When your back is finally pushed against the wall, you will start to have a new life perspective centered on gratitude, optimism, and putting trust in God. This is what actor Riji Raja went through by experiencing homelessness with her husband, marking one of the most challenging phases of their lives. She sits down with Thane Marcus Ringler to share how they transitioned from being a homeless couple living in their car to making it big in their own careers, all while battling loneliness, family disputes, and racism. Riji also explains how her constant search for positivity and affirmation eventually brought her from the Hollywood stage to founding the stationery and wellness brand Affirmation Darling.
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[smart_track_player url=”https://traffic.libsyn.com/secure/theupandcomersshow/UAC_181_Riji_Raja.mp3″ title=”181: Riji Raja: Pairing Affirmations With Action: An Actor Who’s On A Mission To Let You Know You Are Enough, No One Is Born Ready, And There Is A Purpose To Living”]
181: Riji Raja: Pairing Affirmations With Action: An Actor Who’s On A Mission To Let You Know You Are Enough, No One Is Born Ready, And There Is A Purpose To Living
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I’m excited about this interview. This interview features Riji Raja. She is a third culture kid, Indian born and raised in Kuwait. She and her husband moved to LA for acting in 2016. With the high cost of living in Southern California, their living situation quickly fell apart, forcing them to live in their car for two years. After transitioning out of homelessness, Riji had always wanted to use her story to make an impact. She and her husband realized that they could use their backgrounds in retail and finance to make a difference for the underserved and disadvantaged young adults facing homelessness and mental health issues.
In 2020, after they were laid off due to COVID, Riji founded Affirmation Darling, a social impact, mental wellness brand built on powerful affirmations. They advocate for young adults from underserved and disadvantaged communities facing homelessness and mental health issues. Riji and her husband, Melween, along with their Yorkie, live in Los Angeles, California. Everything we talked about includes a wide-ranging conversation such as facing transitions in life, Riji’s background in Kuwait, cultural differences and facing those hardships, navigating family dynamics, the power of gratitude and trust, the importance of living by faith, navigating life with a partner and so much more. It was a fascinating conversation. I learned a lot from her experiences and the differences in culture. It was interesting and inspiring. I know you’re going to come away with a lot of inspiration and encouragement from Riji. I will stop talking and let you enjoy this interview with Riji Raja.
Riji Raja, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much, Thane.
It’s fun to be here with you. I want to start with the number eleven. What does the number eleven mean or what is its significance to you?
I did not know what eleven meant until it kept popping up everywhere. This was right before my biggest transition in life. I knew eleven meant transition. It came to a point where it kept showing up in my face everywhere. I’m like, “God, I get it. Can you please stop showing this eleven? I know we’re getting ready for transition now. Can you tell me the steps that I need to prepare for to get into that transition?” That’s what eleven means always to me.
Experiencing Homelessness: If you support an advocacy, keep doing that throughout and not just because it’s trending right now.
Let’s go back to this moment in time. What was the biggest transition in your life? Maybe paint the picture of where you were and what was happening in your life at that point.
My husband and I moved from Dallas to LA for acting. We had it all planned out probably for six months and hoping that we’ll find a job and maybe a gig, but back then diversity was not yet popping. We were on the back seat always. The planning did not work out and we ended up losing everything. We got an eviction notice. We had to move out of the apartment. We ended up moving from a one-bedroom apartment to a shared room. The landlady at that housing accommodation said, “We are going to make it all girls so we need your husband and you to leave.” I was like, “You’ve given me only four weeks to get a home, how am I going to find any place?”
We couldn’t find anything of that budget. We weren’t working then. We couldn’t find a job. Everything became an obstacle and we ended up moving into our car. This was the period when even before the landlady sent us that email, which was in August to October, I knew something crazy was going to happen. I also had a dream that there was an attack that was going to happen. I wish that was something that I kept pestering God to tell me what was the meaning of that dream. Now I knew exactly what that meant. I was like, “You did tell me what was going to happen.” He spoke to me. He told me what it is, but I didn’t listen. We ended up living in our car for two years. I’m sure if God told us that it was going to be for two years, we would be like, “Nope, sorry, bye.” We would not move here at all. I love that it was always a surprise. Every day was like, “What’s going to happen?” We made it. A few years later, here we are. It’s been only a year since we’ve got an apartment.
There’s so much that I’m excited to dive into there. I want to start here with transitions and how we make a lot of transitions in life. Sometimes they’re big and sometimes they’re small, but what have you found to be most helpful? Maybe it’s a mindset or it could be habits or things that help you in those time periods of transition. What do you focus on or what do you find helpful for the transition?
When you were stepping into transition, it’s like culture shock for you. It’s like a transition shock for you. You don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know how to do it. Once you accept and acknowledge that this is inevitable, you have to embrace it now. It’s like, “God, I accept it.” I’m talking to my significant other, which is my husband. We even contemplated. We almost made decisions to consider whether we should keep living on or should we end this life. It’s like telling each other in that moment like, “If we can take the time to discuss our life or death options, we can put the same energy and time to talk about how we can still live and do something about this and make this work in our favor.”
Acknowledging and accepting the inevitable is the first step. I wrote pros and cons of the situation. The pros were like we’re saving on a rent bill. When we’re living in a car, we can still travel on the road and still sleep in the car, and get to see places. I’m new to the US. I’m only a few years new so I feel like I’m still exploring the country, the state. We’ve traveled in our car many times. The cons, we had lacked in everything. We were struggling with our finances. We could barely eat our food, barely find means to eat food. There were many days when we would buy one 6-foot-long Subway and we would divide it into three parts. We would have it for lunch and dinner. We’d skip breakfast and just drink water.
We’re like, “We’re drinking so much water. This is not good.” Once we start accepting and we felt like we were beating the system slowly, we started seeing the loopholes in there. We started taking advantage of the situation and be like, “How can we make this work for us?” There are many things in our life that we went through, many areas and aspects that we felt like we improved on in doing this journey. I don’t think we would have even touched the surface if we were living in our car.
It seems like we don’t understand how to transition well until we’re shocked into a big enough transition. There have been a lot of transitions in your life and there were a lot of transitions before that point, but it took a groundbreaking transition to learn some of these lessons that can help us in future transition. Would you agree with that?
Let’s talk about the experience of being homeless. This is something that is near and dear to most people’s hearts that live in a city. You’re face-to-face with this reality a lot more consistently than people that live in smaller places or in the middle of the country. It’s been a growing issue that we face, with more and more people experiencing this type of reality. I remember hearing in some of the research I did that you had mentioned wanting to have a handbook written on homelessness to help you guys in those early periods. If you had to make up this handbook or write this handbook, what would be the handbook to homelessness in your experience?
