Dr. Neeta Bhushan is a former cosmetic dentist turned best-selling author, international speaker, serial entrepreneur, advocate of emotional health, and leadership coach. Founder of the Global GRIT Institute and author of the best-selling books, Emotional GRIT & The Book of Coaching. Neeta left her large dentistry practice to transform smiles from the inside out; a journey which led her across 45 countries researching and immersing herself in the field human behavior, as well as studying the works of ancient wisdom, eastern philosophy and therapeutic psychology.
Mindie: Welcome back to another episode of The Lucrative Society. I am here today with my friend, Neeta Bhushan, and I am so excited for you to hear her story and also her journey. It’s really, really interesting. Neeta, welcome to the program!
Neeta: Oh, Mindie, thank you for saying my name right and I’m so glad to be here.
Mindie: We may have just had a conversation before the recording started about names. I am big on that because everybody pronounces my last name incorrectly. So I’m all about asking how do you pronounce your name and then I want to get it right. So truly, though, welcome. I’m really excited for people to get to know you and just to learn more about you. So to begin, if you could talk a little bit about your entrepreneurial endeavors, the evolution of what you’ve created in your life, that would be an awesome place to start.
Neeta: Let’s see, my entrepreneurial journey, I guess started when I decided to become a tooth saver. In my previous life, I was a cosmetic dentist. Right out the gate when I graduated, I knew that I couldn’t work for somebody else. I know we’ll get into my story in a little bit. When I graduated from dental school in 2008, we had a market crash and there was nobody hiring newbie dentists. So while there was no choice for me to sit back, I had to really find something. Whereas some of my other colleagues, they decided to toss in the towel and they were going to take a little break because we’d been in school for like, 100 years, and I just couldn’t do that. I needed to really put my resilience and GRIT game in and working different odd shifts for several different kinds of dentists. I was going door to door. I was not doing the email thing that everyone else was doing. Meeting people in their offices, people thought I was a hygienist, an assistant but I was literally the new kid on the block and so there was just no choice for me to not work. I had thousands of dollars in student debt at that point and so that really preempted me to think, “Can I open my own practice?” So two years after that is when I started my entrepreneurial journey and bought my practice pretty much out of dental school and that led to a whole host of things. Ended up growing into a seven-figure business and became primarily focused as a cosmetic health practice in Illinois. So, do you want me to keep going? Because I can.
Mindie: I do, and I also have a question about that specifically.
Mindie: Yes, and I may be wrong because I don’t know a lot of people in that world but my guess is that your results were not typical. My guess is that most people just don’t go by their own practice fresh out of school and then turn it into this seven-figure thing. So how did that happen for you?
Neeta: Yeah, so I started working at several different places. The average person out of school would probably find a corporate job or work under another dentist, work under somebody that’s more senior and that was really the typical path for a lot of folks. I just didn’t have that option because I needed to pay bills and all of these things, and I wasn’t getting a handout from mom or dad. So that was a very different motivation for me and in that process, I realized that either you can work for a big corporation, you can work for a hospital, you can work for a clinic, or you can start your own. So I started to get really curious about how other people did that, and what that journey was like, and of course, because graduating out of dental school, literally, it was probably like 60% guys and 40% women, and then even that too, much less young women trying to buy their own practice. And so it’s almost like you have to really look up to certain people who you kind of want to be like, and so I had to sort that out. I started finding people that were just a little bit more ahead of the game than I was. And I think the biggest thing just knowing from my background and knowing the way that I grew up, I had to grow up fast. A lot of things happened in my childhood that really gave me the risk factor and the ability to say, “You know what, I am going to take this loan, and I’m going to buy this practice.” So I got help from different coaches. I mean, I guess you wouldn’t call them coaches, they were consultants, but consultants really helping people like me, Junior dentists figure out what would be the best thing and that’s basically what happened.
So yeah, in 2010, I purchased my practice, and literally, it was growing pains. Whatever business that you’re starting out, I think there’s always going to be growing pains and I think that there was definitely a lot that I was battling at the time, personally as well. I had just gotten married and there was a whole host of things that had completely changed in my world. So a few years later, that marriage would not last and so that really ignited my growth as a leader because I feel like in that time, I felt like I was trying to prove myself that this Junior dentist who didn’t look like a nurse or an assistant or a hygienist, could really take care of your needs. And my practice was located in an area of the Chicago suburbs that the majority of them were, for lack of a better word, just older retired folk, that were of one color, and didn’t want a mixed young girl working on them. So I had to do things that were non-traditional. I mean, my first hire was this specialist that was a man because I knew that that was going to bring revenue in. I knew that the way that I hired my hygienists and my assistants were probably a little bit older than me. And so there [were] growing pains in that I had to really take on ownership in terms of saying, “Okay, people might not take me seriously, but maybe they’ll take the other people that I bring on seriously.”
