Seeing her parents suffer from cancer, Dr. Neeta Bhushan stopped being a kid when she was 10. Learn how she was able to let go of her knapsack of hope and start a journey of freedom, courage and compassion. Stepping in to greatness amidst adversity is a feat anyone can master and Dr. Neeta will give you the key elements to climb your mountains and find your summit.
We’ve got a remarkable spirit and her name is Dr. Neeta Bhushan. She is an emotional health educator and performance coach. She is a person that grew up in Chicago in a family, and she had her mother, her father and her younger brother all die within about three years and a half. All the expectations upon her to become a dentist, all the expectations for her to be the main caretaker once her mom died, she was the first person to die in that chain of awful events. Then she got into a very unhealthy abusive marriage which she had to get out of. This girl has been through everything and she is just a bright light that comes through. What she does now is help people in terms of their businesses, trying to find their way, their happiness. She’s been in over 45 different countries and mentors people all over. Just a great back and forth dialogue with Neeta and what she went through and how she dealt with that. It’s a happy story at the very end and she’s in a great spot. She has a saying called “Step into your greatness.” That’s what we did. We talked about her greatness, about the things that she’s doing for other people around the world.
Listen to the podcast here:
Dr. Neeta Bhushan Author of Emotional Grit, on Going on a Journey to Find Yourself and Stepping into Greatness.
This is a very interesting guest, Neeta Bhushan. She is an emotional health educator and performance coach. This is what I love and this is where I want to get to right now, you’ve got this tagline that I found called “Step into your greatness.” Neeta, let’s step into your greatness and let’s understand where you’re from, what happened. You’ve got some incredibly heavy stuff that we’re going to get into. We’ll go as deep as you want to go on these different stuff. Neeta, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Mark. It’ so amazing to be on the show. My lovely greatness journey started back in Chicago, born and raised in the mid-West, and that lovely name that you introduced, that’s Indian. Both of my parents were immigrants and I was first generation born. My dad was from India and my mom was from the Philippines. They had me, along with my two younger brothers, and we started our early life in the city of Chicago. North side, Cubs fan. The windy city.
The windy and cold city, right?
Yes. It’s no wonder that I’ve now shifted to California.
Part of your whole background is you’re obviously a very smart girl. You went to school. Where did you go to college?
I went to Loyola University. I did Loyola University for undergrad. For professional school I went to UIC which is the only state school for dental school. Most of my early life has actually been marked by resilience. As a Filipino-Indian girl, as an Asian woman, growing up with immigrant parents, you have all of these expectations and these things that are expected for you, these obligations that you have that you have no choice.
Like what? Tell me what.
You’re a dad so you probably get this with your daughters. I wasn’t allowed to date. There’s no such thing as dating because boys don’t really exist. My dad’s like you can’t even talk about boys in the house. That’s one. Two, it was bring home nothing less than an A. For my family, my father’s roots and lineage comes from a very political background in India and my grandfather was like Head of UNICEF and traveled a lot even back in the day. My mother’s side, they were all pageant queens. My grandmother, great grandmother, all of my aunts and everybody, they were all pageant queens. My dad is all about legacy and education and my mom is everything is perfect. That was like a nice mix and a perfect storm for over achievement and expectations of greatness.
How did that make you feel?
When I was younger, I didn’t really understand the gravity of it. You don’t know anything else. You don’t know how else not to get As because if you don’t then you start learning at a young age that that’s the only way you get validation from your parents. You bring home the trophies from all of the piano competitions that you won. You bring home all of the accolades, the medals that you get from whatever you’re doing, and all of the awards. You’re constantly in this achieving mode. It sets you up for either a bust or a burnout as I’ve seen in my young years. Things changed because during my adolescence, for a period of four years, I lost more people than some would lose in their lifetime in the span of those four years. It started out with my mother.
How old were you at this time?
