A dancer, writer, fitness expert and a former Biotechnologist and Intellectual Property rights manager, Shraddha Narayanan. Part Delhite part Hyderabadi, Shraddha exudes an almost infectious energy about her, an evidence of enthusiasm with which she has steered her career towards her passion, staying fit. We got her to take some time out from her very active schedule to talk with us.
In this interview with Careerizma, Shraddha talks about the road that has led her from being, a BTech from Hyderabad, Master’s in Microbiology from USA, Assistant Manager at a pharmaceutical company (Dr. Reddy’s Laboratory) in the IPR department in Hyderabad, to a certified Zumba® instructor and fitness blogger.
Shraddha has recently started at her new position as a Business Development and Operations Manager at Fitzop, a startup company aimed at making healthy living more accessible. Her story is inspiring for so many of us looking to find ways for a career change to do something we are passionate about.
Let’s get chatting.
How I became a Zumba Trainer
Q&A with Shraddha Narayanan
Careerizma: You have a most interesting career path, Shraddha. Congratulations on your new job as the Business Development and Operations Manager at Fitzop.
Shraddha: Thank you!
Careerizma: You are welcome. Before we get to your story, how about you start with sharing a little bit about yourself.
Shraddha: If I had to sum up my journey, in one word, it would be: “variety”. Hailing from the south of India, being brought up mostly in the north, I have been exposed to many parts of India and its people. I watch movies in multiple languages! (Albeit with subtitles).
School life, changing every 3 to 4 years, was fun. Having an interest in life sciences led me to my Engineering (Biotechnology) and MS (Microbiology). After 6 years in the IPR department at Reddy’s, I ventured out, last month,to join a startup!
Apart from my passion, dance, I love travelling, reading, and watching and playing sports whenever I can. I usually like to see the filmy side of real life situations and write/enact them with friends. Gives me a lot to laugh about and an excuse to be goofy!
Careerizma: One needn’t have to have an excuse to be goofy though! Being normal is almost too, what do you say, normal :).So, have you always been interested in dance? Did you learn or was it more of a self-taught skill?
Shraddha: I would describe myself as a ‘student of dance’! There is so much to learn!I have had both formal training and I self-learn continually as well, by observing dancers, dance workshops and of course Bollywood!
Dancing, I would say, is both a passion and something that adds meaning to my life. I started dancing when I was about 3 years old. I have been performing on stage from a very young age as well and I love it!
What began with classical dance training in Kathak and Bharatnatyam, coupled with an appetite to learn as many dance forms as possible, I ventured into learning western forms of Jazz, Salsa and Hip-Hop and am currently learning Argentinean Tango.
Careerizma: How about the ‘Chandler move‘? 🙂 You are also a keen sports lover. Tennis, badminton…is there something missing? Is that how your love for Zumba began, combination of your two interests, dance and sports?
Shraddha: Haha! Yes I am a sports lover! I was an athlete in school, picked up a bit of table tennis and badminton in college and lawn tennis while working. I love watching sports as well: cricket and tennis I follow religiously.
I took it (sports) up almost as part of my school curriculum and that stayed with me. One of my dreams was to play a sport professionally … though that never happened, I still love the adrenaline rush and camaraderie of sports and I try to play whenever I can.
Zumba which is a dance-fitness program – happened more as a result of my passion for dance and love & discipline with which I like to stay fit and healthy. The thing I like about Zumba fitness is that it blends music, international rhythms and fitness movements to create fun filled routines that feel like “fitness-parties”!
A Zumba class is so much fun that people don’t feel that they are working out and can forget about life tensions and really express themselves freely.
Careerizma: Let’s talk about your career path. What made you decide to return to India after MS? Did you consider staying back in the US to complete a PhD? Or perhaps a job in the US?
Shraddha: Actually I was enrolled in a PhD program at Michigan State University but switched to MS after a year, an important decision which changed the course of my life. I realized that PhD would mean long hours of solitary research which, well…was just not me.
I decided to finish my masters and head back to India…(A forethought out plan, even before I went to US, a kind of patriotic promise to myself, I guess…study abroad but work in India).
Careerizma: People usually feel that it is hard to adjust to life in India after having lived in the US. It all smoothens out with time but was it difficult for you initially?
Shraddha: The education I received in the US was probably the best, the approach being, to learn, not memorize. The 2.5 years in Michigan was amazing! But as I had never considered working in US, adjusting, post return, was never an issue. To me – I just went to study and returned home!
Careerizma: After working in a corporate company for 6 years, what was the turning point for your decision to start pursuing Zumba as a possible career?
Shraddha: Corporate life is like a web! You have financial stability, office perks and a non-thinking routine, all chalked out for you! Add to it a few loans, you pick up on the way, a car, a comfortable home – and you are stuck.
The cycle of performance, appraisal and feedback and yet another year is done. You are in it before you realize it. And once you are in it, and used to it, breaking out is a challenge.
After 2 years in corporate, I knew this was not what I wanted to do. I tried hard to identify my own skill set and the kind of job that would utilize my potential, to the best, in the corporate scenario.
But the competitive corporate world is not kind to misfits, or to people trying to find the ‘right’ job. You will either be made to conform or be labeled a rebel.
