“I don't think I ever felt real purpose in what I was doing.”
What work were you doing previously?
I used to work at global cosmetics company L'Oréal, leading their digital marketing.
I specifically worked on e-retail media – all of the investments they used to run with the big e-commerce players of the world.
Prior to that I was at Google, also in the digital marketing space.
What are you doing now?
I have just launched my first company, The Human Inspired.
The business is focused on curating transformative and holistic wellness experiences, for specifically women at the moment and my goal is to expand it to all people.
We pair leadership tools with spiritual tools (such as yoga, meditation, energy healing), to help people become better leaders, entrepreneurs and team mates.
We approach wellness from all areas of life – financial, sexual, health, nutrition, spiritual and career. One of the key elements of these experiences is “integration”, how we can incorporate what we learn at the retreat in our daily lives for sustainable and long term changes in our lifestyle.
I saw (and still see) a disconnect between leadership and spirituality; some people see spiritual tools or energy work as woo woo. But I believe that when we do the inner work it only helps us be better leaders and creators.
Why did you change?
I don't think I ever felt real purpose in what I was doing during my old career.
While the ten years I spent in the corporate world gave me immense growth both professionally and personally helping me become who I am today, I innately felt my path was to become an entrepreneur one day.
All my life I’d been in a corporate setting because I was led to believe that this is what success meant. I grew up in a culture where the typical desired path is to go to a good school, then get a secure job at a well-known company, that looks good on your CV/resume.
While I wanted to leave the corporate world, I didn't know what I wanted to do instead.
Once I took the time to reflect and understand what gave me joy, I landed on two things:
1. I wanted to create something that helped people believe in themselves and their inner power to live lives filled with meaning and joy – especially women who are conditioned from a very young age that they are not enough.
2. I wanted to bring the powerful spiritual tools that helped me in my transformation to the corporate world - to enable authentic leadership.
So I decided to take a leap of faith and create something new of my own as I felt that something like this doesn't exist right now.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
It was more a series of moments.
A big one was at the end of 2020 during the pandemic. I’d moved to New York and it was a really crazy time to move there. I decided to travel because nothing was happening in New York at the time due to the pandemic, it was cold, and I wanted to take a couple of weeks to work remotely from a warmer place.
I went to Costa Rica that December and once there, I went to try my first plant medicine. The experience was a very fundamental moment for me in knowing that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and would leave the corporate world.
It took me a couple of months after that to put the pieces together and do the work of figuring out my own ‘ikigai’ (my own reason to be).
Meanwhile, what was supposed to be two weeks of travel turned into six months! It was first time traveling solo for such an extended period and it gave me the chance to reflect and really be honest with myself about what gave me joy.
When I came back to New York to my 9-5 job, back to going in to the office, I just couldn't do it. I didn't want to go back to that lifestyle.
Are you happy with the change?
On my last day at my old job, I walked out of the office with this huge smile on my face. It was a feeling of liberation and the beginning of a new chapter, a moment of celebration because I felt I was finally being true to myself and in turn everyone around me.
It had got to a point at work where I’d felt like I was forcing myself to do the job. It just didn't align with who I was, and every day it felt like a burden of having to go in and fulfill the responsibility of doing my best for the company. So when I left I had so much joy because I felt like it was my path to freedom and exploring what I really wanted to do.
Now that I've launched the company, while it's hard, every day it's what I believe in. My 'why' or reason behind doing this is so strong, so even when it's hard I feel rewarded at the end of the day.
I feel like I'm making progress and impact in the way I want to.
I'm super happy with the decision to make the shift.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I miss the structure a little bit.
With the corporate world you have people holding you accountable, you have meetings set up for you, but with your own business you have to motivate yourself every single day and hold yourself accountable.
I guess on some days I do miss the security, because you know at the end of the month there's a paycheque going into your bank account, irrespective of how the month went.
And I miss the people. There are some exceptional people I got to meet and work with who inspired me as leaders and humans.
But there’s so much that I don’t miss.
I don't miss faking it. I just don't miss the inauthenticity of what comes with the corporate culture. You're constantly having to prove yourself, having to compete, and there's a strong culture of being compared to other people. The corporate definition of success didn’t align with me – it's always about trying to hit goals because your review is coming up and you want a promotion or you want that salary hike.
Even as the most conscious person, it is easy to get lost in the corporate ladder and forget to be empathetic or human. Unfortunately, as it stands today, the bottom line in the corporate world is “productivity” – you’re either a hero or a zero. Every initiative is tied to short-term productivity goals rather than nurturing and developing talent in a balanced way.
How did you go about making the shift?
When I returned from my travels and realised that the job I was in wasn't fully aligned with my values, I tried at first to pivot within the company to find a job that was more aligned with my values.
I looked into diversity & inclusion, and sustainability, but unfortunately there weren't really any openings at that point. I tried for about six months to make that kind of shift.
At the same time I started working with a life and business coach to help me launch my entrepreneurial venture, and to help me get more clarity on what it is that I would launch. At the time I had a large broad idea, but wasn't able to nail it down in terms of what exactly it was going to look like.
After a few months there came a point where I had to make the decision to stay at my role or leave.
I'd already expressed to my manager at the time that the role wasn't making me happy and I was looking to pivot. They asked if I wanted to stay in the job, as it didn’t make sense for me to force myself to stay in it. I had to take the leap of faith of being honest and saying ‘no, it doesn't make sense for me to stay in the role’. I didn't want to be unfair to myself or the company, because they were good to me. They’d given me the opportunity to explore other areas in the company.
