We had the good fortune of connecting with Rubina Ali & Neelam Damani and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rubina Ali & Neelam Damani, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
Work five days a week with two days off. No work after 6pm. Lots of time for family and friends. Something like that. At least that was our definition of a work-life balance when my sister and I launched Roots in Harmony, our herbal tea business. Yes we know, not very practical for a startup, but we had heard too many horror stories about entrepreneurs working around the clock, focused on business success, with little time for family. No way, weren’t going to be another casualty to that lifestyle. Even though we grew up in a traditional South Asian family with great emphasis on owning a business, we resisted the pressure. My sister Rubina pursued a degree in Biology and I earned a degree in Education. But after years of resisting, something shifted in our 40’s. Instead of letting others dictate our lives, we wanted to be in charge of our days. We both loved drinking tea and the idea of sharing our favorite blends with others filled us with so much excitement. So we finally started a business, but we were going to do things differently: we were not going to work after 6pm, no way! Well, that turned out to be a short-lived fantasy. There was lots of complaining, annoyed conversations, agitation and angry monologues. But after the storm came the calm. We learned some important lessons about work-life balance and would love to share them with you:
1. Embrace flexibility. We don’t ever have a day off; yet, every day feels like a day off. We choose and prioritize our work daily, and there’s freedom in that. A workday can be two hours when we need to research a blend or ten hours when we have a farmers market. Letting go of the “days off” mentality, and finding “hours off” daily helps us stay sane. Each day is different, unpredictable and always new.
2. I used to listen to my boss; now I listen to my mind and body. We work when we feel good, and take a break when we don’t. It’s that simple. When we’re full of good, positive energy, things get done. In a business there’s always work that we might not like, but that’s when we take a break and start with a fresh mind. It’s an opportunity to grow, reflect and reevaluate our goals.
3. Put people first, without guilt. We’ve always valued our time with family and friends, but it used to come with guilt. “I’m not being productive, I should be doing XYZ” or “XYZ is due tomorrow.” Yes, there are still deadlines and due dates, but the luxury of being our own boss gives us choice. We get to structure our days where family gatherings and time with our kids comes first, and then work. When we’re happy, we get more done!
4. Take mental wellness days. Especially with the covid pandemic, we have taken time off for mental wellness. We’ve learned the true value of self-care and making time for ourselves. Simple things such as taking walks, doing yoga, family skype calls, running, lots of meditation and tea helps. Acknowledging our state of mind and putting our well-being first allows us to be ready when we return to work.
5. There’s a time for everything. Time is not ours to control and we must surrender to the universe. That doesn’t mean avoid planning, but accepting that plans may change. In January, my sister and I met at a coffee shop and created goals for 2020, month by month. And then came the pandemic and our business suffered a major setback. But things will get done when the time is right. So we work with patience, and do what’s possible today.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
At Roots in Harmony, we hand-craft Ayurvedic herbal teas and natural remedies, using certified organic herbs and hand-roasted spices. Our business is run by two sisters, Rubina and Neelam, with lots of support from our family. We strongly believe in natural ingredients, so we never add sweeteners or artificial flavors to our products. Each blend supports health benefits such as improving digestion, promoting female health and increasing energy. We sell our products online at www.roots-harmony.com and at local farmer’s markets. Our products are also available at coffee shops, restaurants, cafes and co-ops in Houston. When possible, we love leading classes for children and adults, teaching about Ayurveda and gut-healing herbs.
For those who may be unfamiliar, Ayurveda is the sister science of Yoga, a 5,000 year old mind-body science about bringing balance to one’s life. Ayurveda teaches that all imbalances start in the gut. With poor digestion, incoming food isn’t processed fully, and turns into undigested substance called Ama. Healthy herbs and spices help eliminate Ama, leading to better health, better metabolism and healthy weight. We feel so fortunate to be able to share Ayurvedic remedies with our fellow Houstonians.
Launching a business without a business background, however, was definitely a steep learning curve. Our small budget and desire to DIY everything meant late nights watching “how-to” videos, tons of research, and long hold times with government agencies. But the reward and savings were worth it. Doing everything ourselves – from packaging, label design, website launch, printing, marketing, taxes – we have learned so much on this journey, and continue to grow every single day! Our advice to anyone wanting to start a business would be – start small, but start. You will learn more by doing than through research. Just begin and the rest will fall in place.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Well, first off, we would urge our friend to visit every farmers market possible! Not only will they support small businesses like ours, but also learn the local culture and vibe of the city. In this coronavirus era, we would definitely recommend virtual visits to local museums, many of whom have fantastic virtual galleries and even host online workshops such as the Menil Museum and Jung Center. A meditation or virtual retreat at the Houston Zen Center would be a treat and so would a yoga class at Yoga Works Midtown. Exploring the trails (and saying hello to a few alligators) at Brazos Bend would be highly recommended, followed by a delicious take-out dinner at Shiv Sagar in South Houston.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
We dedicate every ounce of success to our family. Without their love, support, candid feedback and guidance, we wouldn’t be here. They help with purchasing, accounting, inventory, manning farmers markets, labeling, cutting ribbons, organizing – you name it! And they do every bit of it with so much love. We feel truly blessed!
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