That you’re not alone. We’ve encountered loneliness a lot. That was another point of gratitude for us that we have each other. When we thought about the people who don’t have someone else to accompany this journey with, that can be very devastating. The other thing that we did not know back then, which we come to know after we come out of our car, is that there are many resources out there and many nonprofit organizations that we did not know about. I don’t think it even crossed our minds. It’s also because where we come from, we are conditioned to not tell our struggles to anybody, and that we have to handle it on our own. We did not even tell our parents about this journey. When we are thinking this way, we are also thinking that there’s nothing out there that can help us get out of the situation. There’s nobody out there who can help us mentally and all that stuff.
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When people used to say that they have therapists, I always thought therapists are for people who have the luxury to afford a therapist or someone who has minor struggles. I never associated any of that for people of color like us. It was like something that’s not for us. There are many things that I learned later that I’m like anybody else. I might be a person of a different color, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t get access to all these things. At the same time, when I know that these things exist, there were points in our life and we realized that we were not allowed to get access to those things because we were a person of color.
We would apply for a job, a seasonal hire, and we didn’t get it anywhere. I’m like, “I want to go back and see who they finally hired,” and they’re all white people. I went and asked them, “Did you not hire us because we were not of the color that you desired us to be?” When we are doing our best to get out of it, then there are these walls that are like, “No, you don’t have entry. You’re not allowed to pass this.” When we were going through that and we saw these doors getting shut, we took a step back and we were like, “What can we do with what we know and what we have?” The big thing that we did was showing up everywhere, showing up to whatever we wanted in life.
We both got a job at the same place and that was a turning point in our lives. I accidentally hit this Instagram story. I saw that the founder of that company was in that store. I went and said, “Hi,” but I didn’t think of getting a job. Having the heart for empathy, generosity and a real connection that can take you places, and not with that hidden agenda that I need this so this is why I’m doing that. I went there to say hi and to connect. Within the same day, I ended up getting an interview and we both got the jobs. It’s having the open heart, that empathetic heart, a real heart is key and not being selfish.
I imagine that being challenging. I know for someone like me who isn’t on the brink of survival, I still struggle immensely with being selfish, but for someone who is on the brink of surviving or not surviving, how do you maintain an open heart and an unselfish posture? What I imagine that experience would be like when you are in a place without a home and you’re working on surviving and that’s a big part of your focus. Surviving is inherently selfish because you need to take care of your needs. How do you maintain an open heart and selflessness in that type of position?
Gratitude, that’s one word. I love the verse in the Bible that says, “A king’s crown doesn’t last forever.” Any second, everything that you have can be taken away, especially with what’s going on in 2020 and 2021 with COVID. Now you’re alive, tomorrow, you could be in the ICU. Anything can happen. Here we are now being in that place and we were like, “What if this happened during this COVID? What would happen if we were living in our car? We wouldn’t be able to find places to shower. We wouldn’t be having access to the microwave, the food lunch, and all that stuff. Taking that moment of being present in that moment and being thankful for what you have is the key.
When we were living in our car, even though we lacked a lot of things, we still have our car to sleep in. We are not sleeping on the streets. We should put all our gratitude into that, that we have this car. When we acknowledge that, the enemy comes attacking and we got a repossession letter. We couldn’t pay off our car, but we had random friends calling us and saying, “God put this in our heart saying that you needed this money.” I’m like, “This is exactly the amount short that we need it to pay off our car. How did you know?” They were like, “That’s exactly who God is.” Gratitude was a thing even now. We are still unemployed. We’re living on our savings. How do we stay sane through all this? God is like, “I did something for you. Do not forget that. You’re still living in your car. I took care of you. I protected you. I kept you safe. Do you think I can’t do that right now?” Trust is a huge thing also, trusting God, leaning on Him and not on ourselves. For me, the secret sauce was faith. I don’t think I could have done this without God.
When we talk about gratitude and trust, what is a practice of gratitude and trust look like? What does that look like in daily practice for you even now?
I love making lists. First thing in the morning, I write down the things that I’m grateful for, that I have now. Prayer is a privilege. I take advantage of that as long as I have breath in me. I pray a lot. I surrender my day to God like, “Whatever comes my way, all the problems, it is your headache, not mine. I want you to tell me what I need to do.” Putting all that on Him like He’s my journal. I throw everything on him. I’m like, “I’m going to be a la-di-da now so it’s your problem, fix it if there’s anything.” That blind trust and that full surrender is how I start my day.
There’s something to that. A lot of people say, “Blind trust, I can’t do that,” because it seems ignorant or naive. There’s something beautiful to the blind trust of saying, “No, I recognize where we’re at. I see where I’m at. I know exactly all the hardships or obstacles or things that are presenting themselves. Yet even despite that, I know that God is bigger than them and I’m going to have a trust fall with God.” I’m going to say, “God, you’ve got this. I’m going to be faithful and responsible to what you call me to do. I also know that you’re going to provide in that.” That’s a much deeper place of what others may consider blind trust, but in reality, is more of faith trust in that sense.
I have come across that situation as well where I’m like, “Lord, I’m trusting you. I don’t know how to trust you though.” God is like, “Just trust me and test me.” I always say that back at him, “Lord, I’m testing you. For the next 24 hours, I want you to show up in some ways so I know that you’re there.” I feel like 99% of the time He has shown up in some way. I’m like, “I believe what you’re saying. I will trust you.” I know that His ways are bigger than my ways, that if I come up with a strategy, it’s going to utterly fail me. I will rather have Him control my future.
I know that’s not harming and it’s always something to help me in the long run, but it might be painful doing that journey. That’s something else that I have shifted my mindset, to accept the journey in between. Just because we are trusting Him, that it’s going to be an incredible journey. No. I know that and I accept that. It’s like, “God, help me see the perspective in what you’re seeing. I might want to know everything right now, but tell me to shut up if I need to. Teach me how to rely on you and completely drain the strength out of you the whole time.”
Experiencing Homelessness: If it is God’s will, He will assure ways for you to keep going.
There’s something about it that’s beautiful. It’s profound too in a lot of ways. I’d love to hear since you and your husband have gone through this experience, how has experiencing it personally change your view of the issue we’re facing with more and more people experiencing homelessness? How has that experience of having some of that experience shifted the way you looked at it or approached it, or even viewed it as a society or those around you? Meaning before and after, how you viewed it before you experienced it yourself, and how you view it now, the difference between that.
I don’t think I have viewed homelessness like how I’m viewing it now, both of us. We always take things for granted. When we were homeless, when everything was taken away, and then when we got back, most of the things like a pillow for example, which we all take for granted. Having a pillow to rest our head on, I would cry. Every day when I moved into an apartment, I have a pillow for myself. We would share one pillow because we didn’t have space. It’s having a mattress, having a pillow, being able to walk barefoot, and just in PJs.
The thing that we got was, “You don’t look homeless.” We got that a lot from a lot of people. I don’t understand. You can’t expect me to look homeless just because I’m homeless. I’m not going to present like that to you. I’m not homeless. I don’t want to accept it externally, but internally I know that this is a journey that I need to go through. I’m 100% sure that my empathy has gone five levels up towards people going through similar struggles. When they say that I am going through something, I’m like, “I can’t relate to exactly what you’re going through, but I know what it feels like for things to be taken away from you or for life to fully stop. For being like you can’t rely on anybody, you can’t trust anyone, losing community, losing friends, loneliness, and decisions on whether to live this life or end this life. I know that feeling.
