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 How to Be Resilient 

Picture of Michael Santos

Michael Santos

Need Answers to Your Questions?


  • Mike Guzman—A Portrait of Resilience


  • Mike Guzman shares a story of personal growth and development, and the success that follows for people who choose to invest in themselves.


  • Showing people the success that follows when we embrace the concept of self-directed, personal development and refuse to allow external forces to define our life.

Learning Content:

  • This lesson introduces us to Mike Guzman, a business professional. He tells us the importance of resilience and the opportunities that open when we take incremental steps to success.

Course Outcome:

  • This lesson will help participants add at least 10 words to their vocabulary.
  • This lesson will challenge participants to develop critical-thinking skills.
  • This lesson will provide exercises for participants to develop writing skills.

Lesson Requirements:

  • Watch the 1-hour video that accompanies the lesson.
  • Write a definition for at least ten of the words we highlight in bold, and style with italics.
  • Chose ten of the vocabulary words. Use those ten words in three separate sentences.
  • Respond to at least three of the open-ended questions at the end of the lesson. Write a minimum of three paragraphs, with no less than three sentences in each paragraph.


Some bad decisions during the recklessness of youth led to my lengthy prison term. While in high school, I chose friends that influenced my decisions. By the time I turned 20, I started to violate the law. The statutes exposed me to the possibility of serving life in prison. My judge imposed a 45-year term, and I didn’t like the predicament I put myself in.

The term required me to climb through the indignities of living in jails and prisons for the next 9,500 days. I decided to transform my life.

Had I been wiser, I would have made a shift in my thinking long before I began to break the law. At the start of my sentence, I learned from leaders. Today’s video features Mike Guzman. He’s the kind of leader that would have caused me to think about the adjustment strategy I would use. Mike’s inspiring story teaches us that it’s never too early and it’s never too late to start making better decisions. He’s the personification of resilience.


Mike told us about the challenges he faced while growing up in a small community of Rochester, New York. Mike’s father abandoned him and his mom when Mike was still a young boy, leaving the responsibility of raising him to a single mother. With a paucity of financial resources, Michael didn’t have much of a cushion. He wanted a better life, but without guidance, he squandered opportunities in high school. He earned a diploma with averagegrades, and he learned the hard truths that follow mediocrity.

Without exceptional grades or a record of distinction, Mike said that the best universities wouldn’t consider admitting him. Rather than giving up, Mike decided to enroll in remedial course at a community college. He understood that education could open the power to transform his life.

Every person has a backstory. And every person can choose whether he or she will allow that backstory to define the future. Mike Guzman shows us that, if a person is willing to take incremental steps, a person can grow. Current circumstances may not present an abundance of opportunities. Yet with each tiny step we take, Mike’s story shows, a person can put himself in a position for higher levels of success.


  • In what ways did your past influence your current predicament?
  • What incremental steps have you taken to advance your life since falling into difficulty?
  • In retrospect, what could you have done differently to elevate your access to opportunities?

While working his way through college, Mike earned a paycheck delivering for a pizza restaurant. Despite being robbed, or challenges of navigating treacherous winters in upstate New York, Mike persevered. To open more opportunities, he willingly stayed the course, advancing his skillset at every opportunity.

While still in college, Mike met the young woman that would become his wife. She too wanted to complete her education. When she became pregnant, however, the two had to make a tough decision. She decided to withdraw from school so that she could raise their baby. Mike had to double down on his efforts, working more hours delivering pizza to support the family whileseizing every opportunity to earn the credentials he would need for a four-year degree.

Initially, Mike hoped to earn credentials that would allow him to teach. A mentor in college suggested other possibilities and encouraged Mike to pursue a career in finance. By working through courses in accounting, Mike developed a higher appreciation for mathematics. The harder he worked, the more he began to recognize an aptitude for numbers.


After earning an undergraduate degree, Mike understood that he had to use all of his critical-thinking skills. Up until that time, he spent all of his working years in a job that some might describe as being menial. For Mike, the job opened opportunities. With a steady paycheck, he could support his young family. Being a resourceful person, he found funding sources to pay for his coursework and books in college. Yet after he finished the undergraduate program, the time had come for Mike to consider options.

