When the pandemic left them unemployed, they took the opportunity to pursue their passions, with inspiring results.
By Bindu Gopal Rao
October 11, 2021
While those who have died or been sickened by coronavirus have experienced the harshest side of the pandemic, the situation has been hard for everyone, including those who have lost their jobs. Dealing with the double whammy of health issues caused by the coronavirus and worrying about finances can be overwhelming. However, in spite of these challenges, many people have shown grit and courage to use this time to pursue their passion.
After having corporate jobs for 18 years, Gaurav Chauhan’s last job was with Japan’s largest real estate residential firm based in Gurugram, India, where he was Additional Director in charge of India operations. During the coronavirus, the company decided to shutter its India office.
“I saw it coming earlier than others around me. Due to COVID-19, I saw many established businesses leaving India,” Chauhan told me when we spoke, before explaining how his employer’s closure affected him.
“I was hugely disappointed by the fact that a $43 billion listed company could not afford to stay in India. The company gave me five months [notice] before initiating the shutdown process. And the first step was to release India staff from their duties,” said Chauhan.
Since he was only 40 years old, Chauhan saw the loss of his job as an opportunity to start his own business, something he always wanted to do. His wife supported his decision and that helped him pursue what he wanted: to become a yoga instructor.
“Yoga is something that I have been passionate about for more than a decade, and I believe I can genuinely do it for the rest of my life,” Chauhan said. “I had already started learning Yoga from the Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga in New Delhi six months prior to the office closing down. Though I started with a Foundation course, I was intrigued, so I signed up for Yoga teacher certification.”
Chauhan started offering yoga classes on April 1, 2021, with just one student. Today, he has 48 students and counting.
“I have learned so much in the past six months as a Yoga teacher, things I could not [have] learned in the 18 years of my corporate life,” Chauhan told me. “The money is not equivalent to what I was earning as an Additional Director, however, the peace of mind which I get, and a good night’s sleep, is way more than what I was getting earlier.” Chauhan’s advice for others is to find a hobby that could prove to be valuable when you need an alternate source of income, but that also acts as a good “post-retirement” activity.
PR Professional Sakshi Uniyal from Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India lost her job as a Senior Executive at her PR firm during the pandemic. She was pregnant at that time. Uniyal told me the job loss was depressing but that her family, especially her in-laws, supported and motivated her.
“They told me that if you are capable and talented no one will stop you, just use your talent and never give up,” Uniyal said. “I always wanted to start my own business. I had gained good experience and exposure working in my old firms. I decided that I will not let getting wrongfully fired bog me down and [that] I would bounce back by starting my own business.”
After starting her freelance PR agency, Uniyal says that the biggest challenge was gaining the trust of clients. There were times when she had trouble drumming up business, she said, but her husband was very supportive. “Now I am happy that I am handling many clients, including Acharya Prashant, Eugateway, Neet Kota Physics, Catalyst Group and Kanjimull Jewellers, among others.”
Others have used the downtime of the pandemic to start a business from scratch. Take the case of Harshil Patel, the founder of Tastilicious. Patel has loved baking ever since childhood; when he had an opportunity, he enrolled in a baked goods craftsmanship course and followed it up with a course at the Lavonne Academy of baking science and pastry arts. By the time he graduated, COVID-19 had hit the hospitality industry and he found himself with few prospects for employment. “Since the hospitality sector was adversely affected [by the pandemic], I knew there was no chance of getting jobs in any of the restaurants or cafes. I was very heartbroken and unmotivated… I was not even sure if I was in the right industry,” said Patel.
During lockdown, Patel started watching cooking and baking videos by accomplished chefs, something he said motivated him. “I always wanted to start my own venture. This was the right time to start my business because even [though] people were ordering a lot of comfort foods from home, [many pastry makers] were not open,” says Patel.
His journey, however, was no cakewalk. “There were many challenges, including people telling me I had taken the worst decision in life by getting into the hospitality industry. Only I knew that the decision was not wrong, and my love for food would never let me down,” Patel said. Today he is the proud owner of Tastilicious, a ‘cloud kitchen’, also known as a ghost kitchen, that makes pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, pasta, milkshakes and more. His takeaway from the experience is that it is important “not let anything bother you.”
“No one can change your decision, so just ignore the negative energy. Never lose hope, you will get success at your own time, but don’t stop,” said Patel.
Another case is that of Neha Nialang. Nialang is the founder of Dalade Foods, a business she started on her own as she realized the importance of food as comfort during the pandemic. Nialang had completed her B.Sc in Biochemistry during the lockdown; afterwards, she decided to make some jams at home, as it was difficult to access certain foods during the lockdown. “A lot of fruits were getting spoiled,” Nialang said, noting that farmers were under extreme stress. “It stuck in my mind that I [could] provide something tasty for the people, while remembering our farmers too.”
Nialang was accepted into Her&Now, an initiative that empowers women entrepreneurs, implemented by GIZ, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and in partnership with the Government of India’s Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE). As a result, Nialang was able to launch Dalade Foods.
Dalade is a local food venture that works to create value-added seasonal food products from the lush green hills of Meghalaya. “All our ingredients are sourced locally from our trusted farmers, giving you a healthy food source while creating a sustainable livelihood for the farmers of the region,” Nialang explained. “Currently we are already generating revenue through online sales via our website and other online marketplaces. We have also [partnered] with retail stores across Jowai and Shillong for direct sales.”
Perhaps what these postive-minded entrepreneurs teach us is that we all must find our Ikigai and to have faith, even during the hard times, that everything happens for a reason. While taking a leap of faith is not always easy, success can be achieved when you work hard and have your heart in the right place.