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In high school, Parul Somani ’04 had a clear vision for her career: she planned to be a corporate lawyer for a high-tech company.

Instead, after earning her MIT degree in electrical engineering and computer science, she went into management consulting. Over the next decade, she earned her MBA from Harvard and climbed the ladder at Bain. Then, in 2014, she went looking for a new challenge. She got three: a new job, a new baby, and an aggressive form of breast cancer.

The next few years brought 10 rounds of chemo, four surgeries, some rewarding work experiences, and a layoff. Through it all, Somani learned that she could forge silver linings from her darkest moments—not simply find them.

When she got access to a health-care advice service to manage her treatment, for example, she also used it to find a doctor who was able to restore her father’s hearing. “We couldn’t talk to my dad on the phone for years,” she says. When he had surgery, it was “life changing.”

Somani’s diagnosis also prompted her to push her mother to have prophylactic surgery, since genetic testing had shown she was at risk. A postoperative biopsy revealed that cancer was already present. “That preventive surgery—that we advocated ourselves—literally saved her life,” Somani says.

Next, looking for work that would let her make a positive impact on the world, Somani landed a job at a company focused on democratizing genetic testing. It felt like the perfect fit, so when she was laid off two years later, she was devastated. Then, in September 2019, she shared her cancer story at the opening of a new hospital and remembered how much she’d always loved public speaking: “That was my ‘aha!’ moment.”

A month later, Somani founded Silver Linings, offering her services as a motivational speaker, workshop facilitator, and patient advocate. She knew that what she’d learned could help others. “[These skills] are coachable and learnable and teachable,” she says.

Now Somani empowers audiences—often at Fortune 100 companies, Silicon Valley tech firms, and universities (including MIT)—with a tool kit for embracing change with intention. One lesson she shares is to make tough decisions based on what she calls the “path of least regret”—the tactic she used for choosing among cancer treatment options. “I’m writing a book on this now,” she says. “It’s on how to move through change and make hard decisions to create a more fulfilling life.”

This article also appears in the May/June issue of MIT Alumni News magazine, published by MIT Technology Review.