Now, that has completely changed after we became homeless, expressing gratitude, practicing gratitude for things that we have, and also looking at people who don’t have and be like, “I feel like I developed this discernment.” When we hear someone say between the lines of they’re struggling, we are like, “We know what you’re going through, this is what you want. This is how we can help you.” They’re like, “How did you know?” I’m like, “We’ve been through this. We know how to hide some feelings and emotions because we don’t want to tell someone.” That is my hope and dream to be able to create that open space to have people be open about their struggles when it comes to especially being a person of color, and coming from a culture that does not want to talk about these struggles. My hope is to bring them together.
It’s such a massive thing that we face now that we need as many people thinking and looking to see ways to care and take care of one another, especially those that are experiencing hardships like that. It’s sweet to hear your perspective.
You have a point too. After that, I have noticed a lot of celebrities and a lot of people because it’s a trend, they hop on that trend. Once that trend is over, you don’t see them practicing that same empathy towards that cause or situation. That’s another thing that we realized that our cause, our empathy has remained the same if not consistent throughout. That’s something that I plead with people. Generally, I’m not able to tell them in the face. I’m like, “If you like something, if you support this, please keep doing that throughout and not because it’s trending right now.” That’s a little rant I had.
This isn’t an overnight cause. It’s not something that is changed, fixed, resolved or helped in a short-term passion. It is a long journey. One of the things that people are going to catch on to quickly and that was given in some of the background research I did is your resilience. You have incredible resilience is one of the references that had mentioned. That was also one of the words that they were describing or one of the superpowers that you have. This obviously doesn’t happen by chance and it doesn’t happen overnight. I’d love to hear going back to the younger years, what were those early years like as a child? I know that where you grew up, there were some wars going on that you experienced even at a young age. I’m curious where this deep well of resilience was initially formed.
The way at least my parents brought me up is they tell you what to do so you do that. From a young age, I felt like it was something in me to always be rebellious. I was born rebellious and my parents would account for instances of where I would be the bad girl in the house. Even my relatives say like, “What is your daughter? Is she even human?” That was always in me. They always thought that I was going to be forever that black sheep. I am but I used it to bring good into our lives. When they tell you what to do, and if you don’t do it, it upsets them. It upsets the culture and the society. Here I am doing everything that they asked me not to do or doing things that they did not expect me to do. That was interesting to see their reaction. Me telling them my story right now of my homelessness was a shocker for them.
I’m like, “That’s exactly the way you brought me up. I wasn’t ready to tell you.” I wasn’t able to open up because I had that fear. The way we were brought up as kids, I don’t blame my parents at all. I’ve told them multiple times, it’s society. It’s the society that they were brought up in. It kept passing on from generation to generation. That’s one thing that my husband and I are like, “We are going to break this in the car. When we leave the car, we’re going to be stopping all that. We’re not going to drag this into our next generation of instilling fear or saying what they need to do. Let them pursue what they want.” I felt like I didn’t get that freedom. However, my parents would disagree.
I had many things that I wanted to do. There were always clauses like, “No, only bad kids do that.” I wanted to do, we call it to breakdance, but it’s basically freestyle dancing and they’re like, “No, don’t do that. That’s for the bad kids. You shouldn’t do that. What will people think of us?” I’m like, “It’s just dance.” I will cry like, “I just want to dance.” I still haven’t learned dancing, but whatever I want to do when I tell them, it has to be acceptable by society. That’s how they measure it.
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There are no creative career pursuits happening in my family. It’s more like be a doctor or engineer. There’s no lawyer. They say, “Be a lawyer.” I was like, “You want me to be a doctor or engineer, I’m going to pursue a bachelor’s in science.” I ended up doing my Bachelor’s in Microbiology. They’re like, “Has this turned to be useful to you?” I’m like, “No.” I wanted to do something opposite of what they’re saying. It was the rebellious nature of me. I get easily bored. I’m like, “I’m bored of science. I want to do finance now.” I ended up doing Master’s in Finance.
It was like, “I’m bored in finance. I want to try accounting.” I got the job in auditing, which had to do with accounting. Here I am, I don’t have a degree in accounting. I’m struggling so much. That was my wake-up call that I need to stop playing with life and I need to listen to what my heart wants. I was working as an auditor in Dallas and I was not feeling fulfilled at all so I quit that. That’s why I pursued acting. If you asked me if acting was on my heart, no, it wasn’t. It just felt very interesting. Also seeing on TV that there were not many colored people, especially Indian, Middle Eastern people. I was like, “Let’s be a part of the story that will be unfolding.”
What a journey that’s been and I believe you were born in Kuwait, is that correct?
How old were you when you moved to a new city or the next step beyond that? Did you spend most of your childhood in Kuwait?
I was born and raised for 26 years in Kuwait. Even though I’m of Indian ethnicity, we call ourselves expatriates or Non-Residents of India, NRI. We NRIs or the Gulf kids, we only get to travel to India during our summer vacation. It’s always alternate years. It’s never every year because it’s expensive. It was something that we always look forward to. Kuwait is a dot on the map. It’s even hard to find it on the map. There’s no moving within Kuwait. If you move, it’s like next door. We grew up in the same city for a long time. You were asking about the Gulf Wars. I was 4 or 5 years old and then my mom was pregnant with my brother. I’m sure there are a lot more stories that probably they’re not telling me, but I know in brief that they struggled so much financially. We’re still Christians, but my dad was from another state. My mom is from another state. My husband and I are both from different states too. It’s not very normal for interstate marriage. It’s getting acceptable now. Back then, it always created a rift within families. There were a lot of issues because I got married so they didn’t have support. This war happens and they didn’t know who to turn to.
They didn’t have the finances to get out of the country. It was difficult to get out because everything was shut down. It wasn’t a lockdown. It was like lockdown plus oil burning. The air is like so bad to breathe. Your dad comes from work and I would rub his shirt. You will get the oil suit on your fingers. That’s how bad it is. If you want to get out, you have to pay money to charter this bus. It’s always hard to get. You have to be on a wait list. I believe they were stuck for 4 or 5 months when that was going on. There are a lot of interesting stories. The Iraqis came and raided the apartment, the whole building. They set something that they left my mom alone, but they found out there were a lot of women in that building that were raped.
They said, “Give us all the appliance.” They’re still newly married. They bought all these new appliances and they sold it for a dime probably. They took everything. They took advantage of that during that time. My dad was still working. The office was still open. He was in textile. I still wonder how, why or who was purchasing that? I never asked that question though. They’re like, “I don’t know how we were alive, but we were still alive and you’re here.” That’s another thing that I’m grateful for that we went through. They would say about instances of people who they knew were killed during the war because the bombs were falling in wrong places, and them saying that when they’re sleeping, they could hear the bomb going off like, “It’s right next to us.” I don’t remember any of this though. This is them saying. We would hold hands and pray like that was the last night. They went through so much fear. I’m grateful for that as well.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? What were the dreams you had at those young years?
