Ruby Walia, (Official name is Vanita) was born and brought up in North India, Punjab. She studied law from GNDU (Guru Nanak Dev University) and graduated in 1994. Then she got married and came to the U.S. in 1994 and has been living in San Jose, California since the past 26 years. She is a single mother of two children. She founded “Ruby’s Beauty Studio”, her existing salon business, in 2003, and is also a founder of a U.S. based Non-Profit Organization called “Touch A Soul”. She recently finished her Yoga teacher training (during the shelter-in-place) and founded “Ekom Yoga” and teaches (healing) yoga sessions online. She is also certified in Kundalini Yoga (Chakra Balancing), and a Master in Level 1 and 2 Reiki, all of which she studied during the quarantine. She has also been invited in as a motivational public speaker to talk on “Mental Health illness” in the local colleges here and shares some of her life experiences in her blogs.
Q. Could you tell us something about yourself and your life at law school? What inspired you to take up law?
Well, if you asked what inspired me to take up law, my answer would be nothing as I got pushed into it. I felt that the Universe had its own plan for me that I was not aware of 30 years back. I did my bachelor’s in arts in 1988. All of a sudden at a very young age of 17, my life flipped upside down. Certain unfortunate things happened in the family and with me. I was lost and had no clue what to do. It was my dad who told me to join law to come out as a strong and independent woman. Without any resistance, I appeared for the entrance exam. Out of one thousand, they had to pick only 100 students. I didn’t get my name on the first list. Then my dad told me to join MA in English, and I did that. After two weeks of me joining MA, I got a message from the law college that I had placed 8th in the Merit (most probably in the second list) and was called for an interview. I told my dad. He said forget about MA and go for law. I was concerned about all the fees and money he spent on my books. We are from a middle-class family. My dad worked really hard. But my dad’s wish for me was to join law. So that’s how I got into law.
My dad’s ambition was to give us girls (I have an elder sister) the best qualification, and that too especially back in those days when as girls turned 18, parents started to think about getting them married. We were both scholarship students. I did my schooling and BA in Punjabi medium, so suddenly getting into English medium law was a big jump for me. It was not a multiple-choice exam. Reading, writing, moot problems, and on top of that remembering all the codes, was a big challenge for me. But somehow, I managed. Life at law school was very good. I thoroughly enjoyed studying law and was a very good student. I was the only girl among a few students who cleared all the 30 exams without any fail. In my last year, I scored 75%, was one of the toppers in my college, and stood 3rd in the University among girls. The first 10 students were going to get a medal from the Governor. I missed that chance as I had to come to the U.S. While studying law, I also applied for the Air Force in my fifth semester, and then forgot about it. Four days after my marriage, I got an interview letter from the Air Force office informing me that I had gotten qualified for the first step. But alas! I couldn’t go because of my marriage. I had evening college, and in the mornings, I started my internship in the courts. But I didn’t like the culture in the courts. I was not very happy with the way cases had been handled, especially with the usage of language and the way women were perceived. I knew in my heart that I didn’t want to be in this space. But studying law still interests me.
Q. You practised law for a few years in the U.S before deciding to leave your legal career, could you tell us about your experience practising law?
In 2000, I appeared for the California Bar exam and scored well in the first attempt. I couldn’t pass it, but I was totally okay with it. It has always been one of the toughest exams. After my bar exam, I volunteered in a few of the law firms in the U.S. just to get an idea of the culture and system of practising. No doubt, it’s a great career, with a high profession and good status, but it was still rigid (to me). I think I was not cut out for it. I didn’t enjoy it. I wanted to do something where I would look forward to going to my work and love it thoroughly. I also did an online Paralegal course from Georgia University with great scores.
Q. How was your transition from learning the law in India to practising law in the U.S.?
First of all, there was about a 5-6 years gap between me finishing my law degree and then getting back into it. In between, I had both my kids. So, I was out of touch. It was not that easy for me, but I am a quick learner, committed, and a hard worker. Laws in India and the U.S. are somewhat different. Had I decided to adopt the law as my career, I would have learned all and done well. But my heart and soul were not content. Culture wise, the U.S. is definitely much better than India. If I had to choose between practising law in India versus in the U.S., I would definitely go with the U.S.
Q. What made you choose to join beauty school after practising law? What are some of the challenges you faced during this transition, and how did you overcome them?
Again, the beauty profession wasn’t my choice either. Till date, I don’t have a proper answer as to how I ended up in beauty school. I call myself an unconventional woman, breaking the status quo, and living life on my own terms. It was another bend of life where things were not going right in my marriage. I was lost again. I was fully dependent on my husband. Someone asked me why I did not join a beauty college (as I knew how to thread eyebrows casually). I told that person, “You must be crazy. In our seven generations, no one has joined this line of profession, and I have a law degree.” But anyhow, like I said in the beginning, the Universe had different plans for me and somehow, I ended up in Cosmetology school.
Challenges and setbacks are a part of life, and they are there for our evolvement. Without them, we are stagnant and there is always a hidden message in them. My dad and my Chacha Ji (dad’s younger brother) are my inspirations. My dad was, and my uncle is, very hardworking, honest, and self-made. They never gave up. I think I imbibed all these traits from them. My life is a great school, too.
