Rising Through Resilience: Akhila Satish of Meseekna On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Push your limits: Constantly consider taking a chance on things that you would normally say “no” to. That could be something small, like speaking up during an all hands meeting or taking a bigger risk and changing jobs, but either way you’ll teach yourself to lean into discomfort and thrive in the uncertain.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Akhila Satish.

Akhila Satish is the CEO of Meseekna where she leads a team of diverse backgrounds and skill sets on a mission to assess, train, and educate individuals on the power of their metacognition (their “how” of thinking). Akhila is an inaugural member of the Forbes Next 1000 entrepreneurial list, as well as the visionary behind the Fast Company “World Changing Idea” honor in 2021 for Meseekna’s ChoiceIQ app. Akhila’s expertise as a scientist and career expert has been featured in Forbes, Fortune, CNBC, NPR, and Business Insider, among others.

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?

At the age of eight I knew I wanted to be a scientist, which eventually led me to receive my Bachelor of Science in neuroscience with honors from the University of Michigan and my graduate degree in biotechnology from the University of Pennsylvania. At the same time, I loved the entrepreneurial experience and journey. At nineteen, I founded my first company, CyberDoctor, a healthcare communications company which was the first company to run a successful clinical trial on a digital therapeutic for diabetes. I went on to study business formally at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, and am now the CEO of Meseekna which helps teams at top organizations, like the Department of Defense and Credit Suisse, learn how to make better decisions with the help of 60+ years of research and 500+ peer-reviewed studies on metacognition (the “how” of thinking).

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?

One of my first jobs out of college was working in a lab with zebrafish where I was tasked with crossing the male and female fish, and coming back for embryos the next day. Telling the fish apart by their sex isn’t as easy as one might expect, so I played the odds and set up eight tanks with the hopes that I’d be able to get some embryos. Proud of the creativity and resilience of that setup, I returned in the early morning eager to continue the project. However, once I arrived I realized I had been so distracted by the actual experiment that I had forgotten the code to get back into the lab. I stood outside trying every single code possible until finally one worked, and I was able to get inside the lab and see that my experiment was successful. When I reflect on it now, I realize that that experience was also a greater building block in understanding my own resilience, especially within the scientific field. It wouldn’t be the last time I had to be patient and creative within the scientific process, but it’s certainly one that sticks out in my memory!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Meseekna has a clear mission of “creating a better world through better decisions.” It inspires our team every day in our personal and professional lives. Diving so deeply into decision making on a daily basis creates an incredibly mindful and self-aware culture that I am incredibly proud of. That’s what leads us to create products like our Decision Making Performance Index — a thirty minute online simulation assessing decision making that we believe can transform hiring and recruiting processes to be more quantifiable and bias-free. It’s a bold and big idea that came directly from our mission and leads with our science first philosophy.

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 couldn’t begin to count the people I am grateful for…from my family and friends, to my teachers and mentors. I am where I am and am who I am because of the people I have been lucky enough to have in my life. As an entrepreneur, you are often told to seek a river guide, someone who will help you navigate the highs and lows of the startup journey. For me, I was incredibly fortunate to be born with a river guide by my side — my uncle. He was an entrepreneur in the cyber security space and had seen it all. He was my biggest cheerleader and most candid confidant. I was devastated when he passed away earlier this year during the pandemic. Like many others who have lost loved ones this past year, I am grieving while deeply grateful for the love that I have been blessed with. I know my journey in entrepreneurship has, in many ways, reflected my uncle’s influence and guidance in my life — and will continue to do so.

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?

I think there’s a common misconception that resilience is a skill you only utilize when times are particularly tough, or when you’re dealing with a certain level of trauma. Resilience to me can be more permanent — it can be staying on top of your productivity when your days always follow the same schedule, or sticking with a long term project. Resilience is more about recognizing your greater journey and committing to pursuing your dreams through the tough and tedious moments. While resilience is useful in those moments of hardship, resilience is truly fostered and cultivated in your day-to-day.

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

I love reading, and I frequently read biographies. I often find incredible stories of resilience within the biographies — and tips to achieve resilience! For example, Scott Kelly’s Endurance is about his year in space. He describes how a year can seem like an incredibly long time, and explains his hack for counting days up, rather than days down. By counting up days, he was able to maintain a sense of achievement and purpose. I think this is a perfect way to describe resilience — resilience means giving ourselves more knowledge every day and always working towards learning the next thing. I also recently completed The Happiest Man On Earth, by Eddie Jaku, about surviving Auschwitz. I highly recommend it — it is a beautiful, inspiring read on what really matters and of course, a story of unbelievable resilience and hope. He focuses a great deal on the cultivation and strength of friendship, which can be a powerful component of resilience.