I don’t think I had any dream to be what I wanted. It was always like, “I wonder what they want me to be. It’s always been like that, what my parents wanted me to be. I’ve been visiting my memory lane for the past six months. I would have a scrapbook of things that I loved. I love movies for some reason. I love women celebrities because I’m like, “They’re so beautiful. I want to be like them.” I never thought that was acting. I still remember Nicole Kidman’s poster and then Avril Lavigne, the singer. I had all these posters and I knew I was drawn to something and that was not in Kuwait or India. That’s something that I had and my mom was like, “What is this?”
She would tear up everything. She would tear every book or journal that I had. She was afraid and I don’t blame her. It’s more like, “What if this turns out to something that she shouldn’t be doing? Maybe this is not good for her.” She never sat down to ask why I’m doing what I’m doing. She took action. That traumatized me and damaged me. That’s something that I’ve been reverse engineering to know. I’ve been asking myself, “Why did I do that? Why did I get upset with what she did? What did I want to be in life? Whatever I had stuck on my scrapbook, did I get that now?” I feel like I am all my way to all those things that I wanted.
The main thing that I noticed was to be seen and heard. That was the thing that I struggled with so much in my family. I was seeing for all the wrong things, painted a wrong picture but here I am, “I just wanted to be seen. I don’t feel like I belong here. I’ve been trying to tell you, guys.” I even attempted to take my life when I was a teen. I didn’t tell my parents until a few years ago. I’m telling this to my parents. They’re like, “Why didn’t you tell us? What are you stressed about? What are you anxious about? You’re not old enough to be that.” That’s something that I thought. I’m like, “Don’t tell that to kids. Never say that.” Whatever age you are, you go through stress. It doesn’t have an age. When you have them saying that, I’m like, “You’re not going to understand what I’m going through so I kept everything within me.” That’s also what contributed to my massive rebellious nature.
Experiencing Homelessness: Every day is an opportunity to learn something new.
For people that may share that same background or upbringing as you and are in it, they find themselves in a similar place, what do you encourage? Contemplating and trying to take your life because of the stress and because of the system in place, what encouragements would you have given to your younger self?
Be bold enough to step up and I know that’s not at all easy. I could be a hypocrite right now because if someone told me to do that, I don’t think I would have done it. Asking God for strength in that department. I wish I would have done this. I sat with my parents and I could have told them, “This is what I’m struggling. This is what I’m going through. How can you help me?” It starts with the family too. If the family is not going to create that safe space for their children from the beginning, I don’t think you stepping up or you being bold enough can help. That’s when God is like, “I’m here to fix this for you.”
I would put an ultimatum on God, “Lord, I have this bad thought in my head to end my life, but you gave me this life. Show me three things within this next week why I need to keep going.” I have challenged God and I’ve got those things. I’m like, “Let me give this another chance. Rooting yourself in God, giving God a chance because there’s a creator who created you for a purpose. You haven’t even discovered your purpose, and your enemy will do anything and everything to stop you from getting to that purpose. These are evil thoughts that we get. There’s a reason why you thought to take your life. That’s because the enemy doesn’t want you to get to that destination, “Let’s cut short and leave this earth.”
Now, I’m like, “That’s why.” I swallowed sixteen pills and I woke up the next day alive. I’m like, “How did that happen?” God is like, “It’s not your turn. It’s not your time yet.” Years forward, I’m like, “If I did not survive that, I wouldn’t have been doing any of these things right now and being able to help others. It’s not about me. It’s about being able to multiply and replicate everything to be able to be a blessing to others.” God is like, “It’s never about you. It’s about how many people you can impact or you can touch.” I was being selfish when I decided to take my life. When God is like, “You are the catalyst to be able to help others. You’re destroying every other life there.” I was like, “Okay, Lord, no pressure.” I believe if it’s God’s will, He will. It is God’s will for you to live that He will assure ways for you to keep going and why you need to keep going.
You mentioned being seen and heard as we are, as being one of the core missing pieces, at least culturally, where you grew up. Now that you’ve lived in America for a little while and have had some space from the culture you grew up in, what other things do you see as obstacles or challenges that are presented in that culture?
Are you asking if I’m still facing something a little bit of that with my parents even now?
Even how you think about culture in general, meaning the culture in Kuwait or as an Indian, what the culture is that you experienced and the challenges that are from culture. As you mentioned a couple of times now, a lot of things are the way they are. That’s true here in America too. I’m curious what other things you see as challenges for people that grow up in Indian culture, or in India or Kuwait and face similar challenges that you did.
One thing that I still don’t understand and I don’t have an answer is why do Indians in America don’t like each other. I don’t know why. I’m not talking about people who are in big positions, but I’m talking about people at my level. I am still afraid to open up to a fellow Indian because there’s that thing like, “How could that happen? What about your parents? Are they not wealthy? Are they not from a good background?” These are the questions that you would get. You anticipate that you’ll get these questions and you’re like, “I am not telling them at all.” I thought I was the only one, who had that experience.
I come across a lot of the men in 2020, they were like, “I felt the same thing too.” An American like a white person would say, “I have an Indian friend who said the same thing.” I was like, “This is going on.” I first heard and understood that from my husband who grew up here in the US. He encountered similar things that he would tell me like, “If there’s one advice I could give you when it comes to living in America, keep your distance because it could not work in our favor.” I’ve noticed that and I’ve experienced that. That’s one thing that I’ve wished that we would stop. We would all join forces and be a strong community. There are communities, I see that but I also see the fakeness through it. I feel like it’s there because everyone has a community now. There are only a few handful of people that I can see who are genuine about helping. Other than that, I feel like everyone has a hidden agenda. This is my serious rant. I get annoyed by this.
If you look at the American culture and living here for the last few years, what would your critique of culture here be? What would be some of the unique challenges that are faced in the culture that America provides?
I have heard and I believe that America doesn’t have a culture. Even though I have many complaints about my culture, I also cherish and I respect my culture and traditions a lot. I feel like that makes me who I am. There are many things that I could have copied from what I’m seeing in this land. Especially in Los Angeles, it’s the capital of trends, traditions and customs. There are many things that when I watch the same thing, when it repeats seven times, it becomes you. It’s consumer behavior as well. I feel I’m almost buying into and I accept it.
It’s a wakeup call like, “What are you doing? This is not what I called you to do. This is not what you’re here for.” I was like, “I see that trend.” When it comes to those things, it is scary. Shifting my accent to be accepted and to be seen. I’m like, “I’ll change my accent for you guys. Can you please accept me for who I am?” Besides that, I’m very cautious, intentional and careful when it comes to seeing anything out there and be like, “Should I adopt that lifestyle? No, I shouldn’t.” I adopted the macho lifestyle for sure and the healthy eating. That’s something that we were not well taught when it comes to that. Other than that, I am careful.
