Three Things You Can Learn about Resiliency from Rosie the Riveter

Resiliency Rosie the Riveter Primavera Danielle Collins Well-being

I am still giggling.

Last weekend, I participated in the Rosie Rally in Richmond (say that three times fast) and I helped break a Guinness World Record.  What did we do?  With over 2,220 of us participating, we took back the record for the most people dressed as Rosie the Riveter.

There is an irony here.  The original Rosies themselves surely broke one record after another, as they shattered glass ceilings while building ships, planes, tanks, and weapons.  Their round-the-clock efforts made the United States a military and economic world power by the end of World War II.

The Rosies made our victory possible.  They were so. . . resilient.

They weren’t initially welcome in the shipyards and factories.  But they kept showing up, day after day, demanding jobs.  When a foreman said “No,” what the Rosies heard was “Not today.”

They showed up, without training, still haunted by the Great Depression, yet possessed by the absolute belief that they could make a difference.

They could do the job.

By 1944, women made up 41 percent of the welders at the Kaiser yards in Richmond.  That shipyard launched 747 ships, more than any other yard in the country.

Now THAT’S a world record.

What can we learn about resiliency from the original Rosies?

In the nonprofit world, we can still learn so much.  The Rosies showed us the importance of:

1. Transcending Challenges

Being human includes failing at times.  Our tenacity after setbacks is important to our success.  During the war, there was no place for fear of failure.

The Rosies would not have been successful if they had regularly berated themselves, or felt shy about their abilities, or if they had stopped taking risks.

They had to put themselves out there every day.  That’s what the job required.

After the Depression, they knew that life was hard.  I believe the Rosies showed up at the shipyards and factories with a deep-rooted resilience, and an understanding that life’s challenges are actually opportunities to become something more.

Today, we often think life is supposed to be easy.  Then we fight the inevitable struggles we face.  As a personal coach, I help people transcend these challenges by rising above and reframing them as opportunities to grow.

Did I just say we can welcome adversity?  Yikes.  That sounds really hard.

And it is.  The Rosies who were most successful stopped asking “Why is this happening to me?” and instead asked, “How can I contribute (and kick some Nazi ass?)”

In your current job, what risks are you still taking?  How do you reframe your own setbacks and use them as opportunities for growth?  Are you playing life BIG?

To train your brain to reframe setbacks, consider surrounding yourself with positive people, replacing worn-out beliefs or stories that no longer serve you, and hiring a coach to help move you forward.  We can learn resilience at any age, and like the Rosies, bounce back from adversity again and again and again.

2. Developing Gratitude

Gratitude goes a long way when life is tough.

And life in Richmond during the war was difficult, especially for women and minorities who migrated there, seeking work in the defense industries.  Richmond’s population exploded, overwhelming its housing and transportation services.

There was not enough housing for the newcomers, and some women rented “hot beds,” which is not nearly as fun as it sounds.  They would sleep in shifts in the bed, while the others worked in the shipyard.


Other not-so-great solutions for the housing problem included railroad cars, trailers, shacks, barns, and my favorite, sleeping in all-night movie theaters.

The Rosies also endured food shortages, sexism, and racism.  They experienced gas and tire rationing, long public transportation rides, and blackouts.  And let’s not forget that many of them had brothers or boyfriends fighting overseas.

They sure had their share to gripe about.

Yet they were successful because they were so grateful for what they did have.  They were thankful for newly created jobs, that helped end the Depression.  And for an improvement in living standards.

They were also grateful for innovative social programs, such as employee health care and child care, which made their lives better and made work at the shipyards possible.

The Rosies cherished their years as defense workers.  They recognized that they were part of something special, and they saved their ID cards and badges, carrying lifelong memories of the war years.

Gratitude helps people connect to something larger than themselves.  It also builds strong relationships and helps people deal with adversity.  Research shows gratitude is consistently associated with greater happiness.

What are you grateful for, at this moment?  Perhaps it has been a tough day, and it’s hard to think in terms of giving thanks. . . and you may find it easier to feel grateful for something small but meaningful, such as your comfortable chair.  Or maybe you are feeling more expansive, because you spent an afternoon with an amazing donor.  You may feel grateful for the incredible people who help you meet your mission.

As a coach, I help my clients develop feelings of gratitude.  No matter what is going on around us, we can give thanks for some aspect of our lives.  I encourage you to consider keeping a gratitude journal, writing a thank-you note, praying, or meditating.  Counting our blessings makes us more resilient.

3. Understanding Your Purpose

The shipyard community gathered together to celebrate the launch of each new ship they built.  These ceremonies reflected their pride in their achievements, and motivated the workers to succeed.  The Rosies had a profound sense of purpose – to win the war, and to get the boys home.

After early losses in the war, Americans quickly realized their efforts at home mattered greatly.  They planted victory gardens, recycled rubber and scrap metal, and saved fats to be used for explosives.  They also volunteered at the Civil Defense Corps and bought war bonds.

We achieved victory because of our shared purpose and our united efforts.

Knowing our purpose is a key ingredient to our well-being.  Understanding the meaning of our work, and how we make a difference in a shared vision, is important to building resiliency.

We may rarely enjoy the deep sense of purpose that the Rosies experienced.  I envy them that.

But we can still discover our own purpose, today.

When was the last time you celebrated an achievement with your team?  How well do you understand your purpose in your current job?  How can you find even more meaning, both at work and at home?

The Rosies teach us that we can transcend challenges, develop an attitude of gratitude, and connect to our purpose.  Even for those of us who didn’t grow up during the Depression, resiliency is possible.

We can do it!

Rosie the Riveter World Record Primavera Danielle Collins

P.S. If you want to move forward – to become more resilient – then coaching may be right for you.  You can learn more about transforming your life here.

P.P.S. Are you intrigued by the Rosies?  If you want to learn more about the home front during World War II, visit the National Historic Park in Richmond, California.  You can talk with real-life Rosies during scheduled meet-and-greets.

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