So it definitely took a lot of courage and it took a lot of really understanding my own self-worth in terms of there was nothing more that I could do. No straight A’s, no any of those achievements or accolades that I could do to really prove myself because I already owned this practice. So it was a matter of really stepping into it and sometimes even shedding some of those past stories that I had collected over the course of my upbringing. That’s really what turned the page among other things, of what was the catalyst for the immense growth that would then happen in the years to come.
Mindie: Wow, I’m so grateful that you’re talking about some of the challenges too, because a lot of times, it’s like, “Hey, this is this awesome stuff that I’ve done” and we’re not always sharing all the hardships through that experience. Can I ask you what suburb that practice was in?
Neeta: Yeah, it was in Lisle, Naperville area. Nice area and it was close to O’Hare and it was a very corporate area. So there was a mix but we definitely weren’t the only dental office on the block. So there were things that you had to really look into in terms of trying to be unique and stand out and that’s where really understanding my own personality and how I could really– One of the values I now, between my husband and I, we adopt so much is to be able to serve love. And that really came from just a joint interest of being able to provide service from a place of love. That was one of the things early on in my practice as we were growing, it was one of the things like, “How can we stand out? How can we do community service? How can we teach at all the schools?” You have the early business building years where yeah, maybe there’s a little bit more work and effort and grind and grunt and all of those things that you have to do. There were times where literally, I was going through a divorce at the time, so I had a lot of time on my hands and so I would spend days, weekends, nights at my office trying to connect with as many people as possible from sending notes, to figuring out how to build systems when I had no idea what systems were because I went to school to become a freaking dentist and not a CEO. And now I’m appreciating it but you learn early on that no one– I didn’t go to MBA school, I didn’t go to business school, so you have to learn it, in many respects, the hard way and I’m appreciative.
Mindie: You know what? I think that most of us do it that way anyway. That’s what being an entrepreneur is. It’s like, “Here’s the vision. Okay, now, what the hell am I going to do here?”
Mindie: How do we make this thing go? So catch us up to speed with what you’re doing now because I know that’s not your current work.
Neeta: Yeah. So fast forward, I checked off all of those boxes of success inside of the practice. It grew and I think I started getting more and more interested in, you know, that divorce really was the catalyst for me to grow in my leadership, grow into being unapologetic in how I operated. I used to want to be like a man, I know it sounds so strange and so weird, but for somebody that only saw male doctors do well in our industry, that was the only example that I had. And once I released all of those barriers for myself, I think that’s when the light really turned on for me. That’s when I realized, “Okay, I need to grow in all of my skills. I need to really become a better leader, a better speaker to my team”, even though I had a team of like 10 at that point, just to be able to be more motivational and inspirational so that I could actually get other doctors involved so I could step away. Then that started really a bunch of other endeavors.
I think when we’re open to growth, when we’re open to bettering ourselves, we start to find more of the things that we really want to do. So I had no idea that I was really going to step into entrepreneurship. I mean, in those years would be some of the toughest years of my journey in terms of my personal journey because I was going through this very public divorce. From the professional side, when I started to trust my team members more and more, giving more people the opportunity to step in, in what I would call a present-day, director, marketing director, consultant manager, all the people that helped with this immense growth, I was able to step away. I was able to start different projects like a nonprofit that I really wanted to do to create a community for women looking for self-confidence and self-esteem. And that really prompted me to end up going to the West Coast to Stanford.
That opened up my eyes to this whole world of Silicon Valley and all of these different entrepreneurs and these startup founders. It was the first time I ever was exposed to people doing things and raising money for ideas that barely even existed. Because coming from health care and medicine, you’re only taught like, “You can’t make a mistake. You can only get things right. Failure isn’t an option and perfectionism is everything.” So, for me to go from there to there, overnight it really opened my eyes to what is possible. “Wow, all these entrepreneurs are getting funded for ideas that haven’t even been birthed yet. This is incredible.” So from that nonprofit, instead of getting more excited about that, I started to really get excited about– And of course, then getting invited to share my story on different stages, people were really curious and wanting to know more about how I was doing all of these things because then I started becoming an angel investor. As a young dentist with this capital, people were asking, “Hey, did you want to be a mentor to someone?” I didn’t know what that meant in terms of being that for female founders and leaders, which then led me more and more into San Francisco. And so that’s when really, I made the decision that I was going to not only leave Chicago but really set the tone and sell this practice and leave dentistry.