[bctt tweet=”No one was born ready to do anything they are doing in life right now.” username=”upandcomersshow”]
You make a great point in that there is a strong heritage and tradition that is present with the Indian culture and your background. Whereas in America, there isn’t necessarily one unifying strong heritage or cultural foundation. On the other end though, there are a million things to pursue on that. In the American culture, there are a million ideals to pursue that you can get so lost by pursuing those that you don’t have any identity in yourself. It’s this tension between the two extremes, and the middle is where we want to be almost.
Because my mom and dad were from two different states of India, that means two different cultures, food style, lifestyle choices, clothing and language especially. Everything is different. When it comes to that traditional culture, there are two sides now. My husband comes into the picture. We’re from two different places now because he’s from where my mom is and I have likened to where my dad is. He comes into my family. He’s like, “You guys are talking two different languages at the same time. I’m like, “Yeah, this is normal.” When he eats up, he’s like, “It tastes different. This doesn’t taste like how my mom makes.” I’m like, “We have this ingredient that we love adding.”
Where I’m from, I’m Tamil. That’s where Kamala Harris is. She’s Tamilian. I don’t think I know anybody here famous who is from my mom’s side, that is a Malayali. My husband is that. I’m proud of having two cultures. In India, people have that impression that, “You’re an Indian so that means you speak Hindi.” Yes, I do. I can’t have a proper conversation, but I know three other languages from the South of India, which is not talked about. That’s another thing I’m like, “No, we are not all the same. We are different.”
There are so much to culture. Having cultural diversity, even in your own family, has a real benefit in making us more flexible and adaptable to a wider range of experiences. We’re understanding empathetically that other people have different experiences and view things differently as much as we do because of our experiences that are never different, which is a beautiful thing. How did you and your husband first meet?
My God gave me a dream, which I don’t tell this to many people, but He gave me a dream and I saw my husband’s face four months before I met him online. I was going through a bad breakup. I was healing. He comes through and he says, “Hi.” I was like, “Hold on. I need to pray about this first. I don’t care what you think of me, but I’m a God believer and I need to pray about this.” We had one mutual friend and he pitched him and he said, “He’s a cuckoo Christian. You might love him.”
I was like, “That’s what I want.” I said, “I want to pray.” I prayed and I got the verse where Prophet Samuel says to Samson regarding Delilah, “Marry her.” That’s the verse that I got. I was like, “He’s the one.” Seven years later, he’s still the one. It was so cool that when you invite God into everything in your life, He tells you and gives you the blueprint, but He doesn’t tell you in advance. It was four months in advance that He showed me the dream. He showed me his skin color and his face. Everything was to the point. I didn’t tell him. That would scare him away. I told him only after months later. We met on Facebook. It was my 4:00 AM and his decent hour of timing. It was an ungodly hour for me. We met each other in person after nine days. That was only one time. The second time of our meeting was for our wedding.
How many months transpired between the first meeting and marriage?
It’s eleven months. We spoke on January 4th. We got married on November 30th. Eleven is God’s number for us.
One of the things I’ve heard you mention before is that there was a lot of difficulty in bringing the two of you together. It’s because maybe God makes it clear, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy and it won’t come without pain or emotional turmoil. Even with families coming from different places or cultures or systems within India, what was that experience like for you guys?
Truth be told, his family still doesn’t talk to me. They haven’t accepted me even now. This caste system within our country. There’s a lot of discrimination. I’m grateful for my parents that they saw past that and they did not take those things into consideration. It’s also because they went through it so they know what it feels like. His family, because they haven’t gone through it, they have this list of things that they wanted in his wife. Here I show up with nothing that they wanted in me. The biggest thing was my color. It’s the same thing that’s happening in our political situation. I’m like, “This happens in India too. Did you know?”
I never got accepted because of my color. He is Pentecost and I am not. They’re like, “We are tight within the Pentecostal community and you’re not now.” I have a finance background and they wanted a doctor or an engineer. I was a disappointment. I still am a disappointment to them. On our wedding day, my husband was the only one who showed up from his side. Amongst all our guests, he was the only one. The rest were all of us. Weddings are easy and affordable back where we come from, not super but it’s not expensive as in America. We had 400 guests. Melween was the only one from his side. It was so sad. He still relives that memory.
When I woke up on my wedding day, my parents or my siblings were not there to get me ready, all this fancy things that we see on TV or amongst your family. My brother got married and he was like, “This is like PTSD for me right now.” It’s sad. We still feel like, “Why is there no change of heart even now? We are living in 2021.” I feel like the reason is because they left in the ‘80s to America from Dubai. They feel like they chose to live still in the mindset and not come out of that. Even though the people around them have changed a lot, they feel like they’re obligated to living to the rules of the society.
Experiencing Homelessness: Being extremely open creates a sweet space for someone to matter and blossom.
How has that made you and your husband stronger? How has that grown you in your marriage and your family together now?
One thing my husband’s dad challenged was that we were not going to last forever. It’s been a challenge for us then like, “No, we’re going to prove it too that this is God’s will, and that we are going to stay together.” We will only become stronger. His dad has a lot of qualities that I came to know and I learned about through my husband. I was like, “You don’t have any of those things. How come?” He was like, “I saw that. I decided intentionally not to take that on me. I didn’t want to bring that into my next generation.” I’m like, “Thank you for doing that homework because I don’t know how we would have lasted this much.” Here I am learning so much about him.
We take the time to appreciate and teach each other. We go back to our past. We always love doing that. In your past, when you wanted to do this particular thing back then, were you accepted? Were you allowed to do this? The answers would be like, “No, I want to but my parents were never supportive.” Now here we are supporting each other. When we see that, it gives us a reason to love each other more. For example, I found out that he could code. I didn’t know he could code until a few months ago. I’m like, “How come you didn’t do this?” He’s like, “My parents never allowed me to practice singing or hang out with friends or watch TV. I was bored. I didn’t know what else to do so I was coding.” Now, it came in handy. I take that time to praise him. He sits up the whole night and working on more. I was like, “That’s interesting. When you praise them, they want to do more.” That’s one thing that we realized. We appreciate each other a lot.
That is a fascinating journey. I know that in those moments, it feels so hard, but in the end, it does produce a stronger bond and a stronger foundation for the future family, which is beautiful. What you pointed out is something that I’ve been wanting to focus on. I’ve only been married several months now, so I’m still much newer to it. It’s the mindset of, “I want to keep learning and discovering my partner, my wife, as much as possible,” because every day there’s an opportunity to learn something new. A human is infinitely complex. We can spend our whole life learning our partner and discovering new things about them. I want to have that mindset. Even hearing you reminds me of that. I want to keep that front of mind because there’s so much that we don’t know. We get into the rhythms, habits and routines.
