a paycheck — even if it was early. This habit gave her peace of mind that she would not miss a payment that could have damaged her credit score. 

Mission Lane member and Marine Veteran Rodney grew his financial confidence over time, despite facing discriminatory practices

“I'm an African American male and we weren't given a lot of credit opportunities back in the day. We faced an extra level of scrutiny because a lot of times, on the applications, they would ask what your race was, and then they would disapprove of you accordingly.”

Later in his life, when Rodney began to get approved for credit cards, he was at a disadvantage. He and his wife hadn’t been educated on how to build and maintain good credit scores. “We didn’t really understand what our credit score meant at first,” he said. 

Like most people, Rodney made some mistakes along the way, but he chose to view them as learning opportunities, and used one positive outcome after another to keep moving forward. 

Staying faithful to good money habits over time allowed him to build the confidence he needed to successfully manage his finances, and ultimately secure a comfortable retirement. 

Boost Resilience by Giving Back

For some of our members, having a clear sense of purpose allowed them to be resilient through tough times. 

Jaime supported his family in Guatemala after moving to the U.S. by sending back money he earned as a dishwasher and cook. Once he got married and started a family of his own, he was even more motivated to support those who depended on him. Knowing that his purpose is to provide for his family made Jaime more resilient to the bumps in the road. 

Anona gives back by teaching financial literacy workshops, sharing the knowledge she’s gained with others. “Just because you fall down doesn’t mean you can’t get back up,” she says. Anona believes that by helping others to empower themselves, she continues to strengthen her own resilience.

Lean on Close Connections

Illustration by Kyle Duong

Having close relationships with people we know won’t judge us allows us to be truthful about our feelings and strengthens our resilience.

Donna shares trusting connections with her family and friends and is more resilient because of it. Sometimes Donna is the breadwinner in her family, and other times not. “That’s what families do, they take care of each other. Every relationship is a give and take. You step up when it’s your turn.” 

After emigrating to the U.S., Jaime found support in his newly adopted country when his father returned to Guatemala.“My father had a lot of friends here and they provided me with a room where I paid, like, $300 a month.” This same community of friends rallied around Jaime when tragedy struck. “I was feeling a little lonely, because after my father left, 3 months later he passed away from an accident. It was difficult.” 

Mission Lane member Tony realized he needed to learn more about money after dealing with a post-divorce bankruptcy. He turned to a friend and got some good advice. 

“I had a buddy who I could see was good with money, good with his business and so I would sit down with him and ask questions about things I didn’t know about, like savings and investments and budgeting. Listen to other people who are successful. Pick their brains. It's kind of like, you need to just shut up and listen, sometimes.”

Because he was willing to lean on and confide in his friend, Tony pulled himself out of a financial hole and started to save for and invest in his future. He was even able to help his son out financially when he lost his job due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Remember: Attitude Is Everything

Illustration by Kyle Duong

Though every financial journey is different, time and again we’ve noticed many Mission Lane members share a common belief: that they are empowered to flip the script on their money story. Over time, with patience, commitment, and kindness to themselves, they developed the skills they needed to survive and thrive. 

That isn’t to say they were always positive through hardship. Sometimes when financial hardship hits, it’s easy to feel stuck or, as member Randy puts it, fall into “financial headlock.” 

Even Donna, an optimist by nature, admits, “I’m not always positive. I have my moments where I grumble and complain and say everything under the sun. But I vent it and let it out, and I don’t give up. Ever.”