Find an inspiration so big and powerful that it would make you do anything in the world to bring it to life. Grit requires true inspiration.
Find people whose eyes also glimmer with the thought of achieving the vision — so much so that they’ll step in and take the oar if you feel like you need to take a pause. Grit requires collective strength.
Always re-center on your self-confidence and your belief in yourself.
Cycle through the ups and downs of the journey making sure to celebrate each little win. Push your energy and whole being a little first, see what you get. Then a bit more, see what you accomplish. Then a bit more, and a bit more…this is the rhythm of Grit.
Embrace the gut feelings, the intuitions, and all the crazy intangibles. Sometimes there’s a method to the madness… and sometimes madness is your method. Trust your inner calling, pivot when your heart tells you, and be comfortable with the necessary uncertainty that always comes with the journey you are undertaking — this is the spice that helps keep your grit alive!
I had the pleasure to interview Sunny and Sarah, the two engineers who are the founders behind The 9 Elements.
Sunny was born in 1990 in Colombia, South America. At a young age, Sunny and her family were forced to flee Colombia, were granted asylum in the US and settled in Coral Springs, Florida. There, Sunny began 5th grade — not knowing a word of English. In her new home, Sunny fell victim bullying, depression and low self-esteem that led to years of struggling with eating disorders. It wasn’t until she began her job at the Procter & Gamble company in 2013 that she decided to forgive and redeem the struggles of her past by creating solutions to help others. Sunny helped initiate Eating Disorder support groups in her community, became a volunteer in soup kitchens around the city, and began to co-create the 9 Elements brand within P&G. Today, on top of an already busy life, Sunny works on nights and weekends to pursue her Master’s degree in Complementary Alternative medicine — a life choice that ignites her passion and curiosity every single day.
Sarah was born in 1983 in Pensacola, Florida, raised by her mother and father along with her younger brother. She lived in Florida for most of her life. Growing up in her mother’s salon, she started to be interested in formulating products. She would read ingredients and help her mom create hair color formulations in her mom’s salon. The passion started to grow, and in college, she decided to major in Chemical Engineering. She had a desire to create products that would improve the lives of people, and after researching many companies, decided that working at a consumer goods company was the best fit for her. She joined Procter and Gamble in 2006 as a Process Engineer and is now a Formulation Group Scientist. Today, on top of a busy professional career, she is also a wife and a mother to four children.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
• SUNNY: when I was 21 years old I was recovering from a difficult journey of depression and disordered eating. With part of my recovery came dealing with the consequences of the damage my body had undergone. The most prominent of them was cardiac insufficiency. I was prone to fainting, arrhythmias, and other cardiac complications. I felt like I had exhausted every cardiologist diagnosis and medical practice that could help me heal my body, so I opened my perspective and broadened my own boundaries to find ways to help my body heal. It was here where I found Homeopathic and Complementary Alternative Medicine. It was simple, straightforward, and so pure in a scientific sense that I remember feeling skeptical. But, with weeks of a modified diet, supplements, and mindfulness, everything changed. I saw the power in nature, I saw the beauty in simplicity, and I saw the internal transformation it caused in me. It did not mean that the degree, research, knowledge, work I had learned up until that point was wrong, but rather that my eyes hadn’t been opened to an equally beautiful and powerful reality — the one I could now see in Nature and Natural solutions. That is why I could relate and connect with the men and women today who believe in nature and these solutions, whether they apply them to their homes, for their health, or to help improve the world around them.
• SARAH: I grew up in my mom’s salon, and I was very interested in the chemical transformations that take place with hair. I started reading labels and helping my mom design color formulations. When I would see the result of someone’s hair transformed — and what that did for them personally and emotionally, I knew I wanted to be a part of creating products that improved people’s lives. I have always been very curious about how things work, and in school, I naturally excelled in math and science. After I had my youngest daughter who has skin sensitivities, I started considering natural products and decided I would formulate my own, which is where the formulations that ultimately became 9 Elements began.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
From the day 9 Elements started, we were inspired by the men and women out there who go out of their way to be sustainable, more conscious and caring for the environment. We had met so many consumers who shared that, at times, their use of natural remedies like lemon, vinegar, or baking soda was criticized as being naïve. So, we decided we wanted to create a whole brand that celebrated that devotion and went out of its way to demonstrate that natural ingredients can indeed be powerful. We believed we had the right formulations and ideas to enhance these natural cleaning ingredients, but it was definitely counter to the traditional science of cleaning. There was disbelief that it would be possible to create great performing products rooted on things like vinegar that had seemingly simple ingredient lists. We took inspiration from the men and women we had met and were determined to prove that it could be done. So, we leaned on each other’s expertise areas and developed cleaning formulas, torture-tested them, tweaked them, and ultimately, nature came through for us!
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
We really are each other’s support system. We’ve been on an incredible journey together since meeting six years ago, at P&G, and we really trust each other and believe in each other’s abilities. We share the same vision, the same dream, and the belief that there is something special we can do for others that makes us wake up every day and want to do a little more, be a little better and move a little faster. The more you bond and share, the more you start learning all the ways you complement each other and your strengths start to become apparent — and it is then that you realize you need each other to truly make something great. That reliance starts stitching deep emotional bonds that enable you to let someone else carry you if you’re having a difficult day.
