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What is a Resilient Mindset?

Check out my interview with Host Michael Le as we discuss my journey from a young child of struggling artists to the owner of TNW Creations, LLC. a web development agency in Austin, Texas going on it's 27th year in business. You can click here to listen to the Podcast that aired today, November 3rd 2021. Or read below for the blog post audio transcript with photos.


What is a Resilient Mindset?

 

November 4, 2021

by Michael Le

Sr Content Editor at Clutch.co

Cultivating a resilient mindset can help leaders persevere in the face of adversity. Erin LaVaux Quarles used hers to survive a childhood of homelessness and poverty before starting her own business. From the Ground Up, Clutch podcast hosted by: Michael Le

Erin LaVaux Quarles of TNW Creations reflects on her childhood battling homelessness and economic hardships and the strength that she drew from her resilient mindset as she found her way into technology. 

Her story reveals the often forgotten truth that we all don't start from the same places. Poverty can limit us in unexpected ways. 

 

Erin offers five ways in which her background as an indigenous woman, the role models available to her, and the diversity in the stories of success she heard were essential to shaping the strength of her character.

What is a Resilient Mindset?


  1. Understand your circumstances

  2. Take the leap into new opportunities

  3. Focus on hard work and dedication

  4. Build your financial resilience

  5. Find role models who represent you

 

Understand Your Circumstances

To build a resilient mindset, it’s a good idea to understand your circumstances and be aware of how they’ve affected you. Erin talks about how growing up on reservations while struggling economically has influenced the way she approaches problem-solving.

Erin LaVaux Quarles: I grew up on reservations and in Native American communities. I'm an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, and my parents were graphic designers. They studied art in college and they struggled financially. We were homeless twice, and we ate once a day. To this day, I still have trouble thinking past, “I'm only hungry once a day,” because I got used to it. 

 

We were just this little scrappy family just trying to get by. My dad was in the army, so there would be times that he'd be gone for a year and a half. It would just be my mom. I remember during snack time we’d have eight saltine crackers, and she would put tuna fish on it, and everybody would get two crackers. That was snack time. So it was quite the struggle, and we moved a lot too. 

 

My past definitely made me resilient. I felt like I had two choices: we could give up or we could keep fighting. And I chose to keep fighting. 

 

When things are hard, I see a difference in the way my husband handles something that's difficult and the way I handle something that's difficult. I don't allow it to bury me because I could have never gotten through my childhood and the rough moments without being able to look past that and go, “I can do this, I will do this, and I'll find a way.” 

 

That's something learned from my childhood that that still keeps me going today when things get rough.

Erin had a keen awareness of her environment, but she didn’t let it dictate her path. Rather, she focused on what she could do and didn’t back down when presented with a challenge.

 

Take the Leap Into New Opportunities

It can be nerve-wracking to pursue new opportunities when you’re unsure of the outcome, which is why a resilient mindset can provide the discipline to push forward. 

 

In Erin’s case, she discovered her love of technology early on, but she didn’t pursue it until later in her college career.

Erin (age 5, front center) with her younger brother and University of Kansas graduate Parents in early 80's

ELQ: One time (when I was 11 years old) we were at one of my dad’s officer get-togethers. It was something involving barbecue, and there was a bunch of kids and families there. 

 

A lieutenant that my dad worked with gave us a nickel tour of his house. We went to his basement or some sort of man-cave where he had three computers. We're talking the old-school IBMs with the smoky color — it was kind of a smoky color, too, because it smelled like cigarette smoke in there.

And he's like, “Here's where I work,” and I said, “Oh my gosh, I want to see more!” I could not stop asking, “What does this do and what is this? Can I touch it?” He was really excited about this little girl that was very into the computers that he was showing off. He actually told me what some of the parts were.

Austin Web Developer - CEO TNW Creations, LLC.

Erin (far left) poses for a photo with her mother and siblings a year before she was gifted her first computer

A week or so later, my dad came home with a box from the lieutenant specifically for me. I had the box for the longest time with these five and a quarter floppy disks there — the old ones.

