How to Achieve Success After Failure | by Joelle Klein, photos by Emily Teater

Women’s Bean Project, Tamra Ryan CEO

Posted on Thu, Oct 24, 2019

Women’s Bean Project CEO offers advice to help overcome barriers.

How do you find the strength to move forward after repeated failures? Two traits, optimism and emotional resilience, can help you bounce back from adversity. 

Health & Wellness spoke to Tamra Ryan, CEO of The Women’s Bean Project, about how she instills optimism and emotional resilience in the women she works with. The Women’s Bean Project is a non-profit organization that helps chronically unemployed women break through the barriers that block their path to successful employment. 

H&W: How do you instill optimism in the women in your program who have had trouble keeping or getting work in the past? 

Ryan: I always challenge the women who work with us to think about what they want for their life and how they want their life to be different. Then, the key is to set goals and start gaining success with those goals. Success begets more success. By the time a woman comes here, she’s been told all the things she can’t do. We present them with possibilities of things they can do. In a pretty short amount of time, they transform their lives. To watch that transformation is amazing. A year after graduating from our program, 93% of these women are still employed.

H&W: What about emotional resiliency? 

Ryan: One of the most prevalent thought patterns of women who come here is that they don’t believe that anything they do is going to affect the outcome. We focus on learning skills that help these women feel empowered to affect change in their lives. We teach them that you can have the skills to communicate with your supervisor, so you don’t get fired. You can have the parenting skills to communicate and rebuild your relationship with your children, even after, perhaps, years of addiction. What we really focus on is self-efficacy. Emotional resilience is the outcome. 

H&W: How do you teach or encourage the women who work at The Women’s Bean Project to self-advocate?  

Ryan: I think that when you haven’t seen that your actions make a difference in the outcomes, it can be easy to lose a sense of self-efficacy. We let the women determine their own goals, and then coach them around their actions, leading them closer to accomplishing their goals. In essence, we are helping them draw a straight line between their goal, the actions they take and accomplishment of those goals.

H&W: Do you think being vulnerable or seeking help is part of the process of achieving goals?

Ryan: I believe that asking for help requires vulnerability. The reason this is positive is because asking for help allows you to have input into the kind of help you may receive. Often, others might believe they know what is best for you and want to help you, but only we are in the best position to know what might be most meaningful and most helpful for ourselves.

H&W: How have you been able to get the women in your program to believe in themselves?

Ryan: I think, regardless of what [women in general] have accomplished, women are inclined to feel self-doubt … I think it’s one thing to feel self-doubt and give up, but another thing to feel self-doubt and try anyway. Once a woman in our program has seen that she can indeed affect her own life, accomplish her goals and keep a job to earn a paycheck to meet her own needs, she will want more of that. She can then imagine how other things she might not have believed she could do would also be possible.

Women’s Bean Project hires felons, Tamra Ryan CEO, optimism and emotional resilience, can help you bounce back from adversity
Tamra Ryan, CEO

H&W: It may be difficult for your staff to work with women who have been treated poorly or who have suffered so much. How do you instill optimism and emotional resilience in your staff?

Ryan: I think encouraging self-efficacy in a staff environment applies as well. Every staff person who works here is invested in the mission in some way. For some, it might be that they have addiction in their families. Some of our staff members are graduates of the program, so we know it’s personal for them. We’ve all chosen to work here because what we do resonates. How do we keep going when it’s hard? I don’t think we came here thinking it would be easy.

About The Women’s Bean Project

This year, The Women’s Bean Project is celebrating 30 years of helping chronically unemployed women work to achieve long-term employment. The Women’s Bean Project places women who’ve been incarcerated, in a domestic violence situation or a controlling marriage or other circumstances, in a six to nine-month work and life skills training program.

In the program, the women work from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day preparing food products such as 10 bean soup (their original product), lentil soup, cornbread mix and firehouse chili. The women work from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m on Wednesdays taking afternoons for appointments. In addition to working and earning a paycheck, the women receive support services to help them break through the barriers that have hindered their employment eligibility in the past.

To inspire optimism in the women, Ryan uses the same strategies and insights  that she uses with her staff and with herself. She starts by challenging them to dream of what their life could be. 

Tamra Ryan’s Recipe for Success:

  • Start with the end in mind
  • Set goals
  • Ask for help
  • Build on your successes
  • Believe in yourself
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