So I told them I would leave, and that really accelerated my launching into something new. Because I knew I was leaving, I had to work with my coach to really drill down into what my business would look like and what I would do next.
It took me about two months to come up with the idea of retreats and wellness, along with figuring out the location.
Once I made the decision to leave, there was no looking back, only looking forward to this business idea.
How did you develop (or transfer) the skills you needed for your new role?
Part of my role was upskilling people in what digital marketing is, and how to use it to sell and promote products.
A big part of that was taking something that can seem really complex and breaking it down into really simple steps, and explaining it to people and showing them how it will help them. That is a transferable skill I can use now in terms of when I talk about wellness and why it's important – taking things that might seem complex and breaking them down to easily explain them to people.
Something that the corporate world really taught me was structure. So many times you're asked to create presentations, spreadsheets, to document everything. I used to find that really irritating at one point but in hindsight I can see how it's helped me to structure things for myself now as a business owner.
It really taught me to be able to hold myself accountable, and to have the tools to hold myself accountable. Now I put everything in my calendar so as soon as I wake up I know what I have in my day (it can be easy to lose track of this as an entrepreneur).
What didn't go well? What wrong turns did you take?
Some of the things that I find hard now is how to network and reach out to people without it seeming like I'm just there to sell them something.
I wouldn't say it's gone wrong but it's hard sometimes to strike that balance. As I've recently launched the business I have moments where I do just want to promote and sell because I'm excited.
I also think that as I didn't leave the corporate job having a full fledged plan of how to build a business and I’ve been learning as I go, on some days there's this feeling of 'oh no, I don't know what I’m doing'. Maybe it could have been helpful if I’d taken some more time while I was still at my job to use the contacts and network that I had while I was inside the system, to help me get my business together before I launched.
But I don't think it was necessarily a mistake, rather something I could have done differently.
How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?
A few months before I left my role, I knew I was going to leave at some point in the near future so I started to save.
I came up with a number of how much I’d need to save in order to survive for about six-twelve months, that would cover my necessary bills. I worked towards saving up that amount so I’d have a safety net.
For the business, the way I structured things was to make sure that everything I booked was refundable – the coaches I partnered with, the venue. This gives me the flexibility that if by a certain date the retreat doesn't sell out, I have enough flexibility to back out of everything with at least 90% refund. That takes some of the pressure off.
And lastly I spent time figuring out alternative sources of income. As I'm starting out into this completely new area, I didn’t want this to be my only source of income while I'm building the business. I looked at my existing skills and thought about how I can monetise them.
So I'm still open to consulting and freelancing roles in digital marketing, and also doing freelance work helping people get into business schools. Again, this helps take the pressure off the business launch and having it be my sole means of income.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
Marketing myself all the time.
In a corporate role you're selling something else, which is easier. But now you're selling and marketing yourself all the time, which is difficult for me. I think culturally growing up I was taught not to sell yourself, that it's considered arrogant to talk about your accomplishments all the time.
So the biggest difficulty for me has been to overcome that belief system.
What help did you get?
I worked with a coach.
I can't stress the importance of finding someone who can help you structure your own thoughts, and help you overcome your fears. A lot of the time we tend to judge ourselves so much, we set ourselves really ambitious goals and then when we can't reach them we think of ourselves as failures.
For me it was instrumental in having a coach helping me navigate this path without being too hard on myself.
What have you learnt in the process?
I’ve learnt that when you do things that give you joy, it is so rewarding.
Every day I wake up and feel happy in all areas of my life, not just with my career. I feel light and free, aligned in the way I live, and even with the conversations I have. Making the shift into what I'm doing now, that is aligned with my values, just feels so true and authentic to me.
Another big learning has been around asking. I always used to struggle to ask for help, which was also due to my own conditioning. I didn't want to inconvenience people or burden them.But now I’m realising that if you don't ask, you don't get. People may or may not be willing to help, but at least I know that I've asked for what I need. Sometimes it's amazing the response I get, and how willing people are to help.
I’ve also learnt that the entrepreneurial route is not easy. There's a lot of glamour around it, and hype around leaving your 9-5 to do your own thing. But I think there's no shame in being in a 9-5 job. It's more about looking at your values and really understanding what's right for you. The entrepreneurial path has a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity, so you need to make sure it's what you want.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
For me my career change process really started when I got the Ikigai book (by Héctor García & Francesc Miralles), and also an ikigai journal, so I'd suggest starting there or with something similar.
It's a start to helping you understand what your values are and what it is that gives you joy.
Once you have an inkling of this, act on it. Start somewhere, anywhere! So many times we have an amazing idea but get stuck in our heads and we don't start. As high achievers, we get caught up in perfectionism and end up not starting at all. It’s empowering to remember that even the most successful people started somewhere. They learnt as they went and didn’t just build empires overnight.
See if you can create easy prototypes to test your idea and iterate quickly, or if you can pivot into another role in the same company you’re in. This phase is about discovery and learning each and every day. So don’t lose hope. It’s crucial that you trust the process and trust that inner voice.
The financial element of your shift is important. Money is power, it helps you live the life that you want and is a tool to help you create the impact you want. So take an inventory of where you are spending money, where you can reduce some of that spending, and decide what kind of compromises you’re willing to make for the short term as you move into a new path.
Lastly, believe in yourself. We underestimate our own potential a lot of times. The inner voice you have is there for a reason.
To find out more about Neha’s business, visit www.thehumaninspired.com
What lessons could you take from Neha's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.