I took a real interest in really understanding how people make decisions and what success really looks like, not from a monetary standpoint because in my opinion, I had already achieved all of that and I wasn’t even 30 yet but it was more from the understanding of some of the characteristics that it takes to operate in this way. They are able to do all of these incredible ideas and so that took me on a track around the world to 45 different countries. I interviewed close to 500 people and this would really be the markings of my first book which is called Emotional GRIT as you know, and really developing what I didn’t know at the time was this GRIT process because I use it as an acronym. And so that was really a stepping stone into really understanding how GRIT and resilience play such a huge role for entrepreneurs and leaders and people who are willing to take risks and willing to just say yes to themselves and say yes to something that they didn’t even know that was ever imaginable, hence, here’s where we are today.
Mindie: And you guys listening can’t see the video but I’ve been over here smiling the whole time that she is talking because I’m like, “Yes.” I love stories, especially like this of a woman who’s just like, “Look, here’s the potential. I’m going to go get it.” So props to you Neeta, I’m so happy to hear about all of this. So you started to mention, you had made a lot of money even before you were 30, and one of the things that I asked all of my guests is how do you specifically define wealth?
Neeta: Hmm, so good. So I would say it’s really the fulfillment of your life. There’s that Japanese saying, and I’ve really fallen in love with it. Even more so now that I’ve entered this journey of motherhood, and it’s called the Ikigai.
Mindie: Reason for being, baby!
Neeta: Yeah, and I hadn’t ever really heard about it before and it was something I came across and I was like, “This is everything” because it is the intersection of your passion and your purpose and all of the things you want to contribute, and all of the things that you’re good at, and the legacy that you want to leave. Losing my parents and my brother before I was 19, I think that really was a life-shaping moment, but really also understanding that a lot of these things are fleeting and if we can really merge and intersect – and I’m like, “The Japanese have a word for it, of course, they have a word for it.” – I think that is the purest dimension of wealth.
Mindie: I love that. And that concept definitely changed my life because I had done all the things on there except the money piece. I forgot that that was part of it…
Neeta: So good.
Mindie: …Which doesn’t work out really well. So when I found that too, I was like, “Yes, this totally makes sense.” So you cannot mention losing your parents and your brother without me asking about that experience, and this is going to be a two-part question. First is can you tell us a little bit of that story? And secondly, really what this whole show is about is looking at that intersection of wealth and then happiness, and you’ve gone through shit and traumatic things. So I’d love to get that story but then also hear a little bit about your journey to happiness coming from that.
Neeta: Yeah. So, I became a child caretaker at the age of 10 and my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. So I think that a lot of my early life, being born Filipino and Indian – they were both immigrants. My mom was from the Philippines. My dad was from India. And so I think they were really just committed to giving us this American dream life and I was the oldest of two younger brothers. And at 10 years old, my life completely changed. I had to grow up and I was this little girl but in charge of my two younger brothers and my really traditional Indian father that didn’t really know how to cope with his wife falling ill. So she had been in remission here and there, but ultimately, her cancer spread from her breasts to her lungs and then to her brain. It was a six-year battle and that battle ended when I was 16.
And fast forward, we’re all trying to just heal from this really long, I mean, pretty much I grew up in hospital settings. I didn’t really have much of a high school time with friends and things like that. It would be, “Hey, you want to come meet at the hospital? That’s where I’m going to be hanging out at.” So it was a very different kind of upbringing and childhood. I was always working at least one or two and sometimes three jobs to support my family, which is why I wasn’t really afraid to take risks. I wasn’t really afraid that there wasn’t going to be food on the table or anything because I knew I was exposed to a lot of this uncertainty literally from 10 to 19. So fast forward when we actually experienced this utter, awful, sudden death of my brother a year after my mom died, I mean, it really tore apart my father. He just fell to his knees and could never recover because my brother was healthy and he just had an asthma attack a year after my mom died. He was a sophomore in high school. I was a senior in high school. We grew up in Chicago so there was homecoming and I got into all of the colleges I wanted to go to, couldn’t go away. So again, it was like, “Ah, I have to be there for my family. I have to take care of them.” So I chose to stay local. I went to my local college, which was Loyola University in Chicago and I had to take care of my father and my youngest brother.
