pooja jauhari is the founder of seat at the table, group ceo of the vmly&r network, angel investor, mother to leia and veda and life partner to varun duggirala. this is her story.
“i was raised by a single mum after losing my father when i was 2 years old. life was a challenge growing up, but i have a superstar for a mum who bravely managed to build a good life, despite all the financial & societal constraints we faced. even as a 5-year-old, i was independently taking care of myself after school while my mum worked 2 jobs simultaneously to bring me up!
my mum worked hard and made sure to send me to a big school, with other kids from very wealthy families. i was surrounded by kids with abundance, and i’d often felt the lack of what i didn’t have. i then went to yet another big boarding school which i hated at the time — i felt abandoned & alone, like most kids in boarding school. but in all of this was an opportunity; a choice to build the kind of life i truly wanted to live.
when i was 15, i told my mum i didn’t want to go to university. we couldn’t afford a really big school, and i didn’t want to waste time; i wanted to start working immediately. i took this huge bet on myself! she reluctantly agreed, and i went on to get my first job hunt: a small 15-year-old girl, convincing a company to hire her! i kept it up for two weeks until i got a chance to speak to a manager, finally landing a job in a small advertising agency. i did get a degree via correspondence eventually, but i worked constantly with a clear goal. to live well! i’m happy to report that i’m living the life the 15-year-old pooja worked so hard and passionately to build.
i was excited about what the ad-world offered — the opportunity to constantly create new things, but i’d be lying if i said it was a cakewalk. i was a young woman in a boys club, and often the only woman in the room full of men. i never felt like “i made it”, but rather, “why aren’t there more like me here?” — that greatly influenced me to start building for women.
i’ve had the pleasure of amazing women bosses, most of whom i’m friends with, and what i learnt from all of them is this: even when i was younger, louder, and more energetic than them, they gave me space and let me flourish. they allowed me opportunities and were never insecure about it. that really pushed me to do the same for other women: through my time in leadership, i’ve pushed to hire without bias and create spaces of equal opportunity.
what i hope is for women to help other women change the way we define ourselves and how we measure our own success. it’s important to take control of that narrative. i speak from experience, having first-hand felt the power of support from my female colleagues & bosses, that if we truly support each other, help each other flourish, we can be the change, build the change we are all striving so hard for.
if there were 3 things that i could say to the younger me, they’d be this:
- stop and take a breath — comparison is the killer of joy.
- your life is for you, and not for the rest of the world — the sooner you realise that you don’t have to prove yourself constantly, you’’ll feel liberated!
- people aren’t thinking about you as much as you’re thinking about yourself, so relax and just do your thing!”