A Working Mother Makes A Big Difference In A Child’s Life
I am a nutritionist by profession with an experience of 18 years working with hospitals and corporates. On the personal front, I have been married for the last 16 years to a doctor and blessed with a lovely boy who is 8 years old.
There are varied roles I play - entrepreneur, counsellor, teacher, mother, wife and a homemaker - constantly multitasking to ensure that I do justice to each of these roles.
How did you decide to take the entrepreneurial plunge?
Nothing in my life has happened by accident, it is divinely orchestrated as a part of the plan and I have just been going with the flow. I was very happy with a 9 to 5 job and the financial security it gave me, but as fate would have it, God had other plans for me. The company I was working with was a startup and wasn’t doing well. The directors decided to shut shop and I wasn’t sure if I should take up another job or do something on my own. After consulting my husband and a few of my friends, I decided to start become an entrepreneur.
Gathering rich experiences and learnings through my working career of 13 years, I started my own venture ‘Nurture Health Solutions’ (NHS) in 2013, with the objective of helping people transform and adapt to a healthy lifestyle. Nurture Health Solutions is a true health and well-being company offering niche comprehensive Health & Wellness solutions to corporates and individuals.
We work with leading Corporate Houses, Pharmaceuticals, Nutraceuticals, Hospitals, Educational Institutes, Government bodies, and Individuals in India and overseas offering services in the health and wellness space. Our retail clients include CXO’s, Industrialists, Celebrities, Corporate Executives, homemakers and children.
In a short time span, NHS has touched more than ten thousand lives through our health coach programs, having worked with reputed multinational companies both in India and overseas. Our dynamic and passionate team at NHS has successfully helped motivate thousands of people to achieve their health goals.
Why a Nutritionist?
As far as I remember, I was always an obese kid and teenager. My parents were both working and they compensated their absence by getting us all the unhealthy food we demanded. I wanted to pursue medicine but lost my father and maternal grandmother a few days prior to my 12th standard results. It was a huge blow to the family, especially my mother, who had a 17-year-old and a 12-year-old daughter to take care of. I had no choice but to take admission in the science stream.
I remember my first class in senior college where we had a combined chemistry class. The professor was asking questions, pointed out to me and called me a ‘fatty acid’. I did not realize that he was referring to me. He looked in my direction and said, “It’s you I am speaking to. Don’t you know you are the fattest girl in this college?” That was it, tears started rolling down my eyes.
I was already emotionally low with the personal loss at home, and I felt very humiliated and hurt to be trolled about my weight in class. I decided to drop out of college. But my mother sat me down and counselled me about losing weight rather than ruining my career. I had also developed health issues due to my weight.
From then on, I took a challenge to lose weight, ate healthy and walked everywhere possible. I lost 27 kg in less than a year and enjoyed all the adulation that came my way. With the transformation, I felt fitter, healthier and confident - that’s when I decided to pursue nutrition and help people.
Why do you think it’s important for women to work?
We have an all-women dynamic team who are constantly striving to make a difference in people’s lives and working towards building a healthy nation. We also offer work from home and part-time positions to nutritionists who cannot come to the office or work full time.
Unfortunately in India, especially in some communities, a girl is not allowed to work full time as she may not get a good marriage proposal; or she has to give up her career after marriage and kids, often leaving her dreams unfulfilled, leaving her dependent on the spouse and in-laws for financial support. It pains me to see a woman having to sacrifice her aspirations and career because of family and societal pressure.
My father passed away when I was 17 and my sister was 12. It is only because my mother was working that we could enjoy a comfortable life and education, which helped us become what we are today. I strongly feel women must work as I believe that work, however small, gives a woman her much needed financial independence, emotional wellbeing and also an identity of her own.
We, women, need to support each other and strive towards making women more socially and economically independent.
What are the challenges you have faced as an entrepreneur? How did you overcome those?
When I commenced my journey, I was starting from scratch and had no idea where I was heading. With a job, one is used to a fixed income coming every month. But here I was, setting up a company which required finances and that meant exhausting my savings with no surety of returns.
At one point, I was contemplating taking up a job as I had very lucrative offers coming my way and was worried about draining my savings. At that point, a close work associate told me to give it one year and that if I don’t succeed, I can always get back to the corporate world.
That gave me a lot of confidence. I then focused on making things work and was ready to take on any challenges that came my way. To my surprise, help came from unknown quarters. Fortunately, during my journey, I met some great people who believed in me, motivated and pushed me to explore my potential and helped me grow personally and professionally. Today, they feature in my set of loyal clients and friends.
Not coming from a business background, there was so much to learn - from meeting the clients, making a proposal, negotiations, drafting a contract, executing as per expectations, raising an invoice - which was very unnerving initially, but today I feel very proud that I learnt so much along the way.