Very few are lucky to find managers who guide rather than order. Unless you are among a gifted few, who know exactly what to do and achieve in life, the web tethers you and breaking out becomes a personal struggle.
I signed up for Zumba instructor training as a way of breaking out of the monotony and adding flavor to my life. At that point I did not think I would make it a part of my career. I just wanted to do something/anything which was exactly opposite to my 9 to 5 job! And Zumba was a perfect fit as I mentioned before.
Careerizma: So glad you did. There must be others who feel the same sentiments but are unable to do anything about them. Did you do any courses that helped you establish yourself as a Zumba instructor and understand how to handle the business of a startup?
Shraddha: Nope! I was exactly like a toddler trying to walk! I kept falling down but I got up too. My first roadblock was trying to take Zumba classes while working full time. Dance or fitness aren’t considered as ‘competitive’ business to a pharma company. So many tried to deter me from the beginning! I was even ‘advised’ that starting my own Zumba classes would not go over well with the honchos!
Leaving that aside, when you start, you realize the enormity of the situation. Finding/hiring a suitable place to conduct classes, building a client base out of thin air, reaching out as a new instructor and learning fast to keep people coming back to you, creating that unique flavor which will make your clients loyal to you!
The worst situation, I wasn’t prepared for, were the clients who argued on the payment for classes, literally, like it’s a market open for bargaining!
The one thing which worked for me was the whole-hearted support of my amazing family and the extremely awesome friends! Since they were with me, I felt,I could do anything! Everything I have done these past years has been by learning from my mistakes and building on them, with their support.
Careerizma: (Raising a toast to your awesome family and friends). So it has been almost four years as a Zumba instructor. How have you managed to make it lucrative for you?
Shraddha: When I started, a well-wisher told me, there will be times when you are teaching only 1 person who happened to show up to class, don’t give up then and you will be better for it. I derived a lot of energy from that and sometimes, in a class, there would be just me and my best friend(s) and I would carry on still. I didn’t break-even for a long time!
I paid more to rent the space, than I made from my classes. Slowly my client base increased and I got many returning students. They told me they love my classes and that they feel inspired by my attitude and that my classes have had a positive effect on their lives.
This propelled me to work harder than ever. I now, not only make a decent profit but have a huge clientele who swear by me. As I had a full time job, time was a restriction in expansion, but nothing can hold me back now!
Careerizma: How did Fitzop happen? Did you already know about them?
Shraddha: Actually the founder of Fitzop contacted me via Facebook to be a freelance content writer for their blog. I wrote a few articles for them as a fitness expert.
During that time, I realized that the vision of the company matched my interests perfectly. We got talking and realized it would be a good fit for both! I now work as a business development manager here at Fitzop!
Careerizma: Congratulations on that. Did you always believe that you would be taking, your love for fitness, any further than an interest? Better put, did you, at any point, question your decision of leaving your job, and field, completely?
Shraddha: Did I believe it? No
Did I dream about it? Every day for the past 4 years!
Did I question myself? Yes! A million times!! Leaving, a secure job of 6 years to join a start-up and a hope of taking my Zumba business further, is not an easy decision.
But am I happy that I did? Oh hell yeah!
Careerizma: How about the people in your life? How would you describe their reaction when you finally told them your decision to leave your former field?
Shraddha: I would not be here without the people in my life. My family has been steadfast in their belief in me through all the ordeals. And of course – the support of my much excellent friends!
Their reaction when I left my job and took the plunge (well most of them), It’s about time! Go and shine!
Careerizma: Do tell us, Shraddha, how did you handle your emotions at the face of nay say’ers?
Shraddha: I don’t think a million years of experience can completely teach me how to deal with negativity and the various innovative ways, people discover, to make your life difficult just ‘coz you are different from who they are.
I guess the best way to deal with nay say’ers is to not react and just go your way. Having said that, there are times when I don’t give a damn and there are times I give in and let them get to my head. You live and you learn, I guess…that’s all!
Careerizma: Negativity comes from a place of envy, deep inside. Like your idea of ignoring. Moving on, from people who shouldn’t matter, having taken the plunge, how do you plan to expand your Zumba career?
Shraddha: Steadily! Improve client base, Innovate the way I teach my classes. I have some plans that are waiting to be put in action!
Careerizma: Does your career choice make you happy?
Shraddha: Working at Fitzop is doing what I like- bringing fitness and healthy living to everyone and expanding my Zumba business is living up to that promise. So my current career is suiting me very well indeed and I am loving it!
Careerizma: And, finally, what would be your advice, to someone looking but unsure, about taking the plunge for a career change?
Shraddha: No matter how much advice, support or encouragement you receive, the change or the willingness to change, has to ignite and come from within.
But I will leave you with a quote, I signed off with, at my previous job 😉
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Thank you Shraddha for sharing your story. We can walk away with two inspirations here, do what you want and do, while staying fit. We wish you success in achieving your Zumba and fitness goals.
If you are inspired by Shraddha’s story, you should try wetting your feet by exploring these articles on what are the traits, acquired or natural, to become an entrepreneur and what to look for in a start-up job.