Author, speaker, entrepreneur, mother-of-five and fitness enthusiast; Susan believes that we can truly have it all.
You have been an entrepreneur since you were 11 years old. What was your first business, and does it continue in any form today?
Like many Canadians I grew up in an immigrant family. My family ran a Chinese restaurant in Southeastern Ontario, so entrepreneurship was definitely in my blood. One Christmas, when I was eleven, I wanted to go to the mall and buy Christmas presents by myself. So I went to my dad and I asked, “Can I have some money?” He said, “Absolutely not, but you can earn it! Why don’t you start a business? What do you love to do?” I thought, “What if I make hand-made Christmas ornaments and sell them?” So I went to my dad and I asked, “Can I have a business start-up loan?” and he said, “Show me your budget,” which I then created. The business start-up loan was probably $12 to $15. I bought all the supplies, sold the ornaments and ended up with a revenue of $40. I said, “Oh my gosh, I’m really on to
something here!” I paid my dad, took all the profit and reinvested it in the materials and I ended up with a gross revenue of $80. That’s how I started as an entrepreneur although the business doesn’t continue today. Not everyone wanted to buy my ornaments; some were saying that they were too expensive. As a little kid, this was a wonderful learning experience, and that has definitely carried into my work today.
By the age of 24, you had your first million-dollar venture. What do you credit for this amazing achievement?
At the age of 19, I graduated from a 4-year university degree program which I finished in 3 years. I became a certified personal trainer and a nutritional consultant because of my passion for health and fitness. One day I interviewed to be a fitness instructor at a health club and on my way there I said, “One day I’m going to own this club.” After teaching there for a few years, the club became for sale
so I tried to figure out how I was going to get the start-up capital for this club. I felt like an 11-year-old again trying to figure this whole thing out.
I had to make a business plan and to generate the start-up capital for it. I was in labour for my daughter, Avery, and I was in between contractions calling my clients to see if they would loan me the $10,000 more that I needed. I got the loan and a few hours later had a baby. I found myself taking over the health club with a brand-new baby at 24 years old. It was amazing. I thought I could handle it all, but I was so naive in thinking I knew everything about health clubs. There were a lot of things I didn’t anticipate and as a result I had to be overworked- 7 days a week. I would be there first thing in the morning and the last one to leave at night, plus I had this young child. I was also teaching nutrition at college level. I was seeing clients and doing some volunteering on radio and television. I ended up getting really burned out and my health started to slide. I knew something was wrong and I went to my doctor who was my client and I asked him to run some tests. Sure enough, I was diagnosed with Progressive Multiple Sclerosis at age 27. On top of all that, 15 weeks after the diagnosis, I walked in to teach my indoor cycling class and all my students were outside, because there was a padlock on the door. We had been shut down for failure to pay taxes.
I really had my head in the sand: I was so busy teaching, scheduling and signing memberships that I just chose not to really know and learn about handling the financial side of the business. I was devastated to walk out on my business. I didn’t go back to that club for another 15 years. It turned into a dance studio by one of my students. I remember when I first walked in, I had to choke back tears because all of the
feelings of frustration, disappointment and failure that re-surfaced. Losing that business took a toll on my health and I was devastated for all the employees. I really feel that it’s one thing for us to learn things in theory, but it’s another thing to put it into practice. I had all this theory, but I didn’t have all the real-world experience that I thought I did. So looking back at that now, it was like getting an MBA. I am grateful that I was able to come through the other side.
What encouragement would you have for an entrepreneur who feels they are disadvantaged
because of an illness or a condition?
It doesn’t matter what we’ve been diagnosed with. We can spend a lot of time thinking about “Why did this happen to me?” or we can figure out how to navigate around it and be solution-oriented. When I was first diagnosed, I went through all the phases of grief that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross talks about. But, because so much was happening in my life, I thought, “I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself, I have to figure out how to live a symbiotic life with what’s going on.” So I made some bold choices and took control of my medical destiny.
I immediately fired any physician who said, “There’s only one solution, you have to go on medication” because I wanted to work with someone who said that there were other options. It took several years for me to find the right doctor who was willing to work with me in my decision to heal my life and not to be on any medication. It was also about learning to listen to my body. You’re going to have good days; you’re going to have bad days, and I chose to do as much as I could on good days; then really listen to my body on the days that were not so great. I learned to meditate. I learned to be mindful. I made a deliberate choice to become a vegetarian and I am 99% vegan. I don’t do gluten. I work really hard to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep at night. I drink a lot of water every day. I created new standards for myself and I chose to be deeply present and with the grace of God, here I am 16 years later, not on any MS medication. The regimen that I follow, with lots of vitamins, lots of prayer, meditation, mindfulness, is the path that I’ve chosen and my message to anyone who’s been diagnosed with illness, is that there is always a better choice.
You encourage those who know they aren’t living a full, abundant life to seek the services of a life coach or planner. What guidelines should people follow to select the right coach for them?
Number one is find someone who is successful in an area you want to achieve in. There are lots of coaches out there and I think coaching is a very noble profession, but some coach people in an
area that they don’t have experience in. When I wanted to become a professional duathlete and triathlete, I hired a running coach, a cycling coach and a swimming coach because I wanted to get really good at all of these disciplines. Get to know your coach and don’t settle for the slow track. The fast track is where we are working with people who have achieved in the area we want to achieve in, and we are open and willing to do the work that our mentor or coach is putting forth to us.
