Facing Trauma and Embracing Resilience: Our Talk With Charles Hunt

"Telling my story builds my resilience, because it gives my trauma a purpose."

Charles Hunt is a resilience expert, educator, and motivational speaker. With his own experiences of trauma, Charles shares incredible stories of resiliency, determination, and success from his journey. His life’s purpose is to use his mess as a message that helps, inspires, and motivates others. He is the founder of The Audacity Firm, LLC. His firm provides professional and personal development programs, coaching, and events that equip clients to maintain and build the hope to navigate their trauma and adversity. Charles helps others build the resilience necessary to live, do, and be better.

SWY: I know you go into more detail in your Ted Talk, but if you don’t mind sharing, can you describe your experiences with trauma?

CH: I spent my entire youth on welfare and most of my childhood in segregated and economically deprived, drug infested, and crime-ridden neighbourhoods. My mother spent some time in jail for the same disease of addiction that today’s opioid users receive compassion and treatment for. My father was murdered while he was in jail when I was 10 years old. I lived in a drug house at one point, and watched, from about 20 feet away, someone come through my projects apartment shooting guns at someone while the intended victim broke through a kitchen window to escape. I’ve been homeless after a dispute between my mom/stepdad and the dope dealers operating out of our spot got violent. One day we had a place to stay, the next day we didn’t. We didn’t move so much as we evacuated with the clothes we could pack in a bag. For the next nine years, I slept on the floor of my grandmother's one-bedroom apartment. I’ve sat in classrooms hungry, disturbed and distracted about last night’s events and anticipated new ones. Unfortunately, I know what it’s like experiencing things that are too old or too grown for youthful eyes. I know what it’s like to put on the suit of being hard and tough when all you really want is to feel safe and loved. That is only some of the stuff I experienced as a child. As an adult, I’ve had to deal with debt and student loans, trying to find jobs, and the trauma of losing jobs. I’ve had to deal with the death of loved ones, a health crisis of my own, heartbreaks…the typical things that life can sometimes throw at us. Trauma is a part of the human experience. It’s one of those things that does not discriminate. We are all going to experience the delta between what it is that we want and what it is that life gives us.

SWY: What have you learned about yourself in the process of telling your story? What are the benefits of sharing your story?

CH: I’ve learned that life can be cruel and tough, but I’m tougher. Whatever life might throw at me, it may suck, I may not like it, but I can get through this.

Telling my story builds my resilience, because it gives my trauma a purpose. It’s not just some terrible random thing that happened to me. There is a reason for me to have experienced my trauma; so I can repurpose it in the service of helping others. It gives me some rational reason as to why I had to go through this. Now, I can take the rubble of the destruction in my past and use it to build a better path for someone else.

SWY: What does resilience mean to you?

CH: Having the capacity to adapt to negative change and to recover from that change as quickly as possible. The positive change is easy to adapt to, it’s the negative change that we need assistance getting over. So for me, it’s being able to adapt to whatever that negative stimulus may be. If it knocks you back and sits you down, how can you recover from that as quickly as you can?

SWY: On a similar note, what do you think your personal experience with trauma has taught you about being resilient?

CH: We often can’t choose what happens to us, but we do get to choose how we respond. Being resilient comes down to how we think about the adversity that we face. It all starts in our minds. It’s the messages we tell ourselves and the beliefs that manifest in the thoughts that we have. In those thoughts, they affect how we feel, and those feelings lead to our actions and ultimately the results that we get. At the end of the day, if we want to be better at overcoming trauma and adversity, it’s incumbent upon us to harness the most powerful resource of all, our minds.

"We often can’t choose what happens to us, but we do get to choose how we respond. Being resilient comes down to how we think about the adversity that we face."

SWY: What is The Audacity Firm? What inspired you to start it?

CH: The Audacity Firm is my speaking and training business. We provide tips, tools, and strategies to youth on how to overcome and be resilient through their various life adversities and trauma. The name of the company was inspired by my fourth-grade teacher. Whenever we would act up her favourite phrase would be the “audacity of you...” Something about that statement always stuck with me; the richness of it. It had a personal relevance as well based on my upbringing. I went from all of that I mentioned above to having a nearly 20-year corporate career. I am now the furthest from broke and broken I’ve ever been and have a much healthier life than what I was brought into. So, I applied the phrase to me, as in “the audacity of me" to have been able to succeed and thrive not just in spite of, but precisely because of the trauma I have been through. The firm is born on this notion that we all have this audacious nature and identifying how we tap into it. My company is about building this audacity in all of us because none of us are immune to what life is going to throw at us.

SWY: How does The Audacity Firm specifically help children and youth? What programs do you offer? How can people get involved?

CH: Please feel free to reach out to me through my website (www.audacityfirm.com)

I am really keen on helping children who have been through similar adversities as me and helping them to see themselves in me, and see success when they see themselves. It’s important for me that others see the opportunities that are available in life despite the challenges that they have been through, and to give them the hope that they can make it through this by employing their resilience.

SWY: What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who is suffering from trauma and wants to heal?

CH: I don’t know if there is just one thing I could tell anyone looking to heal from trauma. It takes a lot of time, resources, and assistance. Personally, there are two main characteristics that are critical to my life and overcoming my trauma. I never gave up hope and I continued to tap into my resilience. It’s important that none of us ever give up as we continue to work towards whatever better or optimal conditions may be. There are several principles that I use in my talks and training about resilience:

Power - We all have an innate power to change our lives. While we don’t control everything that happens to us, we do control the choices we make after. That gives us power and we should never relinquish that power.

Plan - Creating a plan means asking ourselves “How am I going to get from this point to the next? What is it that I am going to actively do?” From there, it’s executing that plan.

Perspective - The way we look at things that happen to us or for us, and how we orient ourselves to our adversity and trauma. The way we look at our setbacks makes a huge difference, not only on how we feel about it but the solutions we put in place to fix it.

Perseverance - Sometimes we just have to find a way to keep going through all the hurt until we get to a better state.

Partnership - The ability to tap into our networks for assistance. Some people we trust may have failed us but there ARE people who are willing to help us by being a resource. They truly want to see us as our best selves.

Positivity - Being kind to ourselves by having a realistic optimism about the future and our ability to create a better one if we get through today’s challenges.

Purpose - Identifying what’s the reason for the adversity and upon discovery putting it to use in service of yourself or others. It’s not just finding purpose in the triumphs, but it is also about recognizing what our individual purpose is.

At various points in my life and even to this day, I tap into each of these principles to help me overcome painful situations.

"We all have an innate power to change our lives. While we don’t control everything that happens to us, we do control the choices we make after."

SWY: Can you speak to the intergenerational aspect of childhood trauma? Why is it so important to embrace resilience to break these cycles of violence?

CH: Intergenerational trauma is so difficult to break the chain of. Think about it, you have things that were set in motion before you were even born, and it’s just rolled downhill. It becomes so hard to break those cycles when what’s abnormal is the norm, and you’re the only one who recognizes it. As someone who has had to go down that path myself, I can speak to how lonely it feels at times and how difficult it can be. But I also know that it’s important for all of us to break these cycles of violence, poverty, poor health (physical, mental, financial) not just now, but for the family generations that follow us to have a better life and experience.

We would like to thank Charles for taking the time to speak with us about the importance of building resilience and not giving up hope in the face of trauma. If you would like to learn more about Charles and what he does, visit www.audacityfirm.com or https://twitter.com/TheAudacityFirm. Also, be sure to watch his full Ted Talk below!