It’s fascinating when you take a second to ask them like, “Why do you like that thing that you do?” I love creating lists and habits, time blocking and everything, but I struggled with keeping up with it. Here’s my husband paying attention to that. He’s like, “Have you noticed that you never stick through that? Monday and Tuesday are great for you but after that, you falter.” I’m like, “I know that, but I didn’t realize that you saw that.” He’s like, “Let’s work on that. Let me see how I can help you.” We have a power session where we talk to each other. He’s like, “How was it back then with your family? Were you doing this then?” It’s like a therapy session at home. My mind is more open right now. He’s giving me that space to open up and tell him everything, and not hide anything away from him. That’s the biggest advice I would give when it comes to new marriages. Be extremely open and also for the other person to be receptive and not be judgmental. That creates a very sweet and safe space for marriages to blossom.
[bctt tweet=”Money should not be an obstacle in business. It should be a challenge and motivation.” username=”upandcomersshow”]
One of the things that also was used to describe you is optimism and being an optimist. One of the questions that was posed that they’d love to hear on is, how does someone or how do you stay focused and positive even when you find yourself at rock bottom? How do you find positivity or optimism when you’re at the valley low or at a place that doesn’t feel positive in any way?
My husband and I were feeling that before the start of 2021. We were like, “We are almost ready to run out of our savings. We don’t have jobs yet. The job situation doesn’t look so great.” Even though we started a new business, we’re still new. We still need finances to make it run. What do we do? I started panicking and getting anxious. I couldn’t sleep. It was like a slap on my face. God is like, “Remember the two years, you had absolutely nothing. I’ve taught you how to trust me, how to rely on me, and I’m the provider. You are doubting that I can provide the next meal for you, the next dollar for you?”
I always think of the recent thing that God did for me, that I thought was impossible. He comes through the door and does it. I’m like, “I couldn’t have done that thing. I’m never qualified. He came and told me that, “No, you qualify now because I qualified you.” Reminders like that where they say, “Past is past.” I feel like past is a lesson that we learned from. You should go back to your past that taught you something. For me, that is how God came through during those two years when we had nobody to get support from and to rely on.
I’m telling myself now, “Why should I be afraid right now when I’ve overcome such a great obstacle?” Staying positive, the second you think negative and say, “I’m not good enough. I’m not qualified to do this very thing.” Once you say that, I feel like my whole day revolves around that I am not. It’s always the I am not. It’s never I am. I did this 30-day challenge where I’m like, “I am good enough. If I don’t know this or I’m not good at this, it’s okay. I’m going to learn to be good at this. What can I do now? What are the small steps that I can take right now?”
Once I changed that and then telling myself like, “No one was born ready to do anything that they’re doing the life right now. Everyone started at the lowest of low points. We are seeing everybody at the end of it. How about we see from the beginning of it? What if you get to the end of your journey and then someone else sees you and they also think the same thing, “She got it all figured out.” I’m like, “No, if you came with me 15 or 20 years ago, you would have seen that I started exactly where you are, but I keep showing up and keep going,” and always knowing that. I have a notebook of maybe 50, 60 things to do. Let’s say I’m like, “I haven’t been able to get to that success.” I look at this list and I’m like, “I have 60 things that I still haven’t done. What am I complaining about? Why am I whining that I haven’t made it yet when I still have these 60 things to finish?” Until you finish everything, which will take a lifetime because that list keeps growing of things to do. Until then, just never give up.
You said no one was born ready. That’s a good point. No one is born ready for what is in front of us. The only way we are ready is by doing it. That comparison of I am not versus I am is such a powerful tool and resource to use. Another powerful tool and resource to use is something that you are working on now as well, which is Affirmation Darling. I love to hear the origin of where Affirmation Darling comes from. Maybe even where the name itself comes from.
The name was anointed. I wanted to be creative and I wanted to make sure that it was stationery related. I noticed that there were a lot of products coming out with stationery, but something that I wanted to cater to was the mental wellness side of it. I love stationery. I love books, notebooks, notepads and everything. When we were homeless, my favorite go-to hideout place was Barnes & Noble. I would sit there and read books after books for free. They have this little couch and you can sit there and read. I would buy stationery to write in it. I realized later that it helped me when I write or when I take notes in general. It’s my thing that I love stationery. Everyone has something that they like collecting. My collectible was stationery. That’s a privilege for a lot of people.
You’re blessed if you’re educated and you can write. There are people who are not. Where I come from, there are people who still can’t read and write. I want to be able to create that resource for that when it comes to bringing the stationery into the big picture. I wanted to create a brand of stationery and then I realized that it’s not just stationery, but I still want to create that flagship product that could help people. I saw these cards like version of affirmation cards elsewhere. I was like, “I wish they had this for acting. I wish they had this stuff that could help me when I was homeless. Why don’t they have that?”
God was like, “Why don’t you make one?” I went back to my journal. I had 300 notes of entries. I went through each and everyone. I was like, “There are a lot of positive talking and thinking here. That’s how we got out of homelessness. That’s how we stayed mentally strong.” I had these little actions where I would write, “Now I’m going to do this so that I can feel that.” I noticed that there was a pattern in my writing. I pulled out all the actions that I made it into these 21 cards. People do it in book format. I was like, “No, I want to have cards.” When you’re in your car, you want to have it in your pocket. “I don’t want a digital version. I couldn’t pay my phone bill. What if I can access it? I want it in my hand.” I created this pocket-sized card. I created it durable because when you’re in a car, you can go through phases of destruction. It’s made of PVC, recyclable plastic. It’s durable. It will go with you everywhere. You can take it to the shower too. I created that. Mine is affirmactions. It’s affirmations on one side and actions on the other.
That was another thing that I asked myself and I created the product. There are many people doing affirmations. I see a lot of affirmations, but they’re not helping me because they don’t have the actions to help you get to that mental headspace. I recall seeing this affirmation, “I’m happy right here, right now.” I was like, “I’m not happy living in my car right now, but how can I be happier living in my car right now?” I would write these actions like, “How to think that way, how to get there, how to make the car life work for us.” That’s when I realized that it was my perspective, the way I looked at things, how I changed the way I looked at it, and writing those actions. It is not your typical affirmation card. It’s more like a pocket-sized life guide, life coach or mentor that will help you stick to your goals, help you in pursuing your creative passions and pursue it. It’s for artists and creatives. It’s not just positive thinking. It’s also steps to keep thinking positive and get to your goal.
That’s such an important point too that it’s not the affirmations that produce the mental headspace, at least over time. It’s the actions that create it and back up that affirmation. It’s putting in the work to back that up. One of my favorite quotes on that is, “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting.” I thought that was a good way to put it. You mentioned that a lot of the origin of this came for the two target markets of acting and people experiencing homelessness. That also from what I know is what you formed your business model around as well. I’d love to hear a little bit more about your heart in that or what you hope for in that. With that, what are some of the unique challenges you face now as you’ve gone on this entrepreneurial endeavor?