Every decision we make comes with opportunity costs. If we choose one path, another path may stay closed. Mike knew that he wanted to build a career in finance. Independent research convinced him that other cities would offer more opportunities. If he wanted to work build a career in finance, it made sense for him to relocate.

With an infant child and wife, Mike had to complete his own SWOT analysis, considering:

  • Strengths,
  • Weaknesses,
  • Opportunities, and
  • Threats.

Rochester had been home for his entire life. He and family felt comfortable there. Yet Rochester presented a scarcity of options to develop a career in high finance. To reach his highest potential, he had to contemplate where the best options would be for him.

Mike had many strengths, including his confidence, his communication skills, his university degree, his work ethic. The weakness would be his location. If he took a job in Rochester, he would have limited possibilities to build the career he wanted. The opportunities for finance jobs existed in other cities. The threat of taking a job that didn’t suit him could materialize with unhappiness later, and lower earning potential for his family.

Two financial centers, New York City and Charlotte, offered many banking jobs. People with finance degrees may find a career paths with one of the large banks. He could circulate resumes while still living in Rochester. Yet Mike understood he could leverage his prospects for success by coordinating face-to-face meetings. Wanting to go all in with his decision to build a career in finance, Mike and his wife chose to move out of state, to North Carolina.

The high cost of living in New York City would be a daunting obstacle, but Charlotte opened good options. Although roughly the same size as Rochester, with an abundance of large and medium-sized banks, Mike understood that he would have a better chance of getting an entry-level position in finance if he moved to Charlotte.

Without clarity on job prospects, Mike and his family made plans to start a new career in a new city. He went through his true and trusted process of taking incremental steps:

  • Step 1: He found affordable housing for his family.
  • Step 2: He identified the places that would open the best opportunities to build a career in finance.
  • Step 3: He charted a plan that would advance prospects for a job.

Lessons in Leadership:

While climbing through decades in prison, stories like Mike Guzman’s inspired me. Without a doubt, we can learn lessons from spectacularly successful business leaders like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, and Mark Zuckerberg. I learned a great deal by reading books about those people. Yet each of those leaders began from a life of privilege.

  • Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, attended Harvard. His father distinguished himself as one of Seattle’s top corporate lawyers.
  • Similarly, Jeff Bezos attended Princeton, one of the best universities in the world. He earned a high income as an investment banker before he went on to start Amazon.
  • Warren Buffet’s father was also a lawyer.
  • In the case of the Facebook, founder Mark Zuckerberg grew up in a family of doctors before he attended Harvard.

Employers consider such academic pedigrees as being elite.People that attend such schools have more relationships and opportunities than a person like Mike Guzman. In a story like Mike’s, we see the true meaning of both perseverance and self-directed, personal leadership. Rather than complaining about the challenges of growing up in a single-parent family, he pushed himself to succeed. Anticipating that the best schools wouldn’t consider his application to matriculate, Mike didn’t complain. He willingly attended a community college until he could prove worthy of a transfer. At the same time, he kept working a low-wage job, steadily climbing up the ladder of success.

And what kind of job did Mike find in Charlotte? Well, in the video, Mike tells us that despite his four-year degree in finance, he took a job that promised minimal earnings in a sandwich shop.


  • In what ways can a low-prestige job advance a candidate for higher income opportunity?
  • What could you do with your time right now to put yourself on a higher trajectory for success?
  • How have the decisions you’ve made over the past year influenced the position you’re in right now?

While going through my own challenging times, questions like the one above helped me to pay attention to people like Mike. Although I could harness many lessons by reading about billionaires, people like Mike had a personal story that felt much more like mine. He didn’t have any secret to building a better life, and he didn’t have much in the way of advantages. Yet he had grit in abundance. In fact, throughout our conversation, I listened and learned as Mike spoke about the keys to his success:

  • If a person knows what he wants, a person can sow seeds that will help him along the way.
  • If a person works hard, other people will take notice and offer a helping hand.
  • If a person develops stronger communication skills, and stronger math skills, a person advances prospects to succeed.