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?

The truth is that I have always listened when someone told me something might be impossible for me. Because as painful and difficult as it may be to hear that, it is also incredibly valuable to understand why they may think it is impossible. After you know why they think it’s impossible, you can decide if you want to pursue it anyway, and how to proceed in a way that will reduce the probability of failure. You can’t mitigate the risk of failure unless you know where that failure may come from. The naysayers are often your biggest helpers! In terms of specific stories, I’ll say that my basketball coach told me that I might not want to consider an athletic career, and my science teacher told me I might not want to pursue a scientific career. I chose to listen to both, but in one case, I invested the hard work and extra effort to make my dreams a reality — in the other, thankfully, I took their advice!

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 view of resilience — we are perpetually in motion, pushing forward, stumbling back, and moving forward again. In the arc of our journeys, we can aim to push forward and stumble back in new ways, developing grit and acquiring knowledge along the way. Currently, I feel good about how Meseekna has grown through the pandemic, how my team has demonstrated resilience and growth, and where we are headed in 2021. So, it’s a good moment to acknowledge resilience — the activities and support systems we built that brought us this far.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

While a specific experience doesn’t come to mind, I do credit my parents with modeling resilience to me all throughout my childhood. One of the best ways to learn resilience is through seeing others display those qualities, and I appreciate my parents’ ability to reframe difficult moments as part of a greater journey in my own personal growth. For them, they did an incredible job at acknowledging setbacks not as failures or moments to give up, but rather as an opportunity to learn in the future. They taught me to not think so linearly, and that’s been an integral part in fostering my own personal resilience as an adult.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient?

  1. Push your limits: Constantly consider taking a chance on things that you would normally say “no” to. That could be something small, like speaking up during an all hands meeting or taking a bigger risk and changing jobs, but either way you’ll teach yourself to lean into discomfort and thrive in the uncertain.
  2. Surround yourself with inspiration: Surround yourself with things that give you hope, strength, and positivity so they can serve as a supportive reminder when times get a little tough. Whether that’s a physical person who serves as a cheerleader for your accomplishments, a monthly conversation with a mentor, or even a framed photo on your desk of a loved one, surround yourself with daily reminders of what motivates you.
  3. Use humor to your advantage: It’s important to learn how to reframe difficult situations with the help of humor. Humor helps you avoid dwelling on something negative and teaches you to learn that there’s always a silver lining to every challenge you face. It may be as simple as learning to laugh at yourself after making a silly mistake at work, but it will help you hone in on building blocks to resilience in the long run nonetheless.
  4. Embrace all your successes: Reward yourself for successes, big or small. If you checked off a handful of tasks from your to-do list try rewarding yourself with a coffee break or a moment to close your laptop and refresh. Embracing all your wins means that you don’t fixate on one big goal, but rather on the small steps to get you there. Remember, resilience can and should be an every day practice.
  5. Accept change: It sounds simple, but practice leaning into and embracing change. If you can’t get past changes, then you’re going to ruminate on what was, which will hinder your resilience long term. Being resilient means understanding that changes don’t define your success, and that the way you navigate changes is the biggest indicator of your future success. Getting a new assignment or moving on from a position might be tough at first, but it’s all part of your greater growth.

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 would love to make metacognitive practices more common in our conversations about resilience and managing uncertainty in our lives, especially within the context of the pandemic and this past year and a half. I would guess that every single person in the world experienced pandemic related stress at one point or another, and being able to process those emotions more constructively through metacognition is an incredible way to build your own personal resilience even amidst difficult times. Plus, understanding the root cause of your stress through metacognition can help you establish mechanisms to better manage those feelings. Metacognition is an effective, yet undervalued, tool to handle the way your brain makes decisions, and I’d love to make it more common in people’s day-to-day resilience efforts.

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 🙂

We all have that list of people we would love to connect with. I personally love starting conversations with other people who have thought deeply about metacognition and decision making. In particular, right now, I am excited about speaking to luminaries and thought leaders in the human resources and people management areas. I also enjoy speaking with young girls beginning careers in the sciences, or entrepreneurs building science first companies as I am a passionate advocate for scientific literacy. You can reach out through social media- I frequently check my Twitter and LinkedIn messages.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@AkhilaSatish on Twitter and Medium

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

Rising Through Resilience: Akhila Satish of Meseekna On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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