What #SHRM21 Taught Me About Resilience

It took quite some time for me to warm up to the idea of attending SHRM21, just because a lot has changed since I attended SHRM19, and it has been a struggle to keep my energy up. But the four days of SHRM21 turned out to be just what I needed to get my mojo back! I also didn’t realize how much I had missed learning with the HR community until the conference started. To add to that, I was selected to be part of the SHRM21 Influencers Team (formerly known as the SHRM Bloggers team), which made me really happy. I was excited about engaging with other attendees on social media, sharing updates about the conference, and sharing learnings during sessions. So, I’m thankful to SHRM for selecting me to join this year’s team!

I learned a lot during SHRM21—from the concurrent sessions to the keynote sessions, there was always something important to think about. One recurring theme I picked on across most of the keynote sessions was RESILIENCE. Our world has indeed changed, and each of us has been affected in different ways, so being able to “show up” daily requires some resilience. I’d like to reflect on a few moments that stood out to me during the SHRM21 general sessions as a recap of my experience.

(L-R) Dave Ulrich, Marissa Andrada, and Brian Niccol

We kicked off Day One of SHRM21 with the opening general session featuring Chipotle Mexican Grill’s Chairman and CEO, Brian Niccol, and Chief Diversity, Inclusion and People Officer, Marissa Andrada. This session, moderated by Dave Ulrich, used Chipotle Mexican Grill as a case study to teach us how both leaders have made a difference since they joined Chipotle in 2018. It was quite an informative session, and if you didn’t attend SHRM21, you missed out! 

Dave closed the session by asking Brian and Marissa how they keep their energy up, especially since the pandemic. Marissa said, “all you can do is really control what you have control over, and let everything else go,” while Brian said, “I like being around people that give me energy. I get a lot of my energy from having a wonderful family and professional team.” I thought both statements spoke to resilience and what we can do to stay mentally strong in our personal and professional lives.


On Day Two of SHRM21, we had the honor of listening to Michael Phelps speak during the general session. Michael Phelps, the Olympian with the most medals ever, having a record of 28 medals (23 gold medals), joined SHRM’s President and CEO, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., to talk about mental health. I learned that day that Michael Phelps competed in five Olympic games but didn’t win any medals in his first Olympic game. However, that moment of defeat was a source of motivation for him. Afterward, Michael never missed a day of training and went on to win several medals—that’s resilience! 

Michael also talked about his bouts with depression and how, as a male athlete, he thought it was a sign of weakness to show vulnerability. In Michael’s words, “we’re unstoppable if we can strive to be a hundred percent mentally prepared as well as physically prepared. The stigma that surrounds mental health is huge because we’ve brushed the topic under the rug for so long. But, it’s OK to be vulnerable, to seek help, and give yourself a chance.” I appreciated Michael’s raw and honest conversation, which I found inspiring.


I believe Day Three of SHRM21 was the most emotional day of the conference for most of us. It was September 11th, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. This session opened with a powerful and emotional tribute to everyone who lost their lives or was affected by this tragic event 20 years ago. This 20th anniversary of 9/11 was an opportunity to recognize the collective resilience of many people, including first responders. On this stage, SHRM’s President and CEO, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., stood with two first responders who were there on 9/11 in New York City and used the opportunity to thank all the 9/11 first responders for their contributions to society.

While some may not fully relate to the impact of the 9/11 tragedy, the pandemic is another historic moment in time that has tested our resilience. Many of us have had to battle through anxiety and uncertainty. However, getting through our challenges requires a good dose of resilience. I think it’s important to recognize this and appreciate how far we’ve come.


Then came Day Four of SHRM21! How did time fly by so fast? After an emotionally charged Day Three, the closing general session was just perfect for wrapping up the conference. Bert Jacobs, a co-founder at Life is Good, shared a heartwarming keynote speech that impacted me positively.

We learned about Bert’s humble beginnings in a family of six kids. In addition to financial struggles, both parents suffered from depression. But one thing was key – both parents had different coping mechanisms. Bert’s mom, Joan Jacobs, was the hero of the story because of her healthy coping mechanism – music and storytelling. But the greatest gift she gave their family was a dinner table ritual: “Tell me something good that happened today.” Through that simple prompt, they developed an optimistic mindset toward life. 

Bert finished by saying, “Life is not easy, life is not perfect, but life is good.” I believe that Bert’s story about building the $100 million lifestyle brand, Life is Good, is one everyone needs to hear. The story teaches us that while we cannot ignore the obstacles in our lives, we can overcome them by focusing on opportunities—again, that’s resilience!


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