I was ten when my mom got diagnosed with breast cancer. For a Filipino-Indian household, when the dad is traditional Indian and my mother was sick in the hospital, I had to assume all the duties of the house. I had to take care of my two younger brothers, take care of my dad, cook, clean. I was making nice meals at the time. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I needed to be that for the family. That was just a given. Then when my mom lost the battle with cancer, she passed when I was sixteen, that’s when it really hit because then it was like we not only have to keep up with the Joneses, because my parents are trying to keep up this idea for the world that we’ve immigrated here and we’re going to have our kids go to all of these amazing schools but we’re also going to drive fancy cars and all these things. It just hit my dad and of course the entire family. It was a rough time.
What I hear you saying is that you’re trying to keep up with the Joneses and at the same time you’re trying to grieve for your mother. Thrown into all this is now you probably were expected to either become or maintain that female role within the household which was your mother’s role. Now, you’re a kid, you’re sixteen years old.
No concerts for me at sixteen. I was working three jobs and going to high school. Of course, me being rebellious, boyfriends and all of these things, there’s no way that I could actually cope. I didn’t know what normal was. A year later, my younger brother, who’s only sixteen months younger than me, just suddenly collapsed outside of his school. He had an asthma attack. That was immediately a year after my mother passed away, and it was actually on my youngest brother’s twelfth birthday. I still get choked up about it because it was just a few weeks ago actually we were celebrating my now brother’s 30th birthday. It was two tragedies in one year.
Did your brother who had a collapsed lung from asthma end up passing away? Is that what I understood?
Yeah, he died.
He died right away. He actually died in the ambulance. That was a huge shock. He wasn’t in sports or anything like that. It was around that time where a lot of people were just falling and having these traumatic instances where they’re either football players or basketball players and they’re having an asthma attack. His was one of those earlier cases. For an immigrant parent who had just lost his wife a year ago, it was a total disaster for my father. The grief of a parent is so vivid. Not only as an Indian male, because it’s almost taboo to be a widow as an Indian male. You’re almost ousted in society, and then on top of that you lose your son. A lot of people just didn’t really know how to pay condolences or actually add support. They didn’t even know what to say. Of course then you get isolated. Luckily we had tremendous amount of family support. We have a lot of people from my mom’s side and my dad’s side that actually live in Chicago. It was very rough for some time and sent my dad to bury deep depression where then I became a mother at that point for my youngest brother, and my dad.
I can’t even imagine the amount of dynamics that you had going on when you start looking at all the different layers. You’ve got a parent looking down on his wife has just passed away a year earlier, and now his youngest son has passed away, and then his identity in terms of the whole culture. We flip-flop that and insert you into the picture. You just lost a brother, you’ve lost a mother, and you just can’t be a kid. How did you process this stuff?
I didn’t. The only thing that I knew how was achieve because achievements took me out of the pain. Achievement had me distracted. In achievement, I knew that I would make my father happy. That’s all I knew. Happiness was making others happy. That would put a smile on his face.
Was that a challenge? Because what you just said earlier is about your dad going into this depression? You have two different dynamics going on. You’re trying to be the alpha dog, so to speak, in the family and you’re this high achiever and you get great grades and in other things that you were doing, and your dad was going down in a spiral.
Yeah. The only thing that I knew was let’s be this perfect daughter, this ideal, to try to see if we can actually lift him up because that’s all I knew how to do up until that point. That’s all that I knew. It’s almost like, how bad can things actually get? When my brother passed away it was my senior year of high school. It was actually during homecoming. I remember vividly we were supposed to meet that evening and we just didn’t. It changes your world view in so many ways because here I am finally going to get a taste of freedom for the first time in my life, and another one just hits. All of those ivy league schools that I had applied to and gotten in, there’s no way that I was going to actually go elsewhere. I couldn’t leave Chicago. For me, I felt trapped. I felt that at least I can try to make my father happy here.
Now that I teach it, you have the growth mind-set. When the pain is so thick, you’re just trying to run out of it, run outside of the pain, not away from it but literally get yourself out of the hole. That was the period of time when I was taking care of my youngest brother who was twelve at the time. Two years later, we basically get another phone call. My dad was having a routine medical checkup and they found a tumor in his lung. They said that he had seven months to live. He passed away nine months later. He had lung cancer, stage four. As soon as we got the diagnosis, because mind you these are the same doctors that diagnosed my mother. I t’s like we grew up with this whole team, and me as very rebellious, now I’m close to nineteen, I’m like, “There’s no way.” This is now anger coming out of me, what is going on? My father was in such disbelief. He didn’t believe anything. That was fast. At nineteen, I lost my mother, my brother, and my father, and we were orphans.