My dad said, “He was so excited that you were into computers, and he wanted you to have this.” I actually poured over the little books that he included, which were about DOS, and I started teaching myself. 

 

I was 11 years old, and this was 1986. My little brother and I didn't know how to make this computer work, so we had to figure out how to even get it to accept commands. 

 

Every time I would type something in and it would obey me, I would get so excited. So I would type in another command and it would listen to me, and then I'd type in one and it would fail. I’d go, “I don't know what I did wrong there,” but then I just kept teaching myself.

An ad for a Kaypro that looks very similar to the Kaypro II Army field computer that Erin was gifted

Later, Erin describes how she attended Haskell Indian Nations University studying art as her parents did. She believed she was weak at math, so she hesitated to jump into computer science. However, her tutoring experience and talent proved otherwise.

ELQ: In the tutoring center, I was constantly helping with computers. My bosses, who were both professors, kept taking me aside and saying, “You have to switch your major to computers.” I was like, “Yeah, but math!” That was what was holding me back. 

 

Then, I was taking computer programing for fun as an elective. My professor Mrs. Goombi was really strict and really hard on us. We were doing our computer program and I just loved it. I kept doing really well.

Erin's poloroid photo in the Tutoring Center at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas
Her professors Alex Browning and Dennis Glasco had written, "All Humanities & Computers" under her photo.

One day, I came down with pneumonia and I was out for two weeks. I came back in the night before our binary coding test and went to the tutoring center where a University of Kansas student who was a computer science major helped me. 

 

I literally aced the test the next day, and all I had was a crash course the night before. Mrs. Goombi pulled me aside and she said, “You're the first student in 25 years who's ever passed this test. You have to switch to computer science.” 

 

Now, I've got three professors telling me to switch, so I decided I was switching my majors.

One of Erin's bosses, Alex Browning (front center in bare feet) at the Tutoring Center was a Math Professor at Haskell Indian Nations University and later became Dean of Mathematics. Alex was a brilliant unconvential mathematician who lived on coffee and donuts and was a major supporter of Erin's switch to Computer Science.  Pictured behind is one of Erin's longtime best friends, Marty who was also a Tutor at Haskell. Circa 1995-1996

Erin made an intentional decision to go out of her comfort zone to pursue her interests, and her hard work paid off.

 

Build Your Financial Resilience

Breaking into the tech industry is hard when you don’t have disposable income. Erin points out that there were economic barriers to pursuing a conventional career at an established company. That’s why she decided to invest in her own.

Michael Le: Did you enter the workforce into computers or did you start your own business?

 

ELQ: As a small child, I wanted to have a business. That may have had something to do with my grandparents owning a trading post and in my hometown Yankton, South Dakota near Lewis & Clark Lake. 

 

In college, I started various odd jobs. I was translating my language of Lakota, which is my first language, into English and sharing it with fellow students. That ended up becoming an entire website and software down the road. I was also building websites. My first computer job was actually paid under the table. While I was there, I was helping in the back fix computers. 

 

Then, I tried to get a position with another computer company called Brownwood Computer Innovations. The (owner, Pat) really wanted me to come work for them, but they said, “You need to get your Microsoft certification.” 

 

I looked at the cost and knew that I couldn’t afford that. And because I couldn't afford it, I couldn't get a better-paying computer job. So, I kept pouring my time and my efforts into my own business.

 

ML: Do you ever wonder if your path would’ve been different had you been able to join that company? 

 

ELQ: A couple of years later, I did end up working in tech support and as a computer operator — the graveyard shift at a hospital. They offered me a sysadmin position. I was getting married at that time, so I ended up moving cities. 

 

But if we hadn't moved, I'd probably still be working at Methodist Hospital in San Antonio. That was a really good position. At that time, no one was insisting that I needed to have computer Microsoft certifications, C++, or any of the certifications that other places wanted. You couldn’t work anywhere unless you had those, but that really restricted people who didn't have money to pay for them.