As the cliché holds, some people pursue short-term objectives as in the game of checkers. People like Mike think strategically, making decisions more akin to the game of chess. A job in the sandwich shop represented another step in Mike’s plan of taking incremental steps. When not working, he could create new opportunities.

Despite not having an appointment, Mike presented himself in the center of opportunity—at the Bank of America corporate banking center in Charlotte’s financial center. He identified the floor reserved for investment bankers and he made an unsolicited visit.

Relying upon pure moxie and ambition, Mike opened a conversation with the gatekeeper to people with hiring authority. Although institutions like Bank of America typically hired people with Ivy League degrees, Mike persuaded the team to open an opportunity. Within a month of moving to Charlotte, Mike received an offer to begin a career in investment banking at Bank of America.

For two years, Mike learned everything he could possibly learn about mortgage-backed securities. He learned how to package the financial instruments into investment vehicles that offered investors a steady cash flow. Then, wanting to open more opportunities, Mike repeated his pattern of investing in himself. He suspended his career at Bank of America to study fulltime at Wake Forrest University, in pursuit of a master’s degree in business administration.


Wake Forest awarded Mike his MBA at the same time that the global economy began to sink into a recession. Millions of people lost their job. As the movie The Big Short illustrated, the economic collapse decimated the finance sector.  Rather than giving up, Mike recalibrated. The more he invested in himself, the better position he was in to create a new opportunity. For the next decade of his life, he built a career as an authority figure in the capital-leasing space, overseeing a fleet of equipment valued in the billions of dollars.

Mike’s story shows us the importance of being resilient, self-directed, and willing to continue a pathway of investing in personal development. When we spoke, Mike was 42 years old. He described being on the pathway of reinvention once again.

We all have to live in the world as it exists, and not as we want it to be. Sometimes, we face good times and sometimes we face tough times. Yet regardless of where we are, we always can follow the principles that Mike revealed in his inspiring story.

  1. Define success: Mike understood that after he graduated from high school, he wanted to advance prospects for a career.
  2. Set goals: To open those prospects, Mike embarked upon a series of incremental goals, starting with work to earn academic credentials.
  3. Make a commitment: Regardless of what challenges came his way, Mike persisted.
  4. Visualize Better Outcomes: Rather than complaining about a job delivering pizzas, Mike saw himself on the pathway of a professional career.
  5. Action: Mike worked to develop communication skills and math skills every day, understanding that he alone would be responsible for creating opportunities for his family.
  6. Accountability: Going through one class at a time, Mike stayed in pursuit of his dream, knowing that he alone would be responsible to transform his life.
  7. Awareness: With a goal of building a career in finance, Mike told us how he kept aware of where the best opportunities would be, and he told us how he made prospective employers aware of the value he could bring.
  8. Authenticity: Mike told us a story about living as the CEO of his life—he defined success, he documented his strategy, he created his own tools, tactics, and resources. By executing his plan, he achieved his dream.
  9. Achievement: Regardless of what challenges life presented, Mike saw opportunities to celebrate the incremental achievements he made.
  10. Appreciation: In Mike’s story, we listen to a man who lives in a state of gratitude, willing to take time to share his story with others.

Questions for You:

  1. In what ways are you defining success?
  2. How do the goals you’re setting relate to what you expect to achieve over the next five years?
  3. What do your decisions over the past week say about your level of commitment to success?
  4. What do your daily choices say about the type of life you expect to lead in ten years?
  5. Describe the action steps you took last month to advance your prospects for success.
  6. In what ways have you been measuring your daily progress?
  7. Help us understand your awareness of the challenges ahead.
  8. Why will the people you meet in the future see you as being authentic?
  9. In what ways are you celebrating the small, incremental achievements you’re making?
  10. How can you show appreciation for the blessings coming your way?

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