Stories of Resilience: Amutha Saravanan
Editor’s Note: In this series, we explore how resilience shapes a person’s character, how it affects our emotional and psychological state and if there are times when we become more resilient to challenges, setbacks and failures.
- the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
- the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
Word Origin and History for resilience. n. 1620s, “act of rebounding,” from Latin resiliens, present participle of resilire “to rebound, recoil,” from re- “back” (see re-) + salire “to jump, leap” (see salient (adj.)). Cf. result (v.).
My first real encounter with the word resilience was when I was on a student exchange programme at the University of California, Irvine, where I had the good fortune of being accepted into a very popular course in clinical and personality psychology. The professors, a husband-and-wife team, Dr. Salvatore Maddi and Dr. Debbie Khoshaba, had aside from their academic accountabilities in the university, started the Hardiness Institute. This institute was all about the ins and outs of what constitutes resilience: why some people have more while others have less, how we can train to be resilient, and the available research to make something as intangible as resilience, tangible. Needless to say, the experience left such a lasting impression on me that when I was asked to write about resilience, my first encounter with the concept was at the forefront of my mind.
How resilience has played out for me in my life
I remember an incident in Primary One, when we’d just received our results from the first semestral assessment. I’d come out of the shower one evening, to be met with an upset and dissatisfied mother. She’d found my report book which showed that I had come in 15th in class. As a happy and bubbly 6-year-old, I thought my marks were fine, being validated by my teacher. But that was when I learnt that it does not matter what one does, but only how one does in comparison to others. My mother launched into a slew of questions about my peers and their rankings, a comparison that left me sick in the stomach and with an ultimatum to come in 1st in class, by the end of the year.
I remember asking myself: Why is mummy so upset? Did I actually do badly, even though my teacher thought I did well? Maybe I am not good enough… Will mummy still love me? I eventually came in 1st at the end of the year, much to my mum’s delight. That achievement meant living by regimented schedules and spending a lot of my time studying without much play. Now, looking back on the incident, I question if I had been resilient or simply driven by fear. And if the incident has impacted the way I’ve led, and am living my life at the moment.
What is the context for resilience? Is it a fear of non-survival? Or is there something else at the heart of it? I know that my youthful achievement was driven by fear. But the real goal/fear in my mind, was not academic success/failure, but the reality of potentially losing my mother’s love.
I have to admit that my resilience has only really been tested again, since 2012, when I first began on my entrepreneurial journey. It takes a certain type of person to be uncomfortable. And when you have a great idea that is ahead of the curve, you need to pick yourself up again and again, in the face of setbacks and disagreements. Is such a display of resilience, one driven by fear? If I am being truthful, I was driven by fear, in the early days. Fear in many different forms: a fear of failure, fear of ‘losing face’, fear of disappointing the team, fear of having no money, a fear of losing my home, a fear of losing respect, and so, the list goes on.
When this resilience was pegged to fear, there was stress. With that stress came illnesses—insomnia and the works, which made me unproductive and the vicious circle continued. But I was resilient and I bounced back, even though it was a constant loop of survival. I was not flourishing or thriving. Is that what resilience really is?
“Just keep trying and trying until the day you die.”
“Never give up.”
“Grit and perseverance matter at the end of the day especially when you are an entrepreneur.”
It was not until recently, after many hard and painful experiences, that I’ve learnt that changing the context of my life is what makes the difference in simply surviving or flourishing. Actions should be driven not by fear, but from a place of love, instead.
If I see every action in the course of my entrepreneurial journey as a function of love and a higher purpose, it allows me to be at peace with any situation and gives me the strength to deal with the things that show up unexpectedly. Currently, my actions are shaped and in-line with a context of love in each role I play in life: I love the children in my country and I want to make a difference. I love my team because they work so hard to ensure that a path is being created for the younger generation. I love my family and friends and am at peace with the way that they show their concern for me, and I love challenges, because they are necessary for growth and to make me a better person.
Citing a simple example, if a class led by a teammate didn’t go well and my context was fear, my interaction with the teammate would have held a subtext of: “Oh dear, what if my clients pull out of the programme? Or what if they complain and I have to quickly get XYZ trainer up to speed? If not he or she has to leave the team…” etc. But with love as my context, I am able to come from a place of support and work towards building my teammate up and aiding in their growth. And I can keep doing that again and again, because I am fulfilled knowing that it comes from a loving space.
Resilience with a context of love—not fear—is profound. It is what has made this entrepreneurial journey come alive for me, multi-fold. You will know in your gut if you are operating from a place of fear or love. If everyone can master having an abundant and loving mindset, then life will be full and rich in all aspects.