Dr. Neeta Bhushan has encountered success several times over in her life in spite of many difficult obstacles. Perhaps her greatest success has been the self-discovery that led her to leave an abusive marriage and give up a successful dental practice in search of something more fulfilling.
We had the opportunity to interview Dr. Bhushan and learn how she struggled through tragedy and heartbreak on her journey of self-realization, ultimately evolving into the best version of herself.
A tragic coming-of-age
From a very young age, Bhushan met with an amount of heartbreak and loss that would challenge any person’s emotional stability.
Bhushan was born in Chicago to Filipino-Indian immigrant parents who encouraged her on a traditional path in pursuit of the “American dream.”
However, her traditional path was overrun with obstacles, beginning when Bhushan became the caretaker of her younger siblings at the age of 10 while her mother battled breast cancer.
Her mother sadly succumbed to the illness when Bhushan was only 16.
Tragedy would strike again only a year later with the death of her brother which also weighed heavily on her father, sending him into a period of depression. Reflecting on this time, Bhushan told Verve magazine, “At this juncture, all I knew was that happiness is for other people – it’s the very desi mentality of putting your family first.”
Only two years later, Bhushan’s father had an unexpected allergic reaction, the treatment of which revealed a lung tumor. He received a diagnosis of stage four lung cancer with a prognosis of only eight months to live. “At that moment, I was like, ‘Are you kidding, universe?’ All the anxiety and pent-up anger came back,” she recalled.
Beyond the looking glass
Having faced so much sadness and adversity by the tender age of 19, Bhushan struggled but eventually focused her efforts on achievements and a way out of the “dark tunnel.”
Hard work paid off and she became a hugely successful cosmetic dentist for a rapidly growing million-dollar practice. Married, wealthy and successful, Bhushan had all the traits that from the outside, looked to culminate in a perfect life. However, below the surface, things were far from perfect.
Bhushan soon had a life-changing moment that would be the catalyst for an entirely new beginning and a way to a completely different path in life. She decided to leave her marriage.
“I remember it was December 31 and everyone was celebrating New Year’s Eve. I found myself in the fairy-tale relationship, with a hidden secret – physical and emotional abuse,” she recalled.
“That day really became a catalyst for so many things. [It] opened up my eyes to being brave and courageous. It helped me to see where I was at that time of my life; spiritually dead, emotionally spent and physically all out of sorts.”
I knew that I had to take action. I knew that I did not have a plan. This would then lean into so much growth, completely turning my life upside down in so many ways and really gave birth to the woman I am today,” she said. “This experience has shaped so much of the work I do in terms of personal excellence and growth, understanding my commitment to people I work with on a daily basis. It all started literally from that moment.”
A phoenix from the ashes
It seemed that Bhushan’s life, though difficult, had ensured that she wouldn’t easily be deterred from finding her greater purpose. “My early struggles really had such a profound impact on the way I deal with adversity,” she told us. “I think the first decade of my life led up to the catalytic moment of me leaving my first marriage. I was able to connect the dots in my story.”
Founding the nonprofit Independent Awakening, Bhushan began to grow in demand as a speaker, motivator and mentor. She’s spent time traveling to 45 countries, sharing her story and studying human behavior as well as seeking a greater understanding of herself. She has been an angel investor for female-led startups and is a bestselling author of books like “Emotional GRIT” which aim to teach others how to overcome adversity and tap into their inner strength and emotional intelligence.
“When I knew I could turn my passion into an actual career I was super excited,” she remembered. From self-publishing her book to seeing it become a bestseller and grow in popularity overseas, Bhushan knew she was onto something.
“All my research, all the dots that I have connected, all the things that I have been through turned out to be so relevant and needed by people,” she explained. “This all sparked the next chapter of the evolving journey into the space of coaching, mentoring and consulting so many different people around the world.”
Bhushan’s story is captivating to audiences all over the world and inspires each of us to take inventory of our habits and approaches to self-care.
We had a few more questions for Dr. Bhushan regarding her inspirational journey and path to actualizing her best self.
You left a hugely successful dental practice to try a new path that was completely unconventional. Was there a moment of clarity that really pushed you to make that leap? What was this transition like?
I would say that I had the moment of clarity when I was charting out into the uncharted waters, and when I knew that it’s time to make that leap. It happened when I was doing much more of my “passion project” than I was really focusing on my dental business.
