It is believed that every opportunity that later transformed into a successful endeavor was first found in a moment of adversity or to fill a need. We are no stranger to challenges but are adversities truly critical to growth?
Ester Martinez, CEO & Editor-in-Chief, People Matters gets into a conversation with Dr. Anita Sengupta, Co-Founder & Former Engineer, NASA Solar System Ex at Airspace Experience Technologies (ASX) wherein, the latter shares key learnings from her personal journey on how to overcome adversities and emerging out stronger!
Dr. Anita Sengupta is a rocket scientist, aerospace engineer, professor, and instrument rated pilot who for over 20 years has been developing technologies that have enabled the exploration of Mars, Asteroids, and Deep Space. Her current venture is leading the development of hydrogen fuel cell powered aircraft as CEO and founder of Hydroplane Ltd.
Here is a key excerpts from the conversation:
Q: When you look back at your career, what have been some of those defining moments for you– milestone moments that really make you who you are today?
It's a difficult question to answer because I have enjoyed each of my different journeys that I've taken in my career. Getting my PhD was a really important one in terms of getting an important technical qualification, which allowed me to contribute into so many areas like research, teaching. There were also milestones like the key role I've had on NASA missions and actually seeing the rover on the landing system, and developing technologies that have enabled the exploration of Mars, asteroids and deep space. But probably for me now it's the ability to be a leader in the tech sector because now I can really take my passions and turn it into something from scratch, myself.
Q: How did you connect the dots, embracing these opportunities that came your way?
My personal journey, it's definitely been more serendipitous so definitely serendipity so not as much planning, as much as finding like there's been a really interesting unique opportunity in terms of what I decided to do my role models to my next role, as far as entry, descent landing systems, and then to my last role analysis as a project manager. What these were opportunities that were given to me to try out, and I went with it and I learned and grew as a result so definitely serendipity is something we have just throughout my career.
Q: All the opportunities received, how much of it was your positive outlook towards being open to those opportunities or was it really serendipity?
I am very intellectually curious. I'm a lifelong learner. So when someone presents me with a new opportunity which takes me outside of my comfort zone, I will automatically go and do it and gravitate towards it because I know I have to learn the process, which will help me become a better engineer, a better leader, and a better person. Hence, as a result you have to be open to strike and take yourself outside of your comfort zone and if you do that you can accomplish amazing things.
Q: There are no accidents, so it's really a curiosity and getting yourself out of comfort. Would you agree?
I would agree and I think this will sound a little bit silly but part of the reason why I follow this philosophy is I was a huge fan of science fiction. If you take a look at Star Trek, there were so many people who literally would go on to find a new planet and explore it and so I kind of view life in that same way: explore, learn new things, discover new things.
Q: When you look back at your own career, how did you take care of those big adversities that came your way? What would be that one very, very challenging time that you had to overcome. And how did you go about that?
As a woman and as a person of colour, you're always going to face more adversities in Western societies. Almost every day of your career has been the fulfilment of adversity, so it teaches you to be resilient. It teaches you if you're resourceful and teaches you to never give up. So for me, it's never a specific moment. It's almost like that the journey is always going to be a lot harder for me, but it has made me so much stronger and so much more successful as an engineer, as a leader because I faced those adversities and never gave up. And I think when I looked at the leadership space specifically, there's just not enough women and so that for me was a motivation. I'm used to facing engineering challenges when things don't go right, failing a few times, but I actually viewed that as a challenge, but I wanted to solve it so I didn't really view it as adversity.
Q: What is the importance of failure as a way of learning and not as an adversity, per se?
I probably have a very different definition of failure because I don't think anything's really a failure. It just means that you learn something new and as a result of that you learn new things, you build a better system, build a better company, and build a better solution. So it's really an experiment– collect the data from the experiment which helps you do a better job next time. Hence, I'm not nervous going into new things or difficult things because I know I'm going to learn something and make something better as a result of failures. Nothing in life is perfect, and nothing ever works out perfectly. So you just have to acknowledge the case, and learn from what you pick up, and then move on to the next thing.