It is the sheer determination to succeed, to put in hard work and the never give up attitude that has helped me reach where I am today.
I am a self-motivated and an extremely optimistic individual. Over the years, I have learnt not to let failures bog me down but to accept them as learnings and move on.
If I look back at my initial days of NHS, It was my husband who stood by me like a rock. I had to travel extensively in the first couple of years to set up the business, for which I got all the support from him. I had to set up the office which meant paying overheads like rent, salaries, etc. I also had EMIs and other financial commitments to take care of. He would deposit a certain amount every month in my account to make sure I did not feel the pressure and could focus on work.
One word of advice that I always give my friends who wish to walk my path is that you need to have a strong financial backup. Money may not come easily in the first few years. It requires tremendous hard work, focus, patience, conviction, resilience and faith to be an entrepreneur. We need to stay focused on our goal and not give up, no matter what challenges come our way. Whenever there are disappointments and delays or when things don’t go like how I would like them to go, I tell myself, “Patience is the name of the game.”
Have you created a circle of support at work and at home?
I realised early on that if I have to work without any stress, I need to create a strong support system at home in my absence. I have employed full time and part time help who ensure the home runs smoothly and that my son is well taken care of. They both are incredible women who are breadwinners for their family. I feel privileged in a way because we can create employment opportunities for women who need it the most.
My husband and I plan our travel in such a way that one of us is always home with my son. I make sure to organize and plan my son’s clothes, books and leave instructions for my maid and driver for the entire time that I am travelling. Thanks to technology, life has become easy. I coordinate with his teachers/coaches on WhatsApp and sometimes we do our homework/assignments over skype.
My team at work has been my biggest strength. I am really fortunate to have women on my team who are equally passionate and self-driven. They are my strength. We support and bring out the best in each other.
Do you think having a working mother makes a difference in the child’s life?
Absolutely. I am my son’s role model and he feels so proud every time he watches me on TV, in a magazine or when I get a trophy or a memento home. I believe if he sees me work, he will respect a working woman and encourage her to work.
There is a published study which shows that kids of working mothers do much better and are more independent. I always tell mothers not to feel guilty about working and not being with kids at all times. Believe me, quality time is better than quantity time.
Why do you strongly feel that every woman should try a hand at working, at least once?
When a woman moves out of the home, she has a broader perspective of life. Often I have seen, that if a woman is sitting at home against her choice, she gets extremely frustrated and this leads to friction and constant fights with husband and in-laws at home.
If you observe, women have a great knack for networking and creating those special bonds with others that can help them become successful entrepreneurs. Today, thanks to technology, there is so much a woman can do just by starting something small from home. This will not only give her the much needed financial independence, emotional wellbeing but also create an identity of her own.
What are your thoughts on gender equality?
As much as we would like to believe, it isn’t an equal world yet. A woman, no matter what position she holds, she’s still responsible for the home and kids. She has to work really hard and multitasks to ensure that things are in order. It can get extremely challenging managing both, often urging the woman to rethink about her life choices.
Honestly, striking a balance between work and personal life is difficult but I’m trying my best. As women, however hard you try, you can never really strike the right balance. What I have learnt over the years is that it is important to draw boundaries and set time for work, family and some ‘ME’ time to keep you balanced, fresh and avoid a burnout. We have to work around the clock ensuring that we utilize time effectively.
The key is to prioritize, organize, delegate and not micro-manage.
Any piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Gather some experience before you take the leap to become an entrepreneur.
Dream big, start slow and stay focused on your goal.
Do not give up, no matter what challenges come your way. They are temporary and you shall surely overcome it.
If you sow the seeds of hard work today, you shall definitely reap the fruits of success in the next two to three years.
Realize that having your own business will take a lot of hard work and you may often end up burning the midnight oil. You will have to put in more hours in your own business than a regular job at the office but trust me, it will be worth it.
Invest your money wisely. Do not get overambitious, take one step at a time. You can start from home initially. Do not spend too much on overheads.
Avoid getting into partnerships with friends and family.
Take smart risks, revisit your business model on a regular basis, make the necessary tweaks as and when required and then expand. This way you will make lesser losses.
Learn to accept failure. Retrospect, learn from your mistakes and be quick to make changes.
Be ready to take criticism and feedback from clients, as that will only help your business prosper.
Most importantly, exhibit professionalism at all times.
Remember - When you focus on problems you will have more problems. When you focus on possibilities, you will have more opportunities.
Sheryl Salis is the Founder and Director of Nurture Health Solutions. She has written the food guide for Mumbai titled "Your Family Guide to Healthy Eating and Living" available for all on the MCGM (govt) website. She also appears on "The Health Magazine" show as an expert nutritionist on the FOOD FOOD channel.
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