One of the challenges that I faced was contemplating how to tell my dad. I hid this secret for 3-4 months after joining beauty school. But once he found out, he was somewhat disappointed. I had to persuade him. Our parents wanted to see their children doing well in life, but it was about status too. After seeing me do well in the business, he was happy. But he always had this wish to see me practice as a lawyer. My parents always supported my decisions. Whatever I got pushed into, I put my heart and soul into it, and did really well.
Mostly people run behind status, money, and what people think about them. Neither I do things to please the society nor do I to follow the herd.
Q. We know that you created your own beauty studio after graduating from beauty school. Do you think having a good knowledge of the law has been helpful in the same?
I think nothing goes to waste in life. Acquiring any knowledge, degree, or skill will lead you somewhere. I am always proud of my law degree. The hidden lawyer is always there in me. Though back in time, I was a very shy, naïve, and introverted person. But three years of studying law definitely started crafting me into a different personality. I became much more aware of how the world operates. Being in the U.S. and starting a business from scratch is not an easy task. But because I had a background in law, I was able to pull it off well. I always incorporate my law expertise in my ventures, and it helps tremendously.
Q. You also have another venture called ‘touch a soul’. What motivated you to start this venture? Were there any unexpected skills you took from law school that you implemented into your entrepreneurial venture?
Touch A Soul is a U.S. based Non-Profit organization that I founded in 2017. About 15 years back, I was watching a TV program where one lady got an inspirational award for saving young girls from trafficking in India. I was inspired. I thought to myself, I should do something like this to help those in need. For many years, that thought got lost. I am always into helping others. In 2016, I started a group called “Feed the Hungry”, where we used to feed homeless people. After a few months, we stopped doing that. But I still had the burning desire to do something constructive. Many people told me to form an organization, but it’s a tedious project. I guess again the Universe let those words out of my mouth years back, and then it manifested. I call Touch A Soul my third child and am very committed to it.
I chose children, as they are our future generation and if we nurture them well, the future is brighter of any nation. I came up with the name “Touch A Soul” and tagline “Nurture The Future”, and finally got it registered as 501©3. There are many legalities to form a non-profit organization, and that too in California. I even hired a legal company to do all the work, but I still had to do some of the paperwork. Having a legal background was quite handy. It was a great learning experience, and I enjoyed every bit of it.
Touch A Soul sponsors school meals for underprivileged school children in the Bay area. We also provide new backpacks, school supplies, and Holiday gifts to these children. We are currently starting a new project. Because of COVID-19, everything is online. We are working on starting a FREE online “Peer to Peer” tutoring for children who come from low socio-economic backgrounds. Our mission is to imbibe compassion, empathy, and mindfulness in our youth. Our volunteers are high school children, who will get training from a qualified panel before starting the tutoring services. They will learn how to give back and help the community. They will become an inspirational role model to all the young children they are tutoring.
I have a very big vision for Touch A Soul, and with the support of my team and generous donors, hopefully, one day that Vision will be manifested as well.
Q. What is your suggestion for the law students who wish to pull away from the path considered to be set in stone for them, and move on to a career path that interests them?
We all have different trajectories. There is no general rule that applies to all. In our societal setup (India especially), it’s more about status and money, not loving your work. We are taught that whatever degree you have, your life should revolve around that, as in you should find work in that field only. This keeps us very limited, and thus, we are not able to explore ourselves. We all have many hidden talents that we don’t even bother to touch. Most people don’t want to leave their comfort zone, and love to stay in the “Known”. Until and unless we take the plunge and step into the “Unknown” how will we evolve? Yes, there are risks and unexpectant, but there is also a better future waiting for you as well. You may feel lost in the beginning but it’s important to stay committed and put your heart and soul into it.
In life, at times I felt lost and got pushed into unknown zones. But all those lost experiences brought clarity to me in the larger scheme. I started to excavate myself and found a treasure. You are not, what and who you are today. We keep evolving. I had never ever imagined 10-15 years back that a law graduate would turn into an entrepreneur. Last year only I released Ruby’s herbal hair oil (handcrafted). It is creating news, and we are shipping internationally. Very soon, I am coming up with more herbal handmade beauty products. I believe life doesn’t happen to us; it happens for us.
We also get limited by our age. We are not our age; we are our energy. Age is just a number; don’t let this two-digit number limit you. Face your fears. I have a fear of heights and water. I did sky diving and snorkelling in an ocean to face my fears. This all gave me a different perspective towards life and myself, that if we commit to something, we can do it.
Always believe in yourself. You can or you cannot, the choice is yours. If you love your work and make it your passion, the sky is the limit. I don’t base my work or happiness on status and monetary satisfaction. I want to see if my work brings joy to myself and others. Do I feel content?
Explore yourself. Dream big and go for it. Nothing is impossible. Impossible has a hidden meaning which is, I M Possible. Dive into the unknown and challenge yourself. You have potential. Don’t just follow the herd or societal norms if they’re mentally draining you. Don’t try to fit in the society, be different to stand out.
I have no regrets. I think I’ve made the best decisions in life. Life has its own mysterious ways to unfold. I just flow with life and it’s so effortless. Surrender and let life take its course. You are a masterpiece and unique in your own way.
My best wishes and stay blessed.
Find out more about Ms. Ruby Walia –
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rubywaliastudio/
- Touch A Soul: https://www.touch-a-soul.org/
- Blogs: https://rubysletshare.blog/
Disclaimer – All views and opinions expressed in this interview are personal and belong solely to the interviewee(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the LAABh Foundation or the individuals and institutions associated with LAABh Foundation.