Then two years after that, when you think that like life is just going to give us a break and we’re going to recover, we’re going to keep going, I think the universe had other plans because we were starting to finally come out of this darkness and my father had an allergic reaction to this hair dye. We were going to go to this family wedding and his face blew up to twice the size and [he] ended up going to the emergency room. Then with routine tests and things, they basically found that he had stage four lung cancer, and they gave him the sentence that he would survive only 10 months. And sure enough, later on that year he passed. So there we were, I was 19, an orphan and pretty much the caretaker of my youngest brother and that really took me into overdrive in my 20s. It was overdrive of “Okay, no one’s going to pity us. No one’s going to feel sorry for us. We got this. Or I got this”, you know. I kind of assumed this over-achieving or achievement-oriented, go at it, unapologetic, fierce mentality of nothing is going to let us down until it really did. And that’s really what happened at the end of my 20s.
Really getting into this really incredibly toxic relationship which would turn into marriage but that was my coping mechanism. With all of my losses, and some of your listeners can probably relate to busyness or distraction or work and luckily, I was good at that. I was a professional at working, I’d been doing that since I was 10. So I didn’t know how to take care of myself and part of this whole journey, after going through and building my dream seven-figure business, was really crashing and collapsing because I knew at that point I had to make a decision. Am I going to stay in this picture-perfect life that I had created on paper and live this lie or really come and share my truth in all of the ways that I had been hiding for literally so long? To really unveil or reveal a new version of myself that was really waiting to emerge and heal after so long.
Mindie: That is a crazy story.
Neeta: It’s a lot. I feel like people should take a breath.
Mindie: Yeah. When I hear things like that, one, I have so much empathy. Everything that I went through with Sean feels like nothing compared to somebody who, at such a young age, had loss after loss after loss. That, to me, is crazy. My perception of you is that you’re generally super positive, generally happy, generally smiling. My question is how do you get to that based on everything you’ve come from?
Neeta: I think that some of the biggest things that I’ve learned throughout my life and really has informed the work that we do now, I have this attitude and it’s because I’ve been living my life like this that even in my darkest days, “Oh my gosh, I’ve had these things that I did.” Whether it was prayer, whether it was thinking in my heart of “I’m probably going to lose somebody else again”, and that feeling of that lump in your stomach like, “Somebody’s going to call. Oh my God, I don’t want to pick up the phone.” You know, there’s trauma. I didn’t even want to give birth to my son in a hospital because there was so much trauma because I had lived throughout losing multiple family members. Whether it’s personal growth, resilience training, leadership capacity building or business development, it has to start with the first part and I feel like so much of even in our schools, we’re not really taught the coping mechanisms, not even the communication, not even being able to have the courage to say, “Shit, I feel down. Shit, I don’t know what to say to what you’ve been through, but God that sucks.” We don’t even have the vocabulary for that. And I think that that’s been, I think, some of the greatest strengths, which is why I’ve been able to I guess, in many cases, be so malleable. Obviously, it’s informed a lot of the work that I do now, and have I worked with a ton of different healers, coaches, therapists, release workers and all of those things? Absolutely, because I needed to there’s no way. I should have been in some drug ward somewhere or doing something else because I had every excuse to.
Mindie: Amazing. If people are interested in learning more about you and your work, where would you like to send them?
Neeta: Yeah, come and hop over to GlobalGritInstitute.com and you can learn more about the GRIT process as well as our business development opportunities.
Mindie: Awesome. So I’ll link to that in the transcript and Neeta, you are also going to be part of The Lucrative Speakers Summit this summer and I wondered if you could just give a little hint of what you’re going to be talking about on the summit.
Neeta: Yes, super excited, and I think that just to give you guys a glimpse, we all have GRIT in our stories. You guys all heard just a little bit of my GRIT. Today that has really turned into greatness and really being able to serve love in all the ways that I truly enjoy now to all of you. And so we’re going to be talking about the GRIT framework, and how to really add that into honoring your stories, pulling out your stories to turn them into greatness gems in your life.
Mindie: That’s awesome. I myself, can’t wait to hear you talk about that. So if you all are interested in that, find out more at LucrativeSpeaker.com. Neeta, I’m so excited just to have had you on this show. I’m really delighted just to have gotten to know you better, for sharing with my audience and really just for being a badass woman that you are as a model for so many other entrepreneurs out there that can look to your success and say, “You know what, if she did it, I think there’s hope for me too”, and just continue on their way. So thank you so much.
Neeta: Oh, you’re so welcome. It was such a pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Mindie: Absolutely, anytime.