You’re also a passionate advocate of helping those in need. What is it about Sistering that stood out as an organization you wanted to support?
I’m so passionate about women. I have my own philanthropic mission statement: I advocate causes that benefit the lives of women and children which have a component of education to them. Education, in my view, is required to alleviate a lot of the challenges facing the world and the subjugation of women. What I love about the organization is that women are taught computer and writing skills. They are able to take control of their life and have the ability to cook for themselves in their own kitchen, which would help restore their dignity. There are a lot of women at Sistering who are educated, but immigrated to Canada through different circumstances and unfortunately became homeless. Sistering helps women write resumes, to get them back into the workforce. We never know when we or someone we love may need that same organization. So I would encourage everyone to look at the organization in your community. You don’t have to donate. You can volunteer. A lot of women’s shelters need baby clothes. A lot of women leave abusive situations overnight and they have nothing; they just pick up their kids and go. Call your local shelter and see what they need. Find something that fi res your heart and really contribute. I think it’s a privilege for us to live in a free country and beyond paying taxes, it’s our obligation to make that country a better place.
In “The Have It All Woman” – you state that it is surprisingly simple to go from being a woman who “does it all” to one who “has it all” and enjoys the best of health, career and relationships. What is the secret to this kind of transformation?
The number one piece of advice I can give to any woman who is doing it all is that, it all comes down to perspective. One woman’s version of having it all is different from another woman’s version of having it all. If you ask a woman in a remote village in Malawi, “Do you have it all?” and her children were healthy, she has enough money for them to go to school, they have a clean home to live in and have food, then she would say “Yes, I am blessed, I have it all.” But if you take a woman from Manhattan who is used to a six-figure income and put her in that hut, she might say, “I have nothing.”
The reality is that it comes down to perspective, and the advice I want to give your readers is to really take some time to think, “What does having it all mean to me?” It comes down to what is truly important: your health, having financial stability, having people in your life who love you and living in a country where you can vote. The moment we shift our perspective to the right areas to things that truly matter, then we begin to realize that we truly do have it all. We can have it all, it depends on what our definition is and the amount of emphasis we put on that definition.
You began studying the network marketing field in 2000. What appealed to you so much about this subject?
It wasn’t what I thought I would be doing, but as I became more affected by MS my options became fewer. When I worked corporately I was very good at sales, but the month-end sales quotas created stress that would flare up my MS. Even as a personal trainer in Canada, I worked with some of the members of the Tragically Hip and with Kirk Muller; I was really good at what I did and I loved it. But as
the disease took over my body, one day I almost dropped a 45-pound plate on my client and I knew then that I had to stop. I went back to school and studied homeopathic medicine, but my body started to shut down. I knew what my potential was, but, in reality, I didn’t see how I could physically live up to that potential.
When I was first presented with network marketing, I wasn’t open to it because I really had some prejudgements about it/ But the more I studied it, I realized that this could be a viable option for me to be able to work at my own pace, work from home, use the skills that I had and to be able to grow a business. If I was having one of those days when I was more tired or having a MS flare-up. Then I could set the schedule to suit me, that is what was so appealing. There’s no network marketing success overnight, don’t let anyone tell you that; it definitely takes work. I really started to build my business in 2003, and that business because very successful and lucrative. It helped a lot of people design life on their own and it brought me joy. Network marketing allows me time flexibility, and when I am out there in the world and speaking to audiences, there are so many people who decide that they want to take control of their life as well. They decide to start a bookkeeping business or start driving Uber; they want to design their own life, the “YouEconomy”. They say, “I want to freelance, I want to consult. I’m sick and tired of working for someone else.” I would sat consider network marketing as one of your streams of income because you never know when it might become your mainstream of income.
As the mother of five beautiful children, how would you say your experience of parenthood has inspired you?
It’s been an interesting journey because I had one of my kids when I was 24 and then I found my daughter Margaret in a shelter in Africa  years ago. I had a family that ranged in age from 7 to 22 and then Margaret [recently] had a baby. It’s given me this perspective to learn from them every single day. I was raised by my dad who tried to figure parenting out and dealt with all these
teenage girl challenges. I give him so much credit for the parent that I became because while my grandmother was strict and traditional, my dad was very loving and he really encouraged me to figure out things in the world.
My greatest wish for my kids is that they will grow up and contribute to society and whatever they choose to do, that it be done with loving pure intent. And the other thing I’ll say is it’s definitely given me patience. There’s nothing I love more than sitting down for dinner every night with my family, it’s my favourite time of the day. Some days it happens at 4 pm, others at 8 pm, but we sit down, no devices or phones. We go around the table and talk about our high point of the day. To me, that always fills my heart. To anyone who is reading this who is a parent, in this world it is very easy to get caught up with all sorts of distractions, but it’s so important to take time everyday and just be present to your kids. Try to find what is really going on with them and not preach. Most of the time they’re so wise beyond their years. Spend time with your kids. It will keep you youthful. You will learn from them. Honestly, I would have had another child but my husband was like, “No, we’re done.” But I wouldn’t close the door to adoption which is really a Godsend!
Graham, J. Paik, M. Beltran | Contributing Writers