It is often thought that some people are just naturally more resilient than others, but I believe it is a skill which can be learned and applied to all areas of life.
All of our experiences shape our journey to becoming more resilient; indeed my own experiences of war, migration and personal loss have all played a part in shaping the person writing this article today. I am grateful that these experiences, some of which were traumatic at times, enabled me to develop greater levels of forgiveness, compassion, truth and love.
I’ve always possessed a desire to help others to make their mark on the world and this was a driving force as I worked through my own difficulties. This vision helped me to overcome my low self-esteem, lack of confidence and silence the negative chatter. It helped me to stop the cycle of constantly seeking external validation. It has led me to places I never thought possible, including becoming an award-winning speaker and bestselling author.
It is important to note however, that despite my successes, the journey was not always easy.
The biggest test of my own resilience came when the Sri Lankan Civil War forced me to uproot and leave all that I knew and loved behind. I moved to India and began studying a dental degree at university, where it took me several years to really master the English language, something which really challenged both my confidence and my inner strength. After graduating, I got married and relocated to the U.K. but this came with the realisation that it would probably take me a number of years before I would succeed professionally. Despite making significant steps in my academic journey, I still felt that I was being held back at every step, as I had to readjust to life in a new country and the challenges of a new language. It was during these times that it could have been so easy to give up and let my fears overcome me.
Despite remaining positive, I am only human and there were times when I became so overwhelmed it was hard to see the light. To my friends and family, I was always a pillar of strength and happiness, so it came as a shock to them when I was diagnosed with a stress-related illness a few years ago. I spiralled into a dark place and shut myself away from friends and family. I had set such high expectations for myself, that I couldn’t not handle the fact that I was failing to be tough, resourceful or resilient.
It was my father who helped me to gain perspective and start the journey to re-building my life. I was an adult, but he told me that I would always have a home with them and that they would always look after me. This reassurance made me feel safe and in that moment, I realised that I had been neglecting my mental, physical and spiritual health. This set me on a transformative journey of healing, where I was able to rediscover my inner peace.
Since speaking out about my experiences, I found that many others had followed a similar path. In today’s perfectionist society, many people hide their true feelings, pretending to be strong and happy when in reality they are broken inside. Despite growing awareness and acceptance, poor mental health remains stigmatised and prevents people from seeking help during times of stress.
I hid behind my mask very well, as do many women. On the outside, I seemed to be a successful businesswoman, but scratching beneath the surface revealed relationship problems, health issues and business troubles. My mask allowed my problems to continue undiscovered, but this simply led to them worsening to the point where I reached rock bottom. Coming back from my lowest point taught me that accepting reality is one of the key steps to becoming truly resilient.
One question I am often asked is whether nature plays a part in how resilient we are. There has been substantial research into the biological and psychological makeup of individuals, alongside environmental and cultural influences, but the area remains extremely complex. There is no clear cut answer, and some people continue to be far more resilient than others when faced with similar experiences. The longer term impacts of stressful events or circumstances also differs greatly between individuals, with some suffering life-changing or permanently debilitating effects, whilst others seem largely unaffected.
It is also not possible to know in advance how you may react to a stressful event, which is why learning techniques to help build resilience and strength are important for everyone. Of course some traumatic events and losses leave a painful void in our lives, but as we take each day that comes, we learn to overcome the troubling times in our lives and become stronger, wiser and more forgiving as a result.
Having survived those darkest moments, I have made it my mission to help empower others to achieve their dreams, despite life’s obstacles. One area that is particularly close to my heart is empowering women who face gender inequalities; this gives me great satisfaction.
If I could provide a single piece of advice to my younger self, it would be that it is never too late to bounce back from adversity and disappointment. Your dreams are always just a footstep away.