Even though I have dedicated myself to creating Nelum Botanics, a natural skincare line, a huge part of myself has stopped me from taking the business to the next level. People have told me “it’s not fear of failure, but fear of success that’s stopping you”. I’ve thought about that but that’s not really it, that’s not my struggle with Nelum Botanics.
After thinking long and hard about it, and after noticing the patterns of when the issue shows up, I realized that I was suffering from guilt.
From as early as I could remember—when I was 5 years old actually—I wanted to make the world a better place. Blerkkk. Sounds so cliché, I know. But honestly, I remember walking around with my dad on the busy streets of Colombo and asking him why there were people begging, why there were children living on the streets, why there were people with no limbs. I told him I hated God for doing this to them.
My dad was not the most perfect human being so his answer struck me and shaped me. He told me “it’s not God. It’s people. We do it to each other because of greed and power”. I felt happy because I thought that if people did this, then at least we could fix it. I already had a solution in my head; I just needed to grow up fast to implement it.
With that in my core, I was so confused about what to earn my degree in. Would I be able to fix the ills of society by being a lawyer, a teacher, a policy maker or an herbalist? No, no, not an herbalist because shutting out the sound of reality’s cries to make herbal tinctures in my quaint little cottage wasn’t going to help the rest of humanity, I thought. So I chose Social Thought and Political Economy—a blend of all the disciplines I loved.
There I was, all set to enter the world and cast my wand of intellect and wisdom to make this world a better place. But when I was done with yet another cycle of studies, my MA, I had a change of heart in my approach. I wanted to be an herbalist. No, not to stay home to make little tinctures in my quaint little cottage—I got that right the first time. But because after everything I learned coupled with those loving feelings brewing wild inside me after becoming a mother, it became all the more apparent that there was something fundamentally wrong with the way we lived. And the impact of that was (and is) affecting our health, our environment, our global economy and to all those dependent on that global economy (yes, all of us).
I was happy again, just like at that beautiful moment with my dad. I felt a surge of fulfillment: I not only found my calling but I found how to get there.
As I flipped through the business registration forms I was asked here and there to check off what industry Nelum Botanics belonged to. I carefully read through the long list of industry names hoping to find a “make the world a better place” industry or a more age-appropriate and realistic name, a “holistic living” industry. But no, my business fell into the category of “BEAUTY and COSMETICS”. I felt shivers down my spine. My body recoiled. I felt a blow to my gut and I just wanted to vomit. I looked at myself and thought, “What the hell have I gotten into?” “Who am I?” “What do I stand for?” I sat with this feeling for years.
“You need to promote”, they would say. “Advertise”. “Sell, sell, sell” they nagged. It felt like a sword pierced through my heart. I stopped breathing love for Nelum. I stopped exhaling love for Nelum. I wanted nothing to do with Nelum Botanics for I wanted nothing to do with capitalism and greed. Worst yet was how I perceived this transition in my head: I saw myself go from wanting to be a change maker to being a part of an industry that prioritized superficial things. I kept thinking “my god, in a world where there are so many problems, who the heck cares if your skin tone is uneven?” And the last thing I wanted to do was to instill a sense of insecurity onto others to arouse a sense of need so that people could buy a floral face mist that would even out their skin.
I froze. I stopped. And though I picked myself back up and started to wade through, it didn’t feel as good as I wanted it to. Guilt killed me and prevented Nelum Botanics from shining.
The only time I felt my heart resurrect was when I was growing my herbs, learning about the medicinal wonders of plants and concocting remedies for people. Standing in front of my scale, weighing my flower petals, pouring out cold pressed oils and labeling my precious creations brought me happiness and in those hours I wanted so badly (I know that’s not a real word) to make my products available to all. But how, if the business side of it, made me stop?
I found myself reminding myself why I started Nelum Botanics. Yes, even though I knew deep inside why I chose this approach, the loud noise from the bustling pressure of this Beauty & Cosmetics Industry I was now a part of drowned my voice, my sound, my reason.
“Why am I doing this?” I would ask, as I forced myself to get back in touch with my purpose and ignore the pushes n’ pulls of others. Because...and slowly my answered started to flow in:
I am shedding off my guilt because despite the industry I’m forced into, my conscience and intentions have not changed. And with this, I can rest assured that my choices, methods, techniques, and approach will always be in line with the things I value most. Nelum Botanics is not just “Beauty and Cosmetics”. It’s beauty inside and out. It’s beauty with a conscience. It’s mindfulness for the world we live in. It’s living in harmony with the elements around us.