Now you’re standing there with just yourself and your other brother. What happens then?
Dental school. Not at that point, I was a junior in college. It’s a weird feeling. For those of you who’s ever lost parents or somebody, sudden loss is obviously very, very different and very real. Loss from a disease where you see them perish, you see them not being able to breathe, you see all the sores on their bottoms, and you see how they go into a vegetable or you see their health deteriorate. I saw all that from the age of ten to nineteen actually. Of course at the time I may have felt bad about it, but in some ways it’s like I can breathe. It’s not this sadness, this cloud that’s been consistently over my head where I have to deal with all of these situations that I don’t create here in my lap and I have no choice into the thick of it.
That had me set up for two things. That had me set up for this mind-set where I don’t want anybody to feel bad for us or to feel pity for us. I didn’t want anybody to feel that way so I was trucking and I was charging through. It was almost like I took my little brother under my arm and went through a long tunnel. At the end of the long tunnel for me at that point was I’m going to be a dentist because one of my side jobs was working for a dentist for six years. That was when I knew I had so much of my own pain and all of these patients were coming in to see the doctor that I was working for at the time. It was my first outlet of, “I can make somebody else happy, silly and goofy.” At the time I was super young, I was in my teens. They didn’t even know what’s going on so they won’t ever have to feel bad for me. That was my way of channeling that. That was the first time that I realized I can actually do something with this. That began my journey into my twenties.
I just want to go back and connect something. I lost my dad about six years ago to an awful stroke. My dad, for those people who knew him, was such a dynamic powerful communicator. When he had his stroke, it knocked out his whole communication grid. The guy that everybody knew that was vivacious and happy, always telling a joke, always had a smile on his face, now he can’t communicate at all. You just mentioned about this whole path of you’ve seen this decline, and so you get to a point where you just know that your parent is in a better place. It’s hard to go through. You’re going to have to go through the grief of missing your parent, in my case my dad, in your case your dad and your mom. It still gave me solace because we actually talked about this. We talked about it when everything was happy and good, like, “If I’m ever in this state, just make sure you pull the plug.” We were talking about it on either side. For me it was very comforting knowing that we’d had a conversation, that he was in a better place, and that life moves on. It was awful but you do make it through it and you start to minimize the loss and think about all the great times that were there, right?
Totally. It’s not the pain or the fear of, “Are they going to get better?” You have that hope and I carried that knapsack of hope with me for years. Finally when it was, universe, whatever, God, if I’m going to have these cards, if I saw my mother and I saw my brother, and this is my father now, then there’s amazing things ahead. That’s the mantra or the affirmation that I was just starting to envision, there’s going to be greater times. There’s a silver lining in all of this. I needed to keep that container of hope. Knowing that I’m not a caretaker anymore, it’s a huge relief. You can focus on a lot of the memories.
By the way, I love that, your knapsack of hope. I went through that exact same thing with my dad after it happened where there is like a month or two or a month and a half where I had my knapsack of hope. It was just like, “We’re going to get better. We’re going to bring him in and rehab and all.” Then it just got to the point where, “This is not happening.” That knapsack of hope for me shifted to a different set of hope. I was able to release it and move on. Again, we all go through that pain but in a lot of ways it’s brought me where I am today, which is just amazing. I would never have guessed that I’d be doing this podcast and talk about adversity. It’s been so rewarding to hear stories like with you.
Now you’re in dentistry, you’ve lost a parent, there’s relief from the standpoint you no longer have to carry this acting-parent role that you were in, and you can go out and conquer the world. Tell me about your dentistry thing and then how you or really why you found your way out of that. You’re in it yet you were very successful, and then you transitioned out. Why?
