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.

Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vidhyu Rao.

Rao is an experienced workforce transformation and change management leader who has advised on and led numerous large-scale global digital learning transformations. She has deep expertise in developing upskilling and reskilling strategies, managing overall change initiatives, overseeing global learning teams, and building digital products. Rao joined PA Consulting from HR consultancy Korn Ferry, where she spent the last two years as a client partner in the workforce transformation practice. Before that, she spent 14 years at IT consultancy Cognizant, where she was latterly global learning leader overseeing large learning consulting engagements. At Cognizant, Rao also served as practice head of learning and content, and as head of Cognizant Academy for North America and Europe.

Earlier in her career, Rao was a manager in the learning services division of IBM.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I was lucky to be born into a progressive family, where the rules of the game were equal for men and women. We all had to learn the same types of life skills, be it sewing a button back on to our shirts, navigating through school, standing up for what you believe in, and everything in between.

Those experiences created an inherent tenacity that allowed me to look at all situations through a lens of pragmatism, and not get bogged down when things went south. My 27+ years working in consulting has taught me several lessons that allow me to look at any situation in a calm and composed manner, without getting excited — either negatively or positively.

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? Can you share a story?

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.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I totally agree. I’ve had mentors and guides all through my personal and professional journeys, so it’s quite difficult to single out any one person.

I am so grateful to my family above all. They’ve stood by and supported me in every decision I’ve taken to help me reach where I am today. My husband and son have been my quiet cheerleaders, always egging me on to achieve everything I sought out; and my parents and sister were iron supports who helped me manage both my personal and professional responsibilities.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. 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.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Randy Pausch was a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. After being diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2007, he decided to capitalize on every second he had left in the most positive way. He gave a couple of lectures that garnered millions of views, ultimately resulting in Randy deciding to write a book called “The Last Lecture” with Jeffrey Zaslow.

“The hardships and setbacks in life are not there to stop you. Instead, it is there to give us a chance to show if we really want something. And if you couldn’t go past through the brick walls, you don’t want it as bad as the others who could.”

How we perceive challenges has everything to do with resilience. I’ve admired Randy since I learned about him years ago. His articulation of experiences in his book has been my go-to place when I look for inspiration.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

  • 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.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

In my experience, every difficult situation has required a unique resilience mechanism to bounce back.

In the early days of my career, I was placed in a project situation where I had to manage a global team of members who, at the time, had decades of experience under their belt when compared to me. In parallel, I had to learn a new set of skills for my own individual productivity. The team would look at me, but would flat-out stay away — no collaboration, no collegiality. I even had one person say that I should probably drop being the project manager and find a more “suitable” role.

I still remember it like it was yesterday.

I took it on myself to ignore the comment, the demeanor, and those ways of working, and instead chose to build credibility by doing my job with incredible thoroughness and continuing to learn to become a global trainer. Slowly but steadily, I was able to build my credibility by surpassing all personal targets set. That incident helped me learn to navigate difficult situations that affect me at my core on a profession and personal level.

How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

My grandfather — the Director General of Civil Aviation in India — was one of the main reasons why our family was brought up always having a mindset of gender equality. Along with my cousins, my sister and I were taught to keep our heads high and be proud of who we are; we are no lesser than the boys. He’d teach us how to use power tools, how to apply the fundamentals of finances in daily life, and the art of letter writing. With these (and many other) lessons, we grew up to become fully independent individuals in our own ways.

Through the passage of our life journeys, we’ve witnessed hardships, but always picked up and got back on our feet every single time. One of my mother’s life lessons — likely passed down by my grandfather — has always been to dive deep into whatever you are doing, but also build a tough skin and learn to “witness” a situation like you would see water rolling off a lotus leaf. The leaf would never appear wet, as the water will always roll off it, despite the plant thriving in wet environments.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I sincerely believe that if we take it upon ourselves to educate a child — from grade school to higher education — whose family cannot afford school and see them find a decent job, we are completely changing the direction of their family’s progression. We are enabling them to move from poverty to the middle class. All of this is impossible if we only depend on governments to step in.

If every educated family in the world takes on 1–2 families that need help, we will be able to almost eradicate poverty from the face of this earth. This requires commitment and the willingness to commit to the long haul.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I would love to meet Rosalind Brewer, CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance. It’s fascinating to see the tenacity with which she has managed to grow. I am sure she is an amazingly resilient individual, for she would have had to break the glass ceiling through hard work, grit, and lots of setbacks. I have watched many of her interviews, and the way she displays leadership presence and emotional control through poise, calm confidence. and warmth is genuinely inspiring.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My LinkedIn profile will be the best way to follow my work.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you for conversing with me and allowing me to share my experiences.


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.