Rising through resilience
Vidhyu Rao, PA Consulting's People and Change Expert, participated in a Q&A with Authority Magazine discussing five things you can do to become more resilient during turbulent times.
Authority Magazine: Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
While there are several experiences I’d like to share, one is particularly timely for today’s corporate climate and helped to further shape who I am today. Early in my career, I was perfectly happy settling into a job with a great growth trajectory at IBM India and spending my evenings and weekends with family and friends.
Out of nowhere, I get a call late at night from a software services firm about an open position based in the U.S. Intrigued to learn more, I attended the interview dressed in a formal Indian Saree, ready to present my best self to the interviewers. The panel included members from the U.S. and Indian operations teams. I felt great coming out of the interview since I thought I did well.
But, radio silence. I heard nothing from anyone for three weeks. Not even a rejection letter.
I picked up the phone and called the recruiter to try and get an update, but what I heard in return was what I wasn’t prepared for. I was told that the hiring manager thought I was “too Indian” and might not fit into their U.S. organizational culture. This was all because of the type of formal attire I chose for the interview.
This moment played a pivotal role in certain decisions and actions I made even to this day. While on paper corporations might have had DE&I and EEO policies, this was a time when they may not have implemented, enforced or even believed in the importance in these types of initiatives. My capabilities, experiences, and the desire to achieve something bigger for the company were all forgotten, and the fact that I attended the interview in the most beautiful attire was the reason for my rejection.
However, I didn’t let this stop me. I took it on as a challenge. I moved to the U.S. with my husband and 7-year old son, to prove that I can be successful in every working environment while always staying true to my core.
A few months later, I landed in Pittsburgh, PA where I built successful services and attended client meetings with a bindi on my forehead and not once have I had anyone talk to me in a demeaning manner. The interview experience helped me convert my indignation and anger to a positive character-building exercise and further established that I can stay true to myself while helping other people and businesses simultaneously.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
PA Consulting has been successfully operating for 75+ years because we have a firm belief in bringing ingenuity to life in everything we do. Our global team of 3,200 diverse colleagues aren’t just consultants. We are scientists, engineers, digital technologists, statisticians, change management specialists, and learning & development experts. We work together across the innovation lifecycle from strategy, design and delivery of solutions that affect corporations and humanity.
A recent story of our company putting our beliefs into action was when we partnered with the UK Government. With the coronavirus pandemic escalating and the country fast running out of life-saving ventilators, PA was asked to lead one of the largest mobilizations of innovation, science and engineering since the Second World War. Against all odds, the UK Ventilator Challenge made sure that everyone in the UK who needed a ventilator got one. You can read more about how we achieved the impossible here.
We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
There’s no single way to develop resilience. It’s a skill we can learn through our experiences and how we work toward coming out of the ebb slowly and steadily.
Think of it more like a marathon — you have to build muscle memory to keep moving forward, no matter how difficult the terrain. Focus on bouncing back to the most reasonable “normal” possible every single time. Work at every level — physically, emotionally, socially — to be resilient. Try to hold on to an “anchor.” For me, that’s spiritualism and yoga.
I believe that resilient people are those who don’t let failures phase them into a bottomless emotional pit. Once you reach the bottom, there is only one way — going UP!
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage alone allows you to attack a problem head-on. It is the endorphin rush you get to quickly triage a situation.
But being courageous and resilient allows you to internalize, and not run away from adverse situations. It helps you to move forward from failures and have the courage to bounce back to a near-normal.
I think of the process as: I tried; I fought; I failed. But it’s okay- let me work on how best to move forward.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway?
- You want to build a multi million-dollar learning business? Impossible in our ecosystem.
- You want to build a product focusing on Talent? That won’t work — we’re not an HR Services firm.
- You want to build a team with no deep experience and be successful? Definitely NOT possible.
The curiosity in analyzing why they’re saying what they’re saying led me to strive harder and overcome the impossible situations I was faced with.
I’m often called “the eternal optimist” by colleagues. It’s in my nature to challenge a “no,” and transform it into opportunities. I have, of course, stumbled along the way, but it is my intense belief in new possibilities that pushes me to explore uncharted paths.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient?
- When working with someone that is in the mindset of “my way or the highway” stay fully engaged in conversations (and arguments) without getting sucked into the emotional spiral. Build your resilience muscles through the intolerance to disagreement.
- In a professional or personal conflict of unfairness and rejection build a thick skin and infuse a trace (or a handful) of optimism to help bounce back, again and again.
- If everyone around you is quitting and all hell breaks loose stay optimistic and navigate the hurdles by not losing focus on the future outcome you are going after.
- When being questioned due to setbacks, don’t just rely on blind optimism. Have a plan or a process, as it is essential to reaching the end goal.
- If looked at as a “failure” be patient with yourself and the process. Exercise emotional control and display this at all times. Hold on to those learning moments, and grow by investing in your own development.
In all cases, when you come out on the other side, the scars remain — but it makes you more resilient and aware. You mature and start anticipating situations that require the right type of preparation to navigate with resilience. Each experience uses a different coping mechanism and muscle memory that makes us push forward in this marathon and get back on our feet.