I have to say that throughout my twenties it was all about rebuilding who I thought. Because all I knew was education, success, and money in me since I was a little girl, this is where I’m going to get my accolades and this is how I’m going to achieve. It was non-stop hustle, non-stop working. I did really well.
It was actually December 31st, 2011, New Year’s Eve. I’m fast-forwarding all of this. I’m in my master bedroom of a five-story home. I have this suitcase laid out and I have myself in a crumpled position, and I’m looking at the mirror. I said to myself, “Neeta, how in the world did you allow yourself to get into this abusive marriage?” It was the first time that I had ever thought, finally it came to my heart, not my head, because most of us overachievers we live in our head. “You’re in definite fear.” At that point I was in fear. I was 29 at the time.
How many years had you been married?
Only sixteen months. I knew that I had to make a choice and I knew that I was so afraid. On the outside I built a million-dollar practice. I was married. I had everything, all of these things. I was thinking in my head my parents should be proud. I’ve healed everything. In actuality, I was living this fraud, this lie, to the entire world.
Something that keeps coming up as a recurring message from this podcast that I do is this little thing called the shiny object. In your case, with the package on the outside, you’re smart, you’re brilliant, you went to dental school, you’re married, you got this big house, you got this multi-million dollar practice, it all looks great. Inside, there are just a lot of cracks in the ceiling and you have to go through that process. Like you said, you’re sitting down and you’re staring at the mirror and you’re really listening to your heart because you got to shed everybody else’s expectations.
At that point, I had hit a bottom. I don’t think I had ever processed any of my losses in my teens or in my twenties. I didn’t have the time to do it. I was constantly trying to achieve and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next. In dental school I fell in love and I thought that’s like the Cinderella story. That’s what I thought that it was at the time.
In actuality, I had been living my life for every single other person. Looking at the mirror, I was emotionally exhausted, spiritually dead, and physically beaten. In that moment, I got a restraining order, I left, I was living in my car, which would be for the next three months. I was lost. I was confused. This was different. It was for the first time that I finally listened to myself. For me, it was the first decision that I’ve made for me, not for anybody else but for me. That’s where I realized I needed to do this whole journey back to myself. This was through this voracious appetite of growth for me to then leave my practice, retire from the profession, move to Silicon Valley in this course of discovery and research. I’d always had a science mind and a geeky mind. To discover how leaders make decisions, I set on a quest for 45 different countries, and that was, down the road, it would lead me then to write a book called Emotional Grit.
I love that name, Emotional Grit. When you sold your practice, you’re like, “I’m going to go on this spiritual emotional journey to go find myself.” We’ve all been there. I’ve been there. That’s why I’m climbing mountains all over the world. It’s amazing. The question is, the business responsible side of you, did you have a game plan on, “Okay, I’m going to leave. I’m going to go on this super road trip,” but somehow at this point in time, where are you going to get your finances to continue to live? How did that all play?
During that course of probably four years, as I was removing myself from the practice, I was also building it. While I was less and less and less there, I started four other ventures at the same time. Those were all-around non-profits in self-confidence, Masterminds in giving professional women the tools not to achieve but to work. We teach what we’re also learning and advocating for ourselves. Also some of my colleagues, doctors and lawyers and chiropractors and small business owners were like, “You’re single?” Plus my practice had been growing consistently for 15% to 30% annually. During those years that I left, I just had a specialist and other doctors run the practice. It was finally I’m actually doing things for myself. It was one of those things where they wanted to know what the secret sauce to make millions of dollars is while having your wife and kids and nice fancy things. For me, that was easy.
I started doing consulting to these businesses as well, the big open door. Then I started this empowerment. That’s basically how it was. I was starting to merge some of these new gifts that were coming along, which was A) consulting, B) providing resources for women whether they were professional women. I was also in the startup world. I started spending a lot of time in Silicon Valley. I’d go back and forth and back and forth. I was on this trip; I was at Burning Man about four years ago. That’s when it hit where I said I feel like I have two lives. Part of me wants to keep this old life back, but then another part of me goes towards the West Coast. Because for my private clients, it was the same thing. It ended up as, “I want to make more money,” but it was, “No. How do I make better decisions? How do I say “no” more? How do I have difficult conversations? How do I actually teach my teen how to take care of the business while me, as the owner, is not there.”