When I did this business, I knew that it was not just to create a product to serve a customer’s needs. It’s for creating that give back aspect of it, to be able to give back to the people in need. First I was like, “I need to give it to people of my age,” but then I thought to myself, “People of our age are stronger than we think. All we need to do is have a shift in our mindset, and then we can overcome anything.” When it comes to young adults or who are stepping from their teens to young adult face, especially homeless and orphans, they don’t have the resources. They don’t have the people.
When I say resources, there are nonprofit organizations. They house them and they shelter them. Internally, that’s not enough. You need that other support where you say, “This is not the end of it all,” because you don’t have anything right now. When we were in the car, the first thing was like, “Our dreams are shattered. There’s no point in going forward. Nothing is going to happen.” This is where my cards are.” I want it to serve as a reminder that you don’t have permission to not dream. You have to dream. You have to continue dreaming. Here’s how you can continue dreaming, put these actions and deploy them. That’s one thing that I want to tap into this age group of kids because that’s the age group that they feel they’re lost.
I know that when I was a teenager stepping into my adulthood, as a young adult, I was lost. I feel like my parents were not understanding what I wanted. Let alone now these kids who don’t have parents, who they don’t even know who to talk to. It’s the next generation. I feel like when God gives us or restores everything back, and that means we have to give it back. How can we bless the next generation? How can we be a catalyst for something new that God is about to do in their life? I feel like I’m still not doing enough, “Give me the strength, give me the wisdom or what else can I keep doing?” God is like, “One thing at a time. Let’s master this one thing and then we’ll move onto the next one.” That’s why I wanted to reach and tap the young adults, the youth and the sex traffic victims. They’re all people who are at the moment alone. They’re scared to open up. Whatever I’ve gone through is nothing compared to what these kids have gone through. At this age as a strong person, how can I help them to be strong?
Experiencing Homelessness: Life is always blowing up with things to do, so never ever give up.
In speaking to mastering the craft and what you’re pursuing in entrepreneurship now, and being a small business owner, what have you found to be different than you expected in that reality? What has surprised you about entrepreneurship or owning or running a small business? With that, what do you think most people’s misperceptions are of that process?
Misperception is that you need money to start the business, which is true to some point, but I also feel like if you have a dream, you will do anything and everything to make that come into fruition. We started with $3,000. That’s it. We were like, “We need money. We have this dream. What do we do?” I was walking through the aisle of Barnes & Noble and I saw this book on crowdfunding. I was like, “What is crowdfunding?” I didn’t have anyone telling me or suggesting, “Have you done crowdfunding?” I discovered on my own, but there was this thought that I put it out there to God. I was like, “Lord, we need money. Can you come up with some plan?”
God shows me that and I was like, “Interesting.” We did a crowdfunding and we raised close to $6,000 or $5,000. We were like, “That’s now extra money. Now we can add on to that.” That’s how we were able to start the business. If you’re starting at nothing and if you can tell your why to people, you don’t need to have a mega, fancy story or anything, telling your why, showing up as yourself and expressing why you want to do what you want to do. If you can have people be on your side for that, you can raise every dollar that you need to start that business. If you can’t put your money into that, have people build your dream for you and do a crowdfunding.
That’s one thing that I suggested a couple of other people and they did it too. They are people who have been in the business already, but they were like, “I don’t have the money. I’ve been in the business for a while.” I’m like, “Just do it, raise the funds,” and they raised it. That shouldn’t be an obstacle. I don’t think money should be an obstacle. It should be a challenge. It should be a motivation. The other thing that I learned that I did not expect I would receive it in my business is people accepting the story. I was afraid that I would be shunned or that I would be looked down upon because I brought my story out into the world, but here’s everyone saying that, “I have something similar that I’m going through and your story is not similar, but it helped me.”
That’s all I want to hear. If that simple me expressing my story can help someone, that’s all that mattered. I feel like that is my driving force. Everybody has a story that I firmly believe. You are a story yourself and you create it. You have more stories unfolding in your life. You are a book. You have to accept that you have stories to tell and finding what that story is, and then putting it out there. All the people can be blessed with that. You will get accepted. We need to stop being afraid of, “What will they think? What will they say if I say this?” No time for that.
If you look at your business right now, what is the problem you’re trying to solve or the obstacle you’re working on overcoming within the business as it stands now?
It’s brand exposure, brand awareness. I’m still working on it and looking into it like, “How can I market this?” I get these ideas in the shower, which is my quiet time with God. God is like, “Have you done this?” I’d say, “I didn’t do that.” He’s like, “What are you complaining about?” God was like, “Look into ads.” I was like, “I don’t have the money for that.” It was a limited mindset, a poverty mindset. I told him, I said, “I’m going to stop saying that I don’t have money. God will provide.” There were instances where we said like, “Lord, I don’t have the money. I’m letting you know that I had the money.” I would do that and God shows up the next day with that amount and something more. God was like, “Do it. I brought the dream, I put this in you. Do it and trust me.” Brand awareness, I am working on that right now. I’m working on getting ads and putting out ads out there.
Social media, they say post regularly. I’ve heard that more than seven times and now it’s stuck with me. I’ve made a plan now every day what I need to post. Sundays, we’d go out and shoot content. We post every day. We started this. I’m hoping that I will stick to my guns and I will post every day. I did that for a couple of days and I saw a very different drastic traction to my profile. I was like, “I have to keep doing this.” I’m hoping that’ll bring some brand awareness as well.
It’s a constant process of learning, growing and integrating too. That’s the fascinating thing. The fun journey of an entrepreneur is finding a way to figure it out one step at a time. It’s a beautiful process. One of the things that you and your husband’s background is in acting, and that’s something that you’re still pursuing as well. Do you see yourself more as an actor or as an entrepreneur, and how do they complement each other? How do they help you in the other field? How does being an entrepreneur help you as an actor and vice versa?
Acting is always going to be my primary passion. That’s the reason why I moved out to LA and that’s what God spoke to us. In simple terms, He said, “Hollywood is your ministry.” Nothing is going to ever take me away from that passion. The entrepreneurship, when we were homeless, we got a job at a company that employs people transitioning out of homelessness. When he and I were working there, there’s this thing in my head like, “I want to replicate this.” There’s the president of the company saying when kids come for tours to the store, they tell the story of who we are. They’re like, “We want everybody to copy our business model.” I’m like, “That’s what I wanted to do.” When I started in 2020, I wrote it in my vision board for 2020 that I wanted to start a give back jewelry line in 2020. It’s fascinating that several months later, I started a buy one, give one brand but in stationery. That is something that I love the most.
Once I knew that nothing else is going to take my focus from acting, then God puts this journey in the middle and be like, “Go through this car life.” I was like, “Okay.” Through that, I feel like God was preparing us, even for the person that we are becoming. Let’s say that when I become an actor, there are many actors that we were seeing on TV. We’ll see their backstory. They’re not the people who they are on TV. I’m like, “I don’t want to be that.” I want to be able to have people say like, “She’s different. There’s something different about her.” That is me creating an opportunity to be like, “That’s not me. That’s God.” I don’t think I would have learned how to do that if I hadn’t gone through the car.