A resilient mindset helped Erin identify the financial barriers that kept her from higher-paying jobs and find a way to build her own way forward. 

 

Find Role Models Who Represent You

Part of nurturing a resilient mindset involves seeing role models of success, emulating them, and becoming one yourself. Erin is passionate about showing indigenous children icons that they can relate to. She reflects on her grandmother, whose drive to help others and entrepreneurial spirit kept her family strong.

ML: How important is it for you to connect back technology to your community as a means to give equity to the people?
 
ELQ: It's very important. I really want children, girls and boys, from indigenous backgrounds to see success in role models who are indigenous. If they see someone that they relate to, that speaks their language, or that looks like themselves, then they see themselves as being able to achieve something more than where they're at. 

 

As a child growing up, a lot of the indigenous icons that I knew were few and far between. I remember my mother had bought me this Barbie that was supposed to be Native American. She mostly looked Native American, except she had blue eyes.

My mother took it home and she dumped the clothes, which were really cheap, terrible knockoffs of Native American clothes. And she made a leather dress. She made authentic clothing for the doll, and it was one of my favorites. It was really cool to me because otherwise, it was a sea of peach. When I'd look at the doll aisle, I’d think, “Nobody looks like anybody I relate to.”

 

Seeing those role models from your own culture is really important.

Erin expresses how much she loved seeing her culture represented as a child. And mentions the Native American model by Ojibwe artist Patrick DesJarlait on the Land O' Lakes butter product. She would often stop to admire the picture as a child. She jokingly adds, "I guess I was thinking, I too can be on a butter container! But it was bigger than that. It was representation."

 

And Erin wasn't alone in that thought.

"On his Facebook page, Robert DesJarlait said many Ojibwe people shared their perspective of Mia while growing up Native. “Basically, it was giving the previous generation a sense of almost empowerment to see a Native woman on a box of butter. It gave them a sense of cultural pride,” he said. “After seeing those posts, I said, ‘that’s right, that’s why my dad created this image to begin with’.”

ML: Did you have other role models that you looked up to? 

 

ELQ: My grandmother. I adored her, and she was my favorite person. She was super bubbly — not at all like my personality! 

 

We would go to the store and people would ask her for help or ask her for advice, and she'd just help them out. I'd look at her going, “Wow!” you know? And she loved to hug us, feed us, and teach us.

 

And she’d tell us stories. And my grandfather was also always telling us stories.

 

I really loved the way that they raised us and taught us these lessons. I think that a lot of them owning their trading post really inspired me to want to be a business owner because I adored them. 

Erin's Grandmother Joy (pictured above) ran the Queen's Trading Post in Yankton, South Dakota with her husband Roland, a Navy Vet. Erin is often told she looks just like her Grandmother and she's grateful because Joy was her favorite person. ran

Exposure to representation in success stories can be a critical step in nurturing one’s growth. 

 

How to find Erin

Connect with Erin through her family-owned business TNW Creations to learn more about building a resilient mindset. TNW Creations offers web development, web design and SEO services.

 

Looking for more business tips from a range of industry leaders? Follow podcast From the Ground Up to check out other episodes.

TNW Creations is a Web Development & Media Publishing Agency in Austin, Texas. Web Development, cyber security, web design, clean energy web host, Advanced SEO, Digital Marketing and more since 1995.

I've been programming, designing, writing and publishing professionally online since 1995. I've worn many hats throughout my life, but the common core of my career has always been media. Besides the portfolio you see on TNW Creations, my internet presence has been substantial for over 2 decades. In 1995, while still in college, I founded TNW Creations and became part of the grassroots development for teaching the Lakhota language online. By 2004, my bilingual work was listed on many sites, including National Geographic , Encarta and Touchstone Pictures Hidalgo. When I'm not designing, developing and writing, you'll find me managing MagicStoryLand.Com, creating kid-friendly game & video content, posting salty articles about cyber threats, leading Girl Scouts, moderating UnifyLife.Org and enjoying my  community, church & family.