Those were the types of questions that were coming up. I was so fascinated with Silicon Valley and how everyone fails and everyone makes mistakes. I started doing some Angel investing there, specifically on women’s projects. That’s how I actually shifted and moved because then I had startup founders asking me to coach them, which I didn’t know at the time, but now it’s basically mind-set. How do we make better decisions and really the initial beginnings of what would be a resilience training and really stepping into greatness.
I can tell you this because for a number of reasons, talking about grit and resilience and those things, you’re not born with those. Just like your attitude, those have to be developed over time. You have to train your mind. You have to stress your mind. You have to be very disciplined about strategies if you put your mind toward something on how to get there. It’s just too easy to quit.
To be honest, I was losing my parents and my family members one by one. Money wasn’t the hardest thing for me ever. It was always the easiest thing. Even when we were younger, my father is like, “If you want new clothes, you have to figure out a way to make your cash. I’m only going to give you this much of an allowance.” We would have to come up with certain projects that he would say, “Okay, I’ll double that if you think about this.” It was like me concocting my mother’s perfumes in their bathroom and selling it to our neighbors when I was eight years old. It’s projects like that that really got some of those things going. When you’re in the thick of adversity and pain, that’s the least that you worry about because everything else is easy, if that makes sense.
You’re spinning, you’re trying to grab on to things. Ultimately, we all land and then it’s what you do at that point in time to blast forward and take on what that next thing is going to be for you. Let’s talk about what you’re doing today. You’re doing all this amazing stuff. This is the happy stuff now. We had to get through and it’s finding your summit, so that’s all about adversity and finding your way, and you found your way, right?
I did. Actually my second book just launched last week, called The Book of Coaching. It started out with Emotional Grit became an instant best seller. It’s on Amazon, and it was number one in leadership development and behavioral psychology. The reason why is because, like you said, grit isn’t something that you look for. However, when I was traversing through all these different countries, see these different people, whether it was Dubai to Melbourne or Toronto to San Francisco or Japan, Switzerland, to Costa Rica, it was all the same. Whether they were titans, legends, heroes or sheroes of their community, they all answered the questions with having resilience as their top characteristic for being able to thrive.
When I was completely done with the research, the title was the last thing I actually came up with, I thought of the word “grit” to box everything. Because as a doctor, as a geek, you have to create acronyms to remember things and to remember lessons when you’re memorizing for tests. Grit was not only another term for resilience, but grit actually stands for grow, reveal, innovate and transform. There’s not only this process, but it’s also a way of how I actually do all of my training workshops around the world for a lot for entrepreneurs and a lot of times for female lady bosses, is what I call them. I also started a business accelerator for people that are starting to play with different projects or they’re looking to transition from one career to the other. That’s where The Book of Coaching was born with my now love partner. Everything’s happy and good. I just reached my 52nd country. That was in Portugal. We can talk about Emotional Grit, we can talk about The Book of Coaching. I’m totally open.
I love it all because at the end of the day, they’re basically tied together. I’ve started several companies, been through that and been through craziness. I’ve experienced all of it. Along with that, planning and then failing, climbing these mountains, grit takes time to develop, and along the way you need to be coached up in the right way to develop those different disciplines to make sure that you don’t quit, because that’s the opposite of resilience. I love what you’re doing. I want to stick on Emotional Grit though because when you’re going through a tough time, and so many people are, people are reaching in all different directions. They’re just like, “How do I get through this? What branch do I pull to lift me up?” You’re looking at signs and you’re doing different things. Are there some key elements that you have found that if you can develop these skills along the gridline, that’s really going to help propel you to where you need to be?