Always think others before yourself and it started with me thinking all for my husband before myself. I used to be selfish a lot. I would think and it was always me. It’s my problems, my issues. I was like, “What about my husband?” That taught us to be like, “What about that person, this person?” It was like a hierarchy. I realized that this is what I wanted to do. I started the business in 2020, but we’re still getting a lot of auditions. I feel like because I started this business and we were able to tell our story, I wanted to be seen. I felt like that has been coming to life a lot. A lot of people now know us and it’s a blessing. I will never take that for granted because here we were thinking, “Nobody even knows we exist. What is the point of this existence?” Now, they know us. They heard about us. They want to talk to us. I’m like, “God, this is all you. This is completely you. This is not us. We are not qualified for any of this.”
That’s when God is like, “I told you, trust me. I know you don’t get it when you’re going through it, but trust me. At the end, you’ll know why.” Because of that, when it comes to meeting or casting directors or doing auditions, there are many opportunities that have come through where we are able to tell our story and that gives a means for us to connect with them. I don’t know how parallel it is going, but every time an opportunity comes up, this is common in our business, it is being useful for acting. Acting is useful for our business. Only when it happens, that’s when we realized, “Now we see why we are doing both the things at the same time.”
It does create a broader skillset that can be better applied to. There’s a lot of value in it. Even though, it may not seem valuable up front or when you’re first starting out in it. There’s so much more we could talk about, Riji, but we do need to be winding it down. Faith plays a huge role in your life and I’d love to hear what you’re learning about God most right now in this season of life. What is He teaching you about Himself?
About being present with him because every time I sit down for my quiet time with God, my mind is traveling 100 miles per hour, if not more. I had experienced that conversation with God, and I was like, “Lord, I cannot stop my mind going into this. I’m always thinking what to do, what not to do and all that stuff. Let me know. Tell me.” I have this little stress ball that I have and I’ve been holding. I was like, “God, I don’t know what to do. How can I partner with you? Here’s me showing up that I have this problem that I want to work with you and I want more of your presence in my life.”
I opened the Bible and the verse says, “Partner with me.” The verse that had partnership with Jesus. I was like, “You did hear my prayer.” That builds up your faith too, and it’s so cool to test God in that manner, asking him for what you want. You open the Bible and you get words that answers your question. That’s something God is like, “I show up every morning and I will tell you what to do next.” That’s the biggest thing I haven’t written on my wall is I feel like in 2021, God said, “Get uncomfortable with me. With everything you do, don’t think that this is going to be easy for you. Regardless, know that the victory is already mine and yours, wear the battle armor, and get ready for battle.” That is one thing, get uncomfortable with me. The other thing is asking every day, “What are your priorities for me, Lord?” It’s putting God first.
When you think about the future and what is in front of you, what do you see the ten-year vision of what may transpire for you and your husband in the work ahead, or what are the hopes and aspirations of with that?
When it comes to acting, you can’t say. We have dreams of being on TV shows or movies, but then God is like, “I brought you into that field because I wanted you to do something else.” Even though I have these man-made visions and dreams for the next ten years, and I have noticed that it never goes my way because God comes and disrupts it. He’s the official disruptor of our plans. What I see and what I’m praying for is more opportunities to showcase God. It’s all for His glory and it’s Him that I want to make famous and it’s not me. Whatever it is, I know that God will prepare my heart for it. My ten-year vision is to have my faith the same and more. Whatever that I come across or whoever I meet that say that, “It’s her faith that got her where she is.” That’s all I want in life. If you ask what’s my strict goal, it’s to be a successful entrepreneur and be able to partner with more nonprofit organizations, have foundations of my own, be able to say, “I have been a blessing to more than thousands, if not more, giving scholarships.” Those are the dreams that I have, having scholarship programs and cohort programs and all that. Let’s see where that goes.
Experiencing Homelessness: People are usually stronger than they think. All they need is a simple change in mindset to overcome anything.
I like how you phrase that God is a disruptor of our plans. It’s to remind us. The Psalm says that man sets his plans, but God directs his path, and that’s so true. We need those reminders and that’s probably most of the reason why that’s the case. He wants to remind us of that reality. Just a few one-offs here that can be as short or as long as you like, but a handful of these and we’ll wrap up. What can you not imagine living without?
Without my glasses, I can’t.
Are they for look or are they to see?
They’re minus six. I had this conversation that if there’s one thing that I’m afraid of if there’s an apocalypse is that me losing my glasses.
I wear contacts, but they’re about the same. I’m completely blind without that. If you could teach a class for a semester, what would you teach on and why?
How to start a small business with limited resources.
What question do you ask yourself the most?
What are my priorities that can bring attention to God?
If you could study one person for an entire year, who would that be and why?
Jesus, I don’t have to say that. It’s Jesus. It’s the Bible. That’s my favorite book. All characters in the Bible. You can tell me no one’s name that I need to learn from, because all the interesting characters are on the Bible and they’re all my favorites. They all have dark past and broken history, and I’m like, “Me too.”
The final question that we ask every guest that comes on the show is if you could send a morning text reminder to every Up and Comer out there, what would you say and why? This would be a short message they receive from you every morning on their phones?
You can. My two words that you can add to anything. You can do hard things. You can overcome. You can beat this problem that you’re in. You can. It’s not, you can’t. It’s you can, so add on whatever you want to that.
Riji, thank you so much for this time and sharing your story. It’s inspirational. I know it’s beneficial to all of us. Where is a good place if people want to reach out, find out more about your work or even check out affirmaction and Affirmation Darling? Where’s a good place to find you or say hello?
I am active on Instagram. It’s @AffirmationDarling. It’s the same everywhere, on my website. If you want to connect with me personally, which I would love to, that’s @RijiRaja and that’s my personal Instagram.
Riji Raja, thank you so much for coming on and sharing. This has been awesome.
Thank you so much.
For all you reading, we hope you have an up and coming week because we are out.
Following up with one last thing to note, if you would like to get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from, whether that’d be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering or even some sermons I’m enjoying, In-Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Just go to ThaneMarcus.com/inthane to sign up and you’ll be sure to receive the very next one. Each edition of In-Thane is released the first Sunday of the month. This is a once-a-month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.
About Riji Raja
Riji is a third culture kid, Indian, born and raised in Kuwait. She and her husband moved to LA for acting in 2016 but with the high cost of living in Southern California, their living situation quickly fell apart, forcing them to live in their car for two years.
After transitioning out of homelessness, Riji had always wanted to use her story to make an impact. She and her husband realized that they could use their backgrounds in retail and finance to make a difference for the underserved and disadvantaged young adults facing homelessness and mental health issues. In 2020, after they were laid off due to Covid, Riji founded Affirmation Darling, a social impact mental wellness brand built on powerful affirmations. They advocate for young adults from underserved & disadvantaged communities facing homelessness & mental health issues.
Riji and her husband, Melween along with their Yorkie currently live in Los Angeles, CA.
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