Triumph. The one word that comes to mind when you think of Shalini Saraswathi’s journey and everything she has accomplished following an unfortunate life-altering moment, one that began with limiting her physical abilities and eventually paved the path to becoming a National Champion.
Sharing her story and learnings at People Matters EX Conference 2022, Shalini did not just leave the listeners inspired, but her contagious smile and energy instilled a refreshing perspective to sprint through life with five key lessons.
Shalini contracted a rare bacterial infection during a vacation which caused her to lose her limbs. Having undergone years of recovery through both medicine and religion, she found her healing and growth in accepting change and persevering to excel.
“There are no shortcuts to change. The only thing one can do is accept that it has happened and figure out how well you can deal with it,” said Shalini.
Reflecting on how changes in her life are very permanent, she found inspiration from these lines from the movie Kung Fu Panda, “What really matters is what you choose to become. And that’s the only choice every single one of us has when it comes to change.”
Her encounter with change at such scale brought her several realisations around the nature of change, mindset, limitations, recovery and growth. Talking about these realisations she shared five learnings to overcome psychological roadblocks, embrace change and attain victory through persistence and perseverance.
“I think the only way I'm here today is because I've been consistent with what I want to do with my life. It's about making sure that I was in practice every single day, even on days I didn't want to. It meant giving up so many things and that was the price I was willing to pay because I wanted that change in my life.”
The journey of growth requires one to show up everyday, especially on days when motivation witnesses a dip.
“You have to be resilient when you're going through it. What you can't change you have to endure,” Shalini added.
Scars are beautiful
Looking back at her progress, Shalini encouraged everyone to look at scars as a mark of strength and not weakness. “I remember for the longest time I hated myself, I couldn't look myself in the mirror. But today I’m confident and I'm okay with my disability. The scars that we have stand for our strength and for us being able to get through it.”
“All of us have scars, whether they're physical or whether they metaphorical but the beauty of scars is that if you're able to share that, if you are able to be vulnerable, it gives others the strength to go back and share their stories with someone else, which only makes the world a better place.”
Being uncomfortable is very important for humans
The fear of failure and disappointment often results in individuals limiting themselves to their comfort zones. But, being alive means being able to go and grow through an uncomfortable life.
“The beauty that you're alive today means that you go through heartbreaks, love, anger, you go through all of that, and that's what makes us better. Nobody gets to lead a more meaningful life if they haven't gone through an uncomfortable life.”
“If I hadn't gone through what I've gone through, I would have never learned that I am more than my body. I'm more than my disability. Being uncomfortable is so important as part of your journey.”
Be inclusive not just diverse
“10% of India's population is disabled, but very few of us have witnessed it up close. How many of us went to schools with other kids with a disability? How many of us had teachers or doctors who had a disability? We don't, and that’s the problem.”.
Talking about how the pandemic has been an eye opener for organisations, Shalini noted how the challenges for organisations that are striving to be more inclusive for people with disabilities is around how they're going to travel to work, how they'll have to change their systems to make accommodation, how they're going to access their laptop with the technology.
“With the pandemic, that is no longer a barrier. Anybody can work from anywhere, which basically meant that this could have happened a long time ago. It didn't happen because we didn't talk about it and we didn't want to do it.”
Now is a great opportunity for organisations to be truly inclusive, Shalini added.
“People with disabilities are the most innovative. They have spent their lives exploring simple innovative solutions to challenges, and that's exactly why you should hire somebody with a disability. They've had to do that all through their life. It's a skill set that they will automatically bring to your organisation.”
The impermanence of life
Highlighting how a majority of the people take time for granted and postpone engaging in meaningful moments for when they have more time, Shalini emphasised impermanence.
“All you have is today. I could drink a glass of water by myself 10 years ago but today I can’t. You don't really control any of those things.What really helped me get through was a bunch of beautiful humans. In the worst time in your life, money is not going to save you. What's going to save you is having people around. It's so important to invest in people and relationships because that's what's going to save you.”
In her closing comments, Shalini quoted Maya Angelou, “It's not about the buildings. It's not about having something fancy that you put your name up on. Your legacy is every life you are able to touch.”