Anu Vaidyanathan is the first Indian to qualify for the Half Ironman World Championships and the first Asian to compete and finish Ultraman, a three-day triathlon stage race comprising a 10K swim, 420K bike ride and an 84.4K run. Besides being a sportswoman, Anu is also an entrepreneur and runs her own intellectual property firm called PatNMarks.
Here’s what makes her story special –
My childhood was very idyllic. It was probably the best time to be a child in Bangalore because there were still trees around and there weren’t so many super malls. The roads were safe, and we would even come back biking, there being no safety concern as such on the roads. I would say my childhood on 1 to 10 would be rated 15!
My initial childhood was spent in rural Tamil Nadu with an aunt who took care of me because my mother was a big career woman herself. I would say my relationship with nature is long-term it was not something that started yesterday.
The single most quality from my childhood that I carry even to this day is the nomadicity. We had lived in almost three or four towns by the time I was five. It was a function of having a career woman for a mother, it was a function of her having started a small business, and it was a function of seeing how much resilience that generation brought in. They were not like us — today we have a lot more options, we can choose not to cook at home, our husbands are understanding, our in-laws are understanding, not in all cases though.
I am always happy to be on the move and to meet people and hear their stories and sort of accumulate some sort of experience pool for myself. If you are receptive you can avoid the most obvious mistakes in whatever it is that you are doing.
Sports and entrepreneurship
I love running my company in the best way and manner that I can, and creating value for my customers. We are a small team. We will never be a multi-million dollar business, that was never the goal. The second thing that is very close to my heart is sport. That is a big part of who I am, and how I define my identity. I would say that new experiences keep me motivated. Even when I started teaching three years ago, that was a completely new experience for me, understanding how children think was very new for me. Be it sport or be it entrepreneurship or be it teaching it has to be something different over a period of time, it can’t be the same thing. Change I would say keeps me going.
In school there were regular PT and march pasts, but what I loved was biking to school. Once in a while I acknowledge that it took some amount of stupidity and complete oblivion to the odds to be a sportswoman. I think it has been a gratifying and adventurous journey. At the same time, I am not going to paint the picture of how women are the most empowered people on the planet, we are not. We have lots of issues to deal with on a day-day basis, we are one of the most hard working nations in the world, yet when you compare the quality of life or health, we are not quite there.
Sport for me has been a great journey and it has taught me a lot about myself over and over and over again, and as long as I can do it sustainably, I don’t see a reason to stop.
My biggest high
My biggest high has been meeting my partner. I think he is a reasonable person who encourages me to be who I want to be. I get asked a lot about the quality in spouse that lets ambitious women go ahead. And I think it is mostly not getting in the way. I think men have to be very secure to not get in the way. Other high is every time my customer gets something done from us which really sets them apart in the market.
It is also watching my parents take a step back and enjoy doing things that they always wanted to. For example, I do gardening with my mother, and with my dad I take long walks which we now have the time to take. I think it is just these small things that define my highs.
I have always said that you can’t have everything at every point in time, and if anybody says that to you, you really need to think about what they are saying. I have my periods of focus, when I am preparing for a competition six months ahead. During this time I don’t do anything else. Not even meet clients. The other six months is usually about work, and trying to figure out a client’s long term strategy etc. It is more regimented that way, you have to play a game in terms of how you manage your priorities. When you have family, and later on if you have the privilege of having kids, you constantly get to question who you are in various contexts. You have to understand that there is no magic potion in life, if you have to be excellent at anything, you have to jump off an edge and really fall, you can’t hold on to a secure job and expect everything to come to you, that rarely happens. Being a woman is fun and challenging, and I love multi-tasking.
In terms of time management, I have strict priorities, I have always said that it is not sports that got me accolades, it is discipline. You have to keep that separation clear in your head.
I don’t balance things really well, I freak out, but I don’t show it. I manage my priorities really well.
As far as discipline is concerned it is a long-term habit, it is not something that you can cultivate overnight, even if it is simple things like gardening, you have to water the plants every day, you can’t let them be.
Discipline has to come from a very young age and it is really the simple things like respect, lay the table, clean the table, if you are staying with your parents past 21, pay the rent, do something — not take everything for granted. And since I had such tough parents, if you didn’t do something you were going to be told. They never said it from a point of authority but from a point of mutual respect. They would say, ‘if you do these two-three things you will make my life better, and I hope you can understand that.’ They have always dealt with us like adults, they never looked down upon us or there was never pressure to score more than 85% and so on.
I would say keep it very real. As I said it is not always about the 100cr blockbuster, it is tons of latitude in terms of what kind of business one can build. See entrepreneurship for what it is, go for it if you have the stomach for it and if you are creating value and enjoying it, by all means do it, but don’t define yourself by comparing yourself with others, define yourself within your parameters. It is never always about Facebook and Youtube, I find success in a lot of smaller entrepreneurs who have sustained, and stayed in business for 20 years, and if you go to their office they will give you a glass of water. I don’t see those kinds of ethics scale up.
Keep it real, keep it ethical, try very hard to create value that is sustainable, and never look for glory.