As I change course and steer confidently toward my purpose, I am here to share my story of transition. My career path is filled with adventures, lessons and creativity, from (engineering to) baking to leadership coaching. With a decade’s worth of articles and features out there on the bakery and brand I built from scratch, Soirette Pastry Boutique, I realized that I had to embrace my 20 year devotion to the pastry world, to find key lessons to carry forward with me as I transition into Soirette coaching. Closing my bakery at the height of its success was a decision filled with complexity and heaviness, and I had to overcome a myriad of challenges along the way. In retrospect, it was one of the best decisions I ever made, and having a coach to support my thought process in tricky waters made such a powerful impact on redefining success and shifting perspectives. This is a story of how I found bravery and clarity that helped me make the transition.
As a young woman of colour, I found myself in love and immersed in the mysterious world of French pastry, which brought me to Le Cordon Bleu, Canada, 20 years ago. My parents' hearts sank when I chose to 'throw away' a sure-fire career in Engineering only to pursue a path of 'serving people cookies', and saw it as a disregard of all their hopes and dreams for me. It raised so many eyebrows and was compounded by the famous words in my culture, "What will people say?"
I saw it as so much more. Yes, it was about service, and that resonated with me so deeply. It was also about bringing people joy through delicious and gorgeous hand made edible art. That was what hooked me. It was an industry that valued tradition, perfection, and elegance. Though I was so in love with the art and eager to make it my own, I struggled with confidence and felt immense pressure to belong and feel included in the hospitality community. I often felt like I had to prove my worth, as I did not fit the mould. I had a small but mighty support network that helped me along the way. They were there to encourage me and boost my confidence when I needed it most. With their support, I gained the courage to take risks and pursue my passion.
I was determined to build a brand convincing enough to represent society’s perception of what a French pastry boutique needed to be. And I 'succeeded'.
However, I always felt like something was amiss. With a retail bakery storefront downtown, I faced daily acts of microaggression from the public towards my team (made up of mostly women of colour) and I, which, over time, led to deep-rooted imposter syndrome. I allowed and, to a degree, enabled my incredibly supportive light-skinned team members to take credit for ownership, shying away when they would correct the misconception. Somehow, I felt I was tarnishing the worth of the brand by my association with it, as a “brown” woman (another term I had to get accustomed to after moving to Canada). It took an immense amount of self-reflection, discovery and development to shift my perspective and pave my own path forward, and show up the way I wanted to - and push against the grain of society and claim my spot.
I had to chip away at my own insecurities and compel myself to be at the forefront of the brand, instead of hiding behind it. I took risks and pushed forward with strategic innovation. I created products that aligned with me and my muddled but rich culture and heritage of being a Malaysian-Indian-Kiwi-Canadian. I continued to steer the ship with dedicated team members who shared my vision and believed in our purpose. Our diversity and originality became our super-powers!
I knew I had to get out of my own way.
As I leaned into my authenticity and continued to grow, I started gaining recognition from within the industry and the community, which led to my debut on Food Network Canada as a judge on the “Wall of Bakers”. The community embraced my authenticity and diversity, when I showed up as myself, unapologetically. This incredible journey of entrepreneurship was an ultimate reminder that being true to myself was the key to my own success.
After a decade-long lease, navigating a thriving business through the pandemic with its most successful year yet, and experiencing the sudden loss of family halfway around the world, the power of coaching supported me to navigate this tumultuous time, and to seek clarity for what was next for me. It sparked a shift in perspective that ultimately led to my decision of pursuing what was right for me - my path, vision and purpose had transformed. It allowed me to let go of the fear of judgement from family and society, to embrace the full authenticity of my renewed purpose. After hundreds of hours of school, coaching clients and getting credentialed along the way, my purpose became even clearer - I am here to support women leaders and entrepreneurs, as they tap into their authenticity and lead with impact-driven clarity and alignment to their values.
Here are some (ok, a lot) of my key learnings I came away with on this wild journey of reframing life, and my hope is that you might find them useful for yours.
I have learned that leading with authenticity is key to your own definition of success as a woman entrepreneur
It's important to trust yourself and your vision, even if it doesn't fit the mould of what is expected of you
Gratitude comes in all shapes and sizes. Appreciate it, but don't let it feed into guilt that might hold you back.
Don't be afraid to take risks and pursue your calling, even if it means your expression of it and purpose change over time. It’s all part of your enriched journey
It's vital to surround yourself with a strong support network of those who believe in you unconditionally
Have the courage to challenge and redefine what success means to you. Success is not a one-size-fits-all definition, and it is for you to make meaning of it, how it rings true to you, on your own terms
Get out of your own way (Vancouver Is Awesome quoted me on that, so now I’ve got to!)
You are stronger for showing the world who you really are