So how did Grit lead to your eventual success?
How did Grit turn things around? When you are going through the darkest and most treacherous parts of your journey, grit can sometimes feel like a constructive rebellion that is pushing against all boundaries, breaking down walls and even carving some unknown territory that you may not know where it leads. Suddenly, when you start seeing some of your hardest work start bearing some fruit — even if it is small — then grit changes form and shape. Grit starts feeling like deep-rooted passion and it is re-energizing and re-inspiring. Then, when you hit another wall, the grit kicks back in, but this time you’re convinced it’s worth it, and you know it will ultimately transform into the passion that got you moving in the first place. This was our journey in 9 Elements.
So, how are things going today?
We are humbled and excited by how much people love 9 Elements. It’s so rewarding to finally get to see people enjoy something we’ve worked so hard on, and we can’t wait to introduce everyone to the rest of our product line-up!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
9 Elements, in a way, is a tribute to nature, intuition, and transparency. We celebrate the men and women that go out of their way every day to be more sustainable, to care for their families and their whole beings, to support the world around them, and to stand by their inner belief and intuition that there is power in nature that can be enhanced by science. These are the people who are trying to put their whole beings into making the world a better place: sharing insights, researching information, learnings new things, and contributing to the greater good. We, therefore, wanted to make the 9 Elements Brand a reflection of such inspiring individuals — giving them the transparency, authenticity, and care that they give for themselves and those around them. We wanted to reward them and let them know that when they went with their gut feeling about natural ingredients and remedies to solve everyday tasks, they were right. These men and women were the true inventors — they tested these ingredients and saw unexpected results, they started making their own blends and remedies, and they started sharing them with the world so that others too could experience them — all in the selfless caring way that they always act. Our job was therefore just to listen and to figure out with the gifts we were given how to further enhance and magnify the power of their own solutions because after all, while nature is powerful, it does not grow everyday products in the way humans sometimes need them. Nature gives us the gifts, it is up to us to embrace and bring out their potential.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Celebrate your little wins and spread the love for sure! In the journey of grit, you receive little gifts or little wins along the way. No matter how much time it takes you, pause, celebrate with your team, take it in, and re-inspire yourself and others.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
SUNNY: While there are a lot of people I would love to thank for 9 Elements, one person stands out to me from all others, my colleague and 9 Elements teammate, Uttam. One February day, we were in downtown San Francisco after research, connecting our insights and synergizing on the great inspiration we had gained. We had such excitement for the vision of how we would positively impact the lives of others through the lens of simplicity and transparency. As the 9 Elements journey progressed and my strength, grit, and emotional well-being were tested, Uttam was always there for me. While Sarah and I are the co-creators of 9 Elements, there are many members of the team that have worked to make 9 Elements possible, and Uttam is certainly one of those people.
SARAH: There are a lot of people who have helped me along the way. For me, on this journey, my mom. My mom recently passed away before I could share with her 9 Elements. She was the strongest person I know, and she taught me a lot about not giving up, being brave, and relentlessly pursuing dreams. I remember calling her in college asking to come home, and she wouldn’t let me. She believed in me more than I’ve ever believed in myself. Losing her during a very busy time of starting up this amazing brand, was very difficult, but I drew on her strength, determination, and her love. I look up and see rainbows, and I think of her, and I know how incredibly proud she would be of me, and I’m so grateful that she raised me to be the woman I am today.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
From the inception of 9 Elements, we knew we could not just be a brand, or a line of products, or a new start-up. We wanted to not only care for the families that buy and use 9 Elements, but we wanted to care for the world we both cherish so much. So, before we even launched, we set up the 9 Elements Impact fund. The 9 Elements Impact fund donates 33 cents of every individual product you purchase to a charitable cause. Importantly, it also lets you chose where your donation goes, so your money can go towards the causes you care about, whether that’s sustainable farming, safe drinking water or, supporting Girls in STEM. You can learn more about the 9 Elements Impact Fund at https://nine-elements.com/pages/causes
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit?
• #1: Find an inspiration so big and powerful that it would make you do anything in the world to bring it to life. Grit requires true inspiration.
• #2: Find people whose eyes also glimmer with the thought of achieving the vision — so much so that they’ll step in and take the oar if you feel like you need to take a pause. Grit requires collective strength.
• #3. Always re-center on your self-confidence and your belief in yourself.
• #4. Cycle through the ups and downs of the journey making sure to celebrate each little win. Push your energy and whole being a little first, see what you get. Then a bit more, see what you accomplish. Then a bit more, and a bit more…this is the rhythm of Grit.
• #5. Embrace the gut feelings, the intuitions, and all the crazy intangibles. Sometimes there’s a method to the madness… and sometimes madness is your method. Trust your inner calling, pivot when your heart tells you, and be comfortable with the necessary uncertainty that always comes with the journey you are undertaking — this is the spice that helps keep your grit alive!
You are people of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
SUNNY: A movement that allows people to be vulnerable and transparent about their lives and stories in a safe environment. A movement that then connects those stories and threads them together, linking you to stories of both people with different upbringings, cultures, then those who have similar ones to you — because, in my eyes, both help build empathy and community.
SARAH: A movement that encourages people to always be humble and kind.
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