“Social work pays in something worth more than money. It gives you a purpose to live.”
My childhood played a big role in shaping who I am today. My family, like most Punjabi households, had a patriarchal system. I am the second daughter followed by a younger brother. When my brother was born, I distinctly remember aunties saying to my parents, “We’re so glad you finally have a boy. Now the family is complete.” This implied that with two daughters something was missing and the birth of a son, seemingly, filled that gap.
The feeling of not being as wanted as my brother troubled me as a young girl, and I would also trouble my parents with questions of why a girl was not enough. Throughout my childhood, I sought my father’s approval. I wanted him to acknowledge that I was just as capable as the boys. My solution was to act masculine. I wore my hair short, dressed like a boy, and sometimes I would intentionally pick fights with boys, so my father and everyone else would notice that I was different. That I was not your typical girly girl — I even pretended to hate the color pink, despite loving it. When you grow up wanting people to see something different when they look at you — something you’re not — a childhood is not a happy one because you’re living in denial of who you are.
Embracing my femininity was a process because I did not have a lot of female role models growing up. No women around me were driving or working, aside from my teachers. All the people I idolized were men because I wanted to work like my father and grandfather. Fortunately, I became comfortable with being a girl when I hit puberty.
I grew up with the belief that all problems among women were caused by men. This myth was debunked when I joined an all-girls college. I realized that most of them stem from disunity, jealousy and competition among women. I started Sarvani because I saw the need to create a space where women could support and celebrate each other.
I’ve always viewed Sarvani as my child. Although it began as a passion project, I had conflicts with my family. They were worried I would not concentrate on my studies and would fail to build a stable career. It took my father a year before coming to any of Sarvani’s functions. When he did, he finally believed that I was actually doing something meaningful.
While in school I tried my best to balance running Sarvani with my studies, which wasn’t always easy. After completing my studies, I realized that Sarvani could not come second to anything. It had become bigger than myself — something I am very proud of. I had to turn down my first job offer to give my undivided attention to the full-fledged organization that Sarvani had grown into.
I have made so many mistakes along the way. Someone recently asked me about my five-year plan. I did not have an answer for five years, but I know what I want to do in the next two. I want to make more mistakes. I have learnt that as an entrepreneur you should be ready for failure. Most times people will not fall in love with your idea as much as you have. You need to be okay with that and realize that mistakes arm you with the experience you need to get where you want to go. I usually tell people that my experiences are my net worth. Your net worth doesn’t always have to be monetary. It comes from the life you’ve lived — how beautiful and rich it has been. An ongoing challenge for me has always been the one that comes from within — overcoming my own fear and growing into my ever evolving self. Regardless, I choose to view every mistake and challenge as an opportunity to learn and do better.
Sarvani’s vision is to open up a school. Currently, that purpose is being served in my house and a nearby park. We started with just 7 children, but the number has since grown to 120. My goal is to give these children a free, quality education that enables them to be not only professionals, but also good human beings. Social work does not pay the bills, but it pays in something worth more than money. It gives you a purpose to live. I have managed to create a life that I don’t want nor need a vacation from. The sound of these children greeting me enthusiastically brings me peace and contentment in ways I never thought possible, every single day. God has and continues to play a big role in my journey. My part is just to show up, and he does all the magic around it. I am truly grateful for that.
There will always be conflict in whatever you set out to do, but then you have to look deeper within you to find what’s bigger, and that always wins. Be the leader you admire. Build that leader inside you first. Don’t wait for others to think of you as a leader or praise you in order to feel worthy. Nobody has the power to make you a leader if you don’t already think of yourself as one. You are enough!