The transition happened as a result of the “aha moment” – like all of the lights went off simultaneously. I remember it was the first week of December 2014, right before the holidays and I [had] just [come] back from a very spiritual journey. I realized that we were ending the year, and I needed to understand … the things I need to do to make it happen. I needed to figure out my finances [and] what would be the best-case scenario (as I never sold a business before.) I needed to be diligent in understanding the unknowns, instead of just saying ‘OK, I’m going to rip the Band-Aid off and leave.” I also had so many team members to look after, so my goal was to make sure that people [were] taken care of. I had to be financially flexible for the next year, even if I had no clear understanding of what that next thing [was] going to be.
I was already a speaker, as by then I [had] started the nonprofit. I also started consulting other businesses on the GRIT approach (now I’ve turned it into a book and an Institute.) I knew that there were other possibilities starting to take shape and the seeds were already planted. Nevertheless, the transition was messy, chaotic and full of self-doubt, not having a clear path or [knowing] what your destination is. I just knew it had to be connected with traveling [and] exploration. I wanted to get a better sense of how others made decisions, which sparked my desire to go into researching how human behavior works with all different people around the world.
This led to me traveling to 45 countries and later to my book.
What do you find to be the most rewarding part of your work?
I think the most rewarding part of the things that I do now is when I open my Instagram and see the direct messages coming daily or the letters I get on my email accounts from people all over the world sharing stories of their great journey [and] life transformation.
That is the catalyst that keeps me going; the igniter that keeps me high from life. I sometimes joke around saying that before I used to transform smiles from the outside in, and now I’m transforming smiles from the inside out.
You’ve overcome a tremendous amount of obstacles from a young age. How did these early struggles change the way you approach life today?
Life happens for us, and not to us. I was in a victim mindset at some point in my life, and [now] I’ve gone to a survivor one. I’ve been through all these losses, the pain, the struggle. Now I’ve adopted a thriver’s mindset – you are flourishing in life, taking the dark days, and when life throws lemons at you, you are able to make your own sense of lemonade.
Some days are sweet and some days are bitter, but overall they are adding to your sense of the vast lane of experience. Being able to look at your life journey from this perspective not only gives you faith, but also understanding that there are so many lessons to be learned from situations we face on a daily basis.
What’s something, personal or professional, you’re currently working on achieving?
Launching my Brave Table Podcast. For the longest time, I wanted to have a place at a table, real or virtual, where people can come together and share stories of themselves and ways they were brave in their own life.
What’s your spirit animal? And why?
I have to say that my spirit animal is a dolphin because they are magical beings and creatures. They are intuitive, playful, fun, and they thrive in groups. It’s like they gather each other around – every time you see a dolphin you will see more, as they are all together.
What are three important traits someone must have to become a successful entrepreneur?
The important traits that people need to become a successful entrepreneur I usually describe as GRIT: the ability to Grow, Reveal, Innovate, and Transform.
Persistence to keep going when things get tough, and the ability to be tenacious if you are getting a bunch of “no” and rejections. To not give up.
Bravery to take risks when you don’t know what’s gonna happen. When you say “yes” not knowing where you are going to land or where that breadcrumb is going to fall. And also to be brave when things are not going right – when you sense that this person/idea you are working with is not really the best – to be able to trust yourself.
Resilience – means you are willing and OK to let things happen, even if they fail. Maybe they fail 10 or 20 times, and that is OK.
Why is Emotional Intelligence so important? Do you think this is something people are generally still struggling with today?
It’s the foundation of who we are at our core. It’s our capacity as humans to have a basic understanding of our emotional health [and] to be able to manage it, because life happens everyday, and most people have no idea how to handle situations and crises in a positive manner, without any distractions or ‘numbing’ of the feelings. Which is why we are seeing a surge in overall mental health conditions like stress, [being ]overwhelmed, anxiety and depression as well.
Emotional intelligence (I call it emotional leadership or emotional GRIT) is one of the core foundations of us as human beings. There are so many studies that say EQ is way more vouched than IQ because our ability to hold on to ourselves and manage our state when crises, setbacks and challenges happen are the core strengths of our character. They will lead us to go for long periods, and [increase the] stamina of what we can handle as human beings.
Not knowing how to cope with the distress or uncomfortable feelings that come up if we don’t get our way, or if we are called to take a break and pause, cause cases of mental health crises such as depression, stress, overwhelm and anxiety. This is why being able to understand your emotional health and your EQ is so key and so powerful.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Fail as fast as you can, and don’t you worry about other people’s opinions. They will always be there, but it has nothing to do with you, and each time you fall, rise better, braver and stronger than before.