Actually, I was at an event and I’ll share the same keys that I did with a bunch of leaders at this Leadercast event back in Atlanta. It starts out with authenticity, whatever that is. I’ll share four keys with you guys. If you don’t have that authentic voice, no one is ever going to be just like you. There’s nobody that’s going to have your same voice. Nobody’s going to have your same story. It’s up to you to really understand which stories you wish to share with the world because not everyone is going to be comfortable with that vulnerability. Knowing that you and your own authentic voice and nobody can replace that, that’s number one and number two. That gives you a lot of fuel so that you can actually quiet all of the sideline noise, quiet all the noise around you and really propel yourself into whatever that summit is for you. It’s really all about your journey. That’s number one.
Of course, number two, we’ve already spoken about resilience, but how do you actually honor the resilience in your life? One, I always talk about three different mind-sets. You have the victim mind-set, the survivor mind-set, and the thriver mind-set. When you’re stuck at the victim mind-set, everything’s happening to you and you’re stuck, you blame other people. When you get into the survivor mind-set, you’ve survived an attack, you’ve survived this trauma, you’ve survived this breakup, whatever that is. That gives you some of those tools, but how can you actually go from survivor to thriver where you’re actually flourishing and you’re taking in all of the gems and the nuggets? How can you actually, right now where you’re at, look back in time to all of those challenging moments, those moments where you failed, those moments where you fell, those moments where you falter? How did each and every one of those decisions actually add up to who you are today? A lot of times we don’t take the time to recognize some of those bad decisions or bad plays that we had, to recognize that it was all a part of the journey anyway.
The last two is compassion. We were just talking about greatness isn’t born overnight, and it takes the time that it takes. A lot of times we want to hack our way, we want to be this good, we want to do a marathon overnight. You needed to train to climb Kilimanjaro because I thought I was going to do that in February without any training, and that wasn’t going to happen. For a lot of people now, they want to hack their way into everything. A lot of times, mastery takes its time, and if we don’t have the compassion and we’re constantly going to criticize ourselves every single aspect of the road that we’re in, we have to be not only compassionate for others but really have the compassion for our self and to really celebrate those small winds along the course, along the trajectory.
The last key is courage. The courage to get up after you failed, the courage even when you’re bent and to really take yourself out of the comfort level that you’re in, because that’s the only way you’re going to excel, that’s the only way you ascend your peak and climb your summit.
I love all of those things that you just talked about. For me, there’re two words that really jumped off the screen. One is courage and the other one is being authentic. When I was going through my rough time, I split with my long-time wife. It was a very difficult transition for me to go through. I think for a lot of people that just takes a lot of courage to step away from something. I’d been married for 24, with her for 30. She’s a great person but it was just so difficult for us to walk away from that thing that we had created; there are kids involved. That was the first part of it, so that’s the courage. Then the other part of that was like, “Now what do I do?” For me, I didn’t have a business plan. I didn’t set out to say I’m going to make x amount of money because I didn’t have all this PR as I’m going to climb these mountains. There was no podcast in the future. It was just what I need to do is go take care of myself. You talked about rewarding yourself, too. Celebrating yourself, these little winds. I went after that. Again, it wasn’t for anybody else, listened to my heart, not my head, and just like, “This is what I need to go do.” It inspired me because now I’m going to other countries and climbing. It also gave me a way out and it gave me a direction. It just helped me along with all these other words that you just used, you know, get to my ankle. Right now, I totally appreciate what you’re saying. I love that.
Where can people find you?
My website is the easiest. I do play on Facebook the most, if you want to follow my private life. Instagram, I have some fun stuff. I’m really on LinkedIn and Facebook. For any of podcast stuff or anything related to any courses, or even my books, NeetaBhushan.com.
Thank you so much for being on the pod. We’re so grateful. You have this really beautiful insights. You’re not reporting on it, you’re living it, and that’s a big difference. I really appreciate that.
Thank you. That means a lot coming from you. It’s such an honor to be on your show and on your summit. It’s so amazing. I really appreciate that.
We all have our summit. We’re all trying to figure it out. It’s a constant journey.
It is. I was going to say that. It’s a constant journey. You’re never really at the top.
Yeah, exactly. You get to the top and you’ve got another summit. We’re all in that. Again, I appreciate